MANCHESTER, England: Twelve of Europe's top football clubs announced on Sunday they were launching a breakaway Super League in the face of widespread opposition from within the game and beyond.
The move, which has been heavily criticised by soccer authorities and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and French President Emmanuel Macron, sets up a rival to UEFA's established Champions League competition.
Six clubs from England's Premier League - Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur feature among the founding members, along with Spain's Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid and Italy's Inter Milan, Juventus and AC Milan, the organisation, called Super League, said in a statement.
The league plans to launch "as soon as practicable" and the founding clubs will be given 3.5 billion euros (US$4.19 billion) "to support their infrastructure investment plans and to offset the impact of the COVID pandemic", the statement 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 four billion fans and our responsibility as big clubs is to respond to their desires," said Real Madrid president Florentino Perez, the new founding chairman of the Super League.
The league plans to add three more teams as founder members and then run a 20-team midweek league with five teams qualifying annually "based on their achievements in the prior seasons".
A women's Super League competition is also planned to be launched after the men's league is up and running, the statement said.
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 will complete the final eight.
Juventus president Andrea Agnelli, vice-chairman of the new league, said the move would secure the long-term future of the game.
“Our 12 founder clubs represent billions of fans across the globe and 99 European trophies. We have come together at this critical moment, enabling European competition to be transformed, putting the game we love on a sustainable footing for the long-term future, substantially increasing solidarity, and giving fans and amateur players a regular flow of headline fixtures that will feed their passion for the game while providing them with engaging role models.”
FIFA and UEFA condemned the plans, with Europe's governing body saying it would ban any club involved from playing in its domestic league. The new plan was announced the day before UEFA meets to discuss a new expanded format for the Champions League.
(Reporting by Simon Evans, editing by Pritha Sarkar)