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Football: Anger as European breakaway threat re-emerges hours before UEFA vote

Football: Anger as European breakaway threat re-emerges hours before UEFA vote

The Official UEFA Champions League match balls are on display ahead of the Champions League quarter final second leg soccer match between Liverpool and Real Madrid at Anfield stadium in Liverpool, England on Apr 14, 2021. (Photo: AP/Jon Super)

MANCHESTER, England: European football closed ranks on Sunday (Apr 18) and threatened to ban any clubs that join a breakaway competition after the spectre of a European Super League re-emerged, prompting condemnation from European political leaders.

UEFA said on Sunday that they had learned that a group of English, Spanish and Italian clubs "may be planning to announce their creation of a closed, so-called Super League".

French President Emmanuel Macron and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson both issued statements condemning a breakaway and supporting UEFA's position.

Multiple media reports, not denied by any of the clubs, who have remained silent, said that the Premier League's 'big six' - Manchester United, Liverpool, Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham - had signed up to the plans.

Spain's Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid and Italy's Juventus, AC Milan and Inter Milan have also been linked to the plan for a competition but no German or French clubs have yet to be associated with the breakaway.

The news came less than 24 hours before UEFA is due to sign off on its own plans for an expanded and restructured Champions League on Monday.

The European Club Association (ECA) which represents 246 clubs across the continent held a quickly-called meeting on Sunday. A person with knowledge of the meeting told Reuters that representatives from clubs linked to the breakaway did not attend.

The ECA issued a statement reaffirming their support for UEFA and the Champions League reforms but did not mention the absence of the breakaway clubs.

"The ECA Executive Board will be convening over the coming days to take appropriate decisions in light of any further developments," the body said in a statement.

UEFA issued a strong statement with English, Spanish and Italian leagues and football federations, saying they were ready to use "all measures" to confront any breakaway and saying any participating clubs would be banned from domestic leagues, such as the Premier League.

"The clubs concerned will be banned from playing in any other competition at domestic, European or world level, and their players could be denied the opportunity to represent their national teams," UEFA said.

"We thank those clubs in other countries, especially the French and German clubs, who have refused to sign up to this. We call on all lovers of football, supporters and politicians, to join us in fighting against such a project if it were to be announced. This persistent self-interest of a few has been going on for too long. Enough is enough."

The moves were condemned by football authorities across Europe and former players such as Manchester United's ex-captain Gary Neville who called it "an absolute disgrace" and said the club owners were motivated by "pure greed".

Top French club Paris St Germain have not been reported to have signed up to the plan and President Macron also raised his voice against the breakaway.

"The president of the republic welcomes the position of French clubs to refuse to participate to a European football Super League project that threatens the principle of solidarity and sporting merit," the French presidency said in a statement sent to Reuters.

"The French state will support all the steps taken by the LFP, FFF, UEFA and FIFA to protect the integrity of federal competitions, whether national or European," the Elysee added, citing the national, European and globally soccer governing bodies.

UK Prime Minister Johnson also opposed the move.

"Plans for a European Super League would be very damaging for football and we support football authorities in taking action," Johnson tweeted.

"They would strike at the heart of the domestic game, and will concern fans across the country. The clubs involved must answer to their fans and the wider footballing community before taking any further steps."

Earlier on Sunday, the board of Italy's Serie A league held an emergency meeting on the threatened Super League.

A Serie A source told Reuters that the league had recently become aware of the plans for a breakaway project.

20-TEAM LEAGUE

There have been reports of a breakaway for a number of years and they returned in January with several media reported a document had been produced outlining the plans for a 20-team league including Spanish giants Real Madrid and Barcelona.

In October, then Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu said the club had accepted a proposal to join a breakaway league.

Those reports led FIFA and UEFA to warn that they would ban any players involved in a breakaway from playing in the World Cup or European Championship.

UEFA has proposed an increase to 36 from 32 teams, and an overhaul of the group stage into a single table rather than the current groups of four clubs.

Teams would play 10 matches each in the group stage rather than the six they currently play and a playoff round would also be introduced before the last 16.

But while there has been a broad consensus and those reforms, the big clubs made a late push to have changes to the governance and control of the competition.

Source: Reuters

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