ABRAHAM P. ROMERO
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- The clause A Champions to hate
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There was a time not too long ago when the word "Super League" was not a taboo subject in UEFA's offices. A time in which European football, eager for changes, new motivations, more money and power, mumbled in its corridors the need for a modification of the format of the Champions League. A time that has a specific date: March 19, 2018. That day, in a meeting room in Nyon, the Executive Committee of the highest organization of continental football slipped an idea on its table to execute a radical change in the Champions League: "We have to make a Super League."
Five years later, UEFA starts today the last edition of its best competition before launching a new format from the 2024-2025 season. It will be the great change of this century. It will go from 32 to 36 teams, forget about group stages, form a regular league in which teams will play 8 games and eight places will be awarded for the playoffs. "There will be more games of higher level, more uncertainty until the end of the league and we will not have dead duels," they assure this newspaper from the organization.
More matches of higher level. Does that phrase remind you of anything? "The matches between the big ones generate more money," claimed Florentino Pérez on April 18, 2021, the date on which the Superliga project was presented. A day before, curiously, the official announcement of the change of format of the new Champions League. Nothing is a coincidence, of course. "We announced in a hurry the creation of the Super League because we were notified of the publication of the new format of the Champions League," they recall.
The CJEU's decision
Since then, European football is only understood from the trenches of the sporting, media, political and social war between UEFA and the Super League. The Court of Justice of the European Union continues to analyze the case and lengthen the verdict on the winner of a trial that has the leaders in suspense. The resolution, at the earliest, would arrive at the end of October, according to sources close to the judicial process.
Meanwhile, the European Cup begins with the promise that in twelve months everything will be different. That the tournament will change, says Aleksander Ceferin, "keeping the dream of any European team and not being a small self-selected poster", referring to the ideas of its biggest enemy. Hints, and knives, fly all over the continent. UEFA and Superliga do coincide in a chronology of events: the competition led by Florentino Pérez and Real Madrid is "a reaction to the new format of the Champions League", admit from the young project. "The new format is not a response to the Super League. Discussions about it started much earlier," UEFA sources admit.
UEFA and Super League not only coincide in chronology, but also in some of the problems of European football. Their big differences are in the how. "This change of format is a necessary evolution to make the competition more attractive and ensure the growth and long-term sustainability of European football," they insist on the top continental competition. A phrase that, again, they also utter on the other side of the battlefield when defending the creation of the new competition.
And then, "Why do they fight?" readers will ask. You won't be surprised by the answer: money. UEFA sold this summer to Telefónica the television rights of European competitions for three years and 960 million. In 2017, the same three-season contract cost Mediapro $1.100 billion. "Audiovisual rights are falling all over the football planet except in the Premier League," a director of a LaLiga team tells EL MUNDO. Therein lies the great argument of the Super League: "I do not think that 4,000 million people throw themselves on television to watch unknown clubs," said Florentino. In the Super League they go further: "The new format is a disaster and a commercial failure. There are more higher-level matches, but there are also more lower-level matches."
UEFA defends itself by ensuring that the value of the competition has increased by 25%, with an improvement also in the figure taken by clubs that do not participate in their competitions: from 4% to 7% of total revenues, which are estimated at almost 4,000 million. "We have improved our data remarkably," they stress in UEFA. But sources of the Super League say that the initial forecasts were for an improvement of 60% and revenues of 5,000 million "that they will not achieve".
The clubs, against Al-Khelaifi
In the middle of the trenches, silenced now waiting for the CJEU, other clubs have created the Union of European Clubs, an organization formed by middle-class teams contrary to the interests of the ECA (Association of European Clubs) that governs Nasser Al-Khelaifi. So we not only have war in competitions, but also in clubs. This new body was born with the support, among others, of Javier Tebas, who accused the sheikh and the ECA of representing "only the clubs of the elite". The president of LaLiga calls for greater "protection" for domestic tournaments. "The ECA wanted more European matches on the calendar and more big teams in European competitions, but from the Leagues we want to continue to protect our growth. This new format of the Champions League is the result of a negotiation between different interests, "summarize sources of the Spanish entity.
And on the horizon, Saudi Arabia, the new protagonist of the continental circus that threatens to destroy all trenches even before UEFA and Super League end their own war. Ceferin has already warned that Saudi teams will not be in this new format of the Champions League, but the battle of European football does not stop.
- Florentino Perez Rodriguez
- European Super League
- Javier Tebas