UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin has threatened to ban players from international competitions after plans for a breakaway Super League competing with the Champions League sparked a furious row.
Ceferin, chief of the European football ruling body, reacted angrily on Monday to Super League plans unveiled by a dozen top teams.
This came just hours before a UEFA meeting confirmed its own Champions League would expand from 32 to 36 teams from 2024 onwards and include 100 more games.
The reform creates more group matches as teams are to be placed in one group.
And, according to a “Swiss model,” they will play 10 games against opponents based on seeding before the knockout stages, up from six in the past.
Earlier Monday, 12 top clubs from England, Spain and Italy, including the likes of Liverpool, FC Barcelona and Juventus, announced their intention to form a breakaway Super League.
The league will consist of 20 teams.
The announcement sent shock waves around the world and drew wide-ranging condemnation from politicians, federations and fans.
Ceferin said players participating in such a league would be banned from national teams and tournaments, including the World Cup, and possibly even this summer’s Euro 2020.
“We’re still assessing the situation with our legal team. It’s a bit too early,” he was quoted as saying. “We will take all the sanctions that we can.”
Ceferin said defiantly that the Champions League would also have enough good clubs without the breakaway sides.
The UEFA president also took aim at Juventus president Andrea Agnelli, calling him “the biggest disappointment of all.”
“I have never met a person who lied as much as he did,” Ceferin said of Agnelli, one of the initiators of the Super League.
He had also been a member of the UEFA executive as chairman of the European Club Association (ECA).
According to a report, a board member member from one of the six English clubs said they are unfazed in what is “not a civil war but a nuclear war” in football.
The unnamed person said owners were “not that worried about PR,” that “the wider good of the game is a secondary concern” and that they would even be happy about national team bans.
He said this was because “they don’t like giving their playing assets away to countries for very little financial reward.”
The Super League is to compete against the Champions League with mid-week fixtures with its 20 teams, of which 15 are to be permanent members.
The competition is to run August to May with 18 group match days, followed by knock-out stages.
Manchester clubs City and United, Arsenal, Tottenham, Chelsea and Liverpool, Italian sides AC and Inter Milan are some of the founders of the planned elite league.
The others are Juventus, plus the Spanish trio of FC Barcelona, Real and Atletico Madrid .
Champions League title-holders Bayern Munich lead German opposition to the new event.
Absentees also included four-time winners Ajax and wealthy Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) with superstars Neymar and Kylian Mbappe.
“I don’t think the Super League will solve the financial problems of European clubs that the coronavirus has created,” said Bayern Munich chief executive Karl-Heinz Rummenigge.
American investment bank JP Morgan confirmed that it would fund the new event.
It also reported that the new league has written to FIFA president Gianni Infantino and Ceferin, calling for cooperation but also revealing it has already taken legal action.
“We are concerned that FIFA and UEFA may respond to this invitation letter by seeking to take punitive measures to exclude any participating club or player from their respective competitions,” the letter said.
Germany’s Sueddeutsche Zeitung meanwhile suggested that a mainly closed Super League could violate European Union laws that protect the current format of football with open leagues, promotion and relegation.
A European Commission spokeswoman said on Monday that “European DNA” in sport must be preserved.
She however added that it did not have enough information on the planned competition to make further remarks.
European Commission deputy Margaritis Schinas tweeted that “we must defend a values-driven European model of sports based on diversity and inclusion.”
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said it was not “good news for fans” and pledged “to make sure this doesn’t go ahead in the way that it’s currently being proposed.”
Prince William, as president of the Football Association, wrote on Twitter that “we must protect the entire football community – from the top level to the grassroots – and the values of competition and fairness at its core.”
British Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Secretary Oliver Dowden later announced a new “fan-led” review into how football in England operates.
It will cover the “financial sustainability” of the game, “governence and regulation, and the merits of an independent regulator”.
It will also look at how fans can have an “even greater say” in the oversight of the game.
Looking at the English sides, former FA and Manchester City chairman David Bernstein said he was “ashamed, as clubs with that history should have great responsibility to the rest of the game.”
Spain’s La Liga and Germany’s federation DFB opposed the league.
Borussia Dortmund CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke said his club and Bayern Munich backed the agreement of the European Club Association (ECA) with UEFA on the Champions League reform.
German clubs are run by members and not investors, with opposition from fans to the new league (and the Champions League reform) huge just as in the other countries.
Players’ union FIFPro warned that the Super League could cause “irreparable damage”.
It said “players continue to be used as assets and leverage in these negotiations”.
But it also insisted it would “vigorously oppose measures by either side that would impede the rights of players, such as exclusion from their national teams.”(dpa/NAN)
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