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FIFA and UEFA rebuff breakaway league

World football's governing body FIFA and Europe's UEFA faced down their biggest challenge in decades from the proposed European Super League.

FC Barcelona's stadium and 'more than a club' motto
FC Barcelona's stadium and 'more than a club' motto (AN/Radek Kucharski)

GENEVA (AN) — World football's governing body FIFA and Europe's confederation UEFA faced down the biggest challenge to their authority and grip over a multibillion-dollar sports empire in decades, pressuring backers of the proposed European Super League to put their plans on hold.

After the collapse of the breakway league among 12 of Europe's biggest, most successful and lucrative clubs, one of the few remaining founding members, FC Barcelona, vowed on Thursday to keep pursuing "structural reforms to guarantee the financial sustainability and feasibility of world football" after it thoroughly analyzes the root causes of the public and official backlash.

"The decision was made in the conviction that it would have been a historical error to turn down the opportunity to be part of this project as one of its founding members," it said. But given the international outcry over the proposal, it added, "FC Barcelona appreciates that a much more in-depth analysis is required into the reasons that have caused this reaction. ... Such in-depth analysis needs time and the necessary composure to avoid taking any rash action."

The proposed league's architects paused the project on Tuesday, just 48 hours after the plan became public and sparked national crises in Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom, home to the 12 founding members.

The six rebel members of the English Premier League — Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur — abandoned the project after UEFA targeted their owners by demanding they respect fans' wishes.

“At this point I would like to address the owners of some English clubs,” UEFA's president Aleksander Čeferin told its annual meeting in Montreux, Switzerland, referring to a small group of owners including several American billionaires and a Russian oligarch seeking a more American-like closed league structure with big profits. “Gentlemen, you made a huge mistake. Some will say it is greed, others disdain, arrogance, flippancy or complete ignorance of England’s football culture."

“But actually it doesn’t matter. What matters is there is still time to change your mind," he added. "Everyone makes mistakes. English fans deserve to have you correct your mistake. They deserve respect."

Changing the 'status quo'

The group of clubs had told Ceferin and FIFA President Gianni Infantino that the proposed league was underwritten by 4 billion euros from JPMorgan Chase.

Unlike the current system of qualifying rounds to enter the Champions League, the Super League would have guaranteed slots each year for 15 member teams starting in 2022 to 2023. Each would have been paid hundreds of millions of euros to join and to compete each season.

Infantino told the annual meeting that FIFA officials also "strongly disapprove" of the proposal to create "a closed shop, a breakaway from the current institutions" including the leagues, confederations, and UEFA and FIFA governing bodies.

“If someone decides to undertake its own path, they will have to pay the consequences," he threatened. “Either you’re in or you’re out. You can’t be half in and half out. Think of it, this has to be absolutely, absolutely clear.”

Within a day the three Italian clubs that had agreed to join — Juventus, Inter Milan and Milan — and one of the three Spanish clubs, Atlético Madrid, decided to withdraw.

But the two remaining Spanish teams — Barcelona and Real Madrid — said they would not give up. The Super League's proponents said they will now consider "the most appropriate steps to reshape the project," guided by European law and a firm belief that "the current status quo of European football needs to change."