The three remaining clubs still backing the formation of a European Super League (ESL) have suffered a significant legal setback. It follows a ruling from the Advocate General of the European Court of Justice that the rules applied by FIFA and UEFA – the world and European football governing bodies – in blocking the project are compatible with current EU competition rules.
Although the legal opinion by Athanasios Ramos is non-binding, it is likely to have a significant impact on the final decision taken on the matter by the 15 judges of the Grand Chamber who will have the final say on the matter.
For the three remaining backers of the scheme – Real Madrid, Barcelona, and Juventus – their hopes of the project ever getting off the ground appear now virtually finished.
What is the European Super League
The ESL as originally envisaged would have seen 12 of Europe’s richest clubs break away from their current domestic leagues and form their own league.
With significant backing from a major US investment clubs and potentially lucrative TV rights on offer, this would have seen the 12 clubs play each other in a league basis, with no relegation, and with matches taking place in midweek throughout the season.
Domestic leagues would have been shorn of some of their biggest attractions in terms of fan support and box office appeal, and effectively relegated to second class status.
When their scheme was announced to an unsuspecting public in April 2021, the reaction of fans, pundits, commentators and politicians was almost overwhelmingly negative. Supporters, who had not been consulted at all, were bitterly opposed to the idea, believing that it interfered with the game that they loved, and that they were deeply attached to their own domestic competitions.
Faced with such overwhelming hostility, nine of the teams involved, – the six from the Premier League Arsenal, Chelsea Tottenham, Liverpool, Manchester City and Manchester United, plus the two Milan clubs, AC and Inter, and Atlético Madrid – swiftly backtracked and distanced themselves from the project.
They were fined by UEFA, and made undertakings to them and their own fans, that they would never involve themselves in such a scheme again.
However, three clubs – Real Madrid, Barcelona, and Juventus all refused to abandon the project.
It is perhaps no coincidence that two of these teams – Barcelona and Juventus – are in severe financial difficulties and were looking for the extra revenues promised by the ESL.
Barcelona were close to bankruptcy and have been forced to sell assets and trigger so-called “economic” levers to keep competing, Juventus meanwhile, have recently published record losses and are under investigation for the accounting treatment of ;player purchases. Last month their entire Board resigned with the Turin prosecutor set to announce follow-up measures.
Real President, Florentino Pérez, one of the main architects of the scheme, has claimed that the nine clubs who subsequently backed out had no right to do so, and that they had signed legally binding undertakings.
They also claimed that the footballing governing bodies had, in effect, broken European competition law by threatening to impose penalties on players and clubs who joined the ESL.
Is the ESL dead?
Although the three remaining clubs may pretend otherwise, the ESL is now dead to all intents and purposes, killed, as much as anything, by the weight of public opinion.
That does not mean that the demand of the bigger clubs for a bigger share of the revenue pie has fallen on deaf ears altogether. The expansion of the Champions League to include 24 teams in the group phase from 2024-2025 onwards, is an attempt by UEFA to offer its own solution to the problem.
Nor does it preclude the project being revived at some stage in the future, although those planning for it would be wise to let the dust settle first.
What punishments should the rebels face?
There still remains the question of what punishment the three rebels should now face given the de facto end of the ESL. In theory UEFA are well within their rights to give them unlimited bans and an extended ban from European competition, but this is unlikely to happen in reality.
The three are still giants of European football, and their absence would diminish the value of major competitions.
They can just expect a large slap on the wrist.
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