What is the European Super League and how would it work?

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Kate Whiting, Senior Writer, Formative Content


  • News that 12 top-flight European soccer teams are planning a breakaway Super League is dominating global headlines.
  • It’s also sparked reactions from the game’s governing bodies and fans.
  • Here’s what you need to know about the European Super League.

On 18 April, 12 of Europe’s top soccer clubs announced they were launching a breakaway Super League. Here are five key questions answered.

1. What is the ESL?

The European Super League is effectively an alternative to the Union for European Football Associations (UEFA) Champions League, which would guarantee places in the competition to the founding clubs, rather than requiring qualification through their domestic leagues.

It is being financed by US investment bank JP Morgan, which is providing a $4.2 billion grant for the teams to spend on infrastructure and recovery from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

2. Which teams are involved in the Super League?

There are six from the English Premier League: Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur. Three more hail from Spain: Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid. And the final three come from Italy: Inter Milan, Juventus and AC Milan.

3. How would the breakaway Super League work?

In a statement, the Super League said it plans to launch “as soon as practicable” and add three more teams as founder members to bring the total to 15.

A 20-team midweek league would run, with five teams qualifying each season “based on their achievements in the prior seasons”.

The format of the competition would be two groups of 10 playing home- and away fixtures with the top three in each group qualifying for the quarter-finals. A play-off involving fourth and fifth placed teams would complete the final eight.

There are also plans to launch a women’s Super League competition after the men’s league is up and running, Reuters reports.

4. Why are they doing it?

Juventus President Andrea Agnelli, Vice-Chairman of the new league, said the move would secure the long-term future of the game, following the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Most clubs have been hit hard by the lack of spectators over the past year, and many have sizeable debts, reports the BBC.

The Founding Chairman of the Super League, Real Madrid President Florentino Perez, said: “We will help football at every level and take it to its rightful place in the world. Football is the only global sport in the world with more than 4 billion fans, and our responsibility as big clubs is to respond to their desires.”

Aggregate revenues in European top divisions.
Operating revenues for European clubs fell sharply during the pandemic. Image: KPMG

5. What has the reaction been?

UEFA held an emergency meeting about the Super League on Monday and said players and clubs could be banned from UEFA competitions – including three of this season’s Champions League semi-finalists.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has objected to the plans and the UK government is looking at options to penalize the six English teams that have signed up.

In January, the world’s soccer governing body, FIFA, warned that any breakaway league would not be recognized by them, warning players involved could be banned from taking part in the World Cup.

The Super League letter urged FIFA and UEFA to agree to talks, Reuters reports, and said they wanted the breakaway league to exist alongside current European club competitions.

Guaranteed spots go against long-standing tradition in European soccer, but the founding clubs argue it will create a more sustainable financial model.

“The formation of the Super League comes at a time when the global pandemic has accelerated the instability in the existing European football economic model,” they said.

But even fans of the clubs involved have condemned the move, while British broadcaster BT Sport – which airs the Champions League – said the Super League could have a “damaging effect [on] the long-term health of football in this country”.

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