The European Super League was Soccer’s biggest controversy of the decade. Will the court case revive the idea?

The media may be full of transfer stories right now – the future of Cristiano Ronaldo, the discovery of Barcelona’s Robert Lewandowski, Paul Pogba’s second homecoming at Juventus – but more importantly, something that will change the club’s game forever. Luxembourg courtroom on Monday and Tuesday.

– UEFA called the Super League a “textbook cartel”

C-333/21 will be heard by the European Court of Justice (CJEU) at the request of a Spanish court seeking clarification of European competition law. This result will strengthen the existing “European model” of football – with its pyramid structure and its governing body, UEFA, the role of both the tournament organizers and regulators – or thus lead to the Big Bang moment of the game. Like the European Super League, which was canceled in the early spring of 2021.

Or, since it’s a lawyer and these matters are complicated, we can end up with some legal gobletigooks that leave room for some kind of “super league light,” even the original doesn’t have many allowances. The Super League Twelve rented themselves out (i.e. no guaranteed venues, more open access, more tangible payouts flowing down the pyramid).

Q: Is this really dramatic?

A: I think so. At its center are two models of the sport of running. On the basis that the current model effectively gives a lot of power to governing bodies – such as national bodies, UEFA and FIFA – they run elected officials and represent the whole “pyramid” of football: even the greatest authority. Until then, amateur and young players.

This setup has been widely adopted over the last 50 years, but is now being challenged by an alternative model that would transfer power away from the governing bodies and into the hands of the largest club. Make a lot of money.

Q: What are the differences between the three rebel Super League clubs, Juventus, Real Madrid and Barcelona?

A: He says UEFA is running an illegal monopoly on European football because it organizes European competitions such as the Champions League and Europa League, as well as acting as the governing body for the game. The club says they should be free to organize their own competitions, distribute the proceeds properly and invite them to join.

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Technically, they can already do that – no one is forcing them to play in the Champions League; If they want to, they can compete in their own league instead – but in a real sense they can’t, because there are so many obstacles along the way. For example, their players will be banned from international competitions such as the World Cup, they will have difficulty transferring players to non-Super League clubs, and in some leagues they will be excluded from their local competitions, such as in Spain. Liga or Serie A in Italy. So in practice they are not allowed to compete the way they want, he says.

European competition law is designed to promote fair competition and prevent organizations from abusing key positions. UEFA regulates the game in Europe, but it also hosts the largest, most lucrative international competitions (and in doing so, effectively competes with clubs for sponsorship and revenue). The Super League club insists UEFA should not be allowed to do both.

Q: What is a counter-claim?

A: UEFA may draw attention to the fact that they are not some kind of self-appointed elite who run the game, but are ultimately selected and to whom they respond through everyone in the system. His goal is to work for the good of the game as a whole. This means acting as a regulator, but also funding the system and organizing the sport’s most important international club competitions.

UEFA redistributes most of its net earnings to clubs and national organizations. This helps the development of the former, and it allows the latter to develop the game, investing in areas such as football for young players and disabled players, who in many cases cannot sustain themselves.

Q: It seems that socialism versus capitalism

A: There is a lot to give and take on both sides, but to some extent it is. The original Super League proposal, for example, “Solidarity Payments” set aside a portion of the money given to clubs and national organizations that did not join the Super League. (Nowhere is there more money than UEFA pays out of Champions League earnings, but still a huge amount.)

And on the other hand, in the last few years UEFA has come close to what the biggest club wants. They have placed the European Club Association (ECA) on the UEFA Executive Committee, expanded and restructured the Champions League to generate more revenue, and set up joint ventures with clubs to better sell business rights. And, of course, the big clubs get more revenue than ever before.

But that is why this decision is important. If it lands decisively on one side or the other, it will completely change the relationship and the balance of power.

Q: How so?

A: Well, if it’s completely on the side of the Super League club, that’s pretty obvious. For example, they can create their own competition, sell their own commercial and broadcast rights, and still have the right to play in their domestic league. There is no penalty for doing any of these. Heck, we could have an NBA-style World Super League, in which investors pay franchise fees and set up clubs in major cities like Berlin or Moscow (or heck, maybe Dubai and New York).

Equally, he is also a potential game-changer if he comes out strongly on the side of UEFA and argues that the club should accept the current arrangement. Finally, UEFA negotiates the European Cup format – and revenue sharing – with stakeholders like the club (via ECA). They will benefit more from now and they will benefit more from FIFA (remember, the relationship between UEFA and FIFA is not very good). It would also create an example that would prevent further breakup attempts (or make it more difficult), or something we’ve seen in golf, including the Saudi investment in the LIV Golf Tour.

They will have to consider the broader consequences of their decision in the future, and I think it would be more interesting to go to court. This may be part of the reason why it will take them 10 to 12 weeks to get results.

Q: Does that mean it’s more likely to end up somewhere in the middle?

A: Probably not in the middle, but somewhere between the two ends, of course. In my opinion, one thing that will be emphasized is that the “closed league” (or de facto close league like the Super League, with its 27-year license) is off the table. But the Super League, for example, can bring pressure to bear on what is in basketball, including the Euroleague. Some teams qualify for it each year, while other teams receive multi-year licenses (up to 10 years) based on their achievements, infrastructure and the income they earn. He says financial stability and future investment must be guaranteed, as losing a year in the Champions League could cost the club 20% to 40% of their earnings.

I hope UEFA will support some kind of debate on “sports exclusivity”: a legal concept that says sports are no other business. They are an integral part of European culture, they have a social value, they cannot be left to the whims of the free market. It’s like utility companies or the fire department or even schools: there may be private and government owned neighborhoods, but there must be rules to protect everyone.

Q: Care in which direction it will go?

A: Not really, but as you asked, I have an idea that they will land somewhere near the UEFA venue.

Those who follow CJEU closer to me tell me that this is a political court and they do not rule in zero. They take into account the prevailing sentiment among government, stakeholders, fans and voters – and support for the Super League is extremely limited, with three rebel clubs and their fans and perhaps a section of club supporters like Milan, Inter. And Atletico Madrid (who will benefit the most). The six Premier League clubs that took part and took the despicable U-turn after fan protests are also officially opposing it, and some have vowed never to take part… even if you can imagine it. Whether they will change their mind about it could affect equity people or other investors and maybe some broadcasters / sponsors who are in favor of it, but for now they are all quiet.

Most European governments have weighed in against the rebel club. Similarly there are most national associations, most leagues, most official fan groups, FIFA, players associations FIFPro and ECA. Many political parties and organizations here are expecting a favorable outcome from UEFA and I think it is important.

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