Manchester United and Liverpool targeted again over proposed new closed-shop European Premier League

Tom Morgan
·5-min read
Kop
Kop

Manchester United and Liverpool are among five Premier League clubs being targeted again in a renewed attempt by Real Madrid's president to launch a closed-shop European breakaway league.

Florentino Pérez has seized upon the financial turmoil of Covid-19 and fall-out surrounding 'Project Big Picture' to apparently revive attempts to entice the elite to join him in walking away from the Champions League.

His plot, which is said to be supported by a new £4.6 billion investment proposal from financiers, is among several radical ideas set to be floated between the big clubs in the coming months as discussions about the format of European club competitions beyond 2024 gather pace.

Uefa were bullish about seeing off the rebel proposals on Tuesday night, pointing out this is the third time that Pérez's plan has surfaced in just two years. Sources close to United and Liverpool also described reports of their involvement as "speculative".

Uefa said in a statement that it “made it clear on many occasions” that the governing body “strongly opposes a Super League”. “The principles of solidarity, of promotion, relegation and open leagues are non-negotiable,” a spokesman said.

Uefa added that closed-shop proposals like those suggested by Perez “would inevitably become boring”.

However, leading figures in the English game have expressed outrage, pouring scorn on the proposals to attract major bank investment while other competitions face financial catastrophe.

Kevin Miles, the Football Supporters' Association chief executive, led a blistering attack, saying they "expose the myth that billionaire owners care about the English football pyramid, or indeed anything other than their own greed".

"This has to be the last nail in the coffin of the idea that football can be relied upon to regulate itself: these billionaire owners are out of control," he added.

Pérez's alternative plot was first detailed in the Football Leaks scandal almost two years and then last December, when Fifa denied being supportive of the idea after it emerged they had held talks.

It emerged on Tuesday in Spain that the campaign had been revived. Vozpópuli reported at least 18 European teams would be involved in the new incarnation, which would become an NBA-style set-up, with no promotion or relegation.

European Super League: Who, what, where and why
European Super League: Who, what, where and why

Apart from United and Liverpool, it is not clear who of Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal or Tottenham would be targeted for the remaining three English spots. Previously Spurs were omitted. 

Uefa played down fears that Perez will get his way, with one source insisting "we are not taking this very seriously". However, the richest clubs are known to be open to exploring ideas in the coming weeks to address a dysfunctional financial model, not least in the English football pyramid. As disclosed last week by The Daily Telegraph, Liverpool and United were at the forefront of Project Big Picture, a clandestine plot to hand sweeping new powers to the biggest clubs.

On Tuesday night, a Fifa source told The Daily Telegraph there had been no fresh contact with Perez in recent weeks. The governing body later said in a statement that it "does not wish to comment and participate in any speculation about topics which come up every now and then and, for which, institutional structures and regulatory frameworks are well in place at national, European and global level".

Under Perez's plans, England would have most representatives as it currently generates the most in television revenue. The European league project would  "go in parallel" with a world league initiative that is being mooted by Fifa, according to Vozpópuli.

James Ducker's Man Utd briefing
James Ducker's Man Utd briefing

Miles, of the FSF, was sickened by the timing of the plot. After PBP was voted down by the Premier League last Wednesday, talks over a bail-out for the Football League are now back at square one after the lower-tier clubs voted down a £20 million grant offer. Several League One and League Two clubs fear they could go to the wall by Christmas.

"Football in all its forms in the UK, from grassroots to the top tier, occupies far too important a place in our society, our culture and our communities to be jeopardised by an even greater concentration of wealth in the hands of half-a-dozen big clubs," Miles said.

“Decisive action is now needed to protect the game we love. We have already been promised by Government a fan-led review of the governance and regulation of football: that process needs to start as a matter of urgency before the super-rich custodians of the biggest clubs can do any more damage.”

Prize money would reportedly be worth about £913m to the winners, nearly 10 times as much as in the Champions League. Wall Street bank JP Morgan is in talks to provide £4.6bn of debt financing to help launch the European Premier League, according to Sky News.

Chris Bascombe's Liverpool briefing
Chris Bascombe's Liverpool briefing

Javier Tebas, the president of Spain's La Liga, cast doubt on the plan gaining serious support. "The authors of that idea - if they really exist - not only show a total ignorance of the organisation and customs of European and world football, but also a serious ignorance of the audiovisual rights markets," he added.

Gary Neville, who is demanding an independent regulator to help ease the English football pyramid's dire financial state, suggested that the clubs should instead be concentrating on healing immediate problems in their own pyramids. "The Premier League are now chasing their tail because they've failed in their duty to run football the last six, seven months," he told Sky Sports News. The European Club Association, which includes the biggest club sides in Europe, has also not supported the plan.

There is an expectation the clubs involved may use the breakaway as leverage to instead increase their share of Champions League money from 2024-25. Other clubs are already pressuring Europe's governing body to increase the current tournament to 36 clubs.

The Premier League last Wednesday announced plans to review the "future structures and financing of English football".  Liverpool, Manchester United and JP Morgan all declined to comment.