A dozen of Europe’s wealthiest football clubs have agreed to join a breakaway “Super League” competition that would mark the biggest transformation of the game in decades.

The contest, backed by $6bn in debt financing from JPMorgan, aims to supersede the Champions League, currently the continent’s top annual club competition.

The teams that declared on Sunday night that they plan to join the competition were: Spain’s Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atlético Madrid; England’s Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur; and Italy’s Juventus, AC Milan and Inter Milan.

They added that three other clubs “will join ahead of the inaugural season, which is intended to commence as soon as practicable”.

The announcement will spark a battle for power within the world’s favourite sport, with the elite clubs facing fierce resistance from politicians, fan groups and the sport’s governing bodies, all of which have vowed to resist the breakaway.

But Florentino Pérez, president of Real Madrid, who has been designated the first chair of the Super League, 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 4bn fans and our responsibility as big clubs is to respond to their desires.”

Florentino Pérez, president of Real Madrid and set to be first chair of the Super League © AFP via Getty Images

The league would involve 20 clubs with 15 being “permanent members”, meaning they could not be relegated and would not need to qualify through strong performances in national league competitions. 

The founding clubs said they would collectively be given a €3.5bn grant to spend on infrastructure investments.

Documents seen by the Financial Times suggested that founder members will also be granted €100m-€350m each to join the contest and that they would continue to play in their national competitions, such as England’s Premier League and Spain’s La Liga.

With expected revenues of €4bn for the competition through media and sponsorship sales, clubs would receive a fixed payment of €264m a year. JPMorgan declined to comment.

Among the top clubs not signed up include France’s Paris Saint-Germain and Germany’s Bayern Munich, among the richest in Europe.

The declaration about the Super League was designed to head off an alternative plan for a radical transformation of the Champions League, which is run by Uefa, European football’s governing body. 

Uefa’s annual conference on Monday was set to approve radical changes in the format of its competition, including 100 more matches each season and more money-spinning ties between top teams.

Andrea Agnelli resigned as the European Club Association’s chair on Sunday after he was named a vice-chair of the Super League: ‘We have come together at this critical moment, enabling European competition to be transformed’ © AFP via Getty Images

Those moves followed a meeting last week of the European Club Association, a body that represents the interests of more than 200 leading teams and that in recent years has been led by Andrea Agnelli, Juventus chair, to discuss the proposed reforms to the continent’s club tournaments.

The ECA agreed to allow Uefa to proceed with the proposed format changes, but there was widespread discontent with the plan, as leading clubs wanted to be given greater assurances over a joint venture that would control all media and sponsorship rights for European club competitions. 

Agnelli resigned as the ECA’s chair on Sunday after he was named a vice-chair of the Super League. He said: “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.”

Uefa said it was united with Europe’s top leagues, national governing bodies and Fifa in “efforts to stop this cynical project, a project that is founded on the self-interest of a few clubs at a time when society needs solidarity more than ever”.

It added that it would consider “all measures available to us, at all levels, both judicial and sporting in order to prevent this happening”. This includes banning players at Super League clubs from representing their national teams in competitions such as the World Cup.

In a sign of escalating tension between the sport’s power brokers, the Super League clubs wrote to Uefa and Fifa, international football’s governing body, late on Sunday night threatening to take legal action if they attempted to block the new competition, according to people familiar with the matter.

That move came after Fifa said in a statement that it expresses “its disapproval to a ‘closed European breakaway league’,” but stopped short of announcing any disciplinary measures against the teams.

Boris Johnson, UK prime minister, wrote on Twitter that the plans “would be very damaging for football and we support football authorities in taking action”.

Emmanuel Macron, France’s president, said he “welcomes the position of French clubs” that have declined to participate in the contest.

Football Supporters Europe, a fans group, said the “closed shop competition will be the final nail in the coffin of European football, forsaking everything that has made it so popular and successful”.

The Times newspaper was first to report on Sunday that a number of clubs had agreed in principle to join the Super League.

Leading clubs, which have faced steep revenue shortfalls during the pandemic, were keen on the competition, which they believed would guarantee income from European matches every season. It could also include aspects of cost control, such as potential salary caps and spending limits.

The competition would resemble the structure of “closed” North American sports leagues, where franchise owners enjoy reliable profits and the valuation of teams rise steadily over time. 

But the plan broke with the pyramid structure of the European game, where even the smallest teams, through strong performances on the pitch, can win the biggest trophies.

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