As it happened: European Super League threatens to shake up 'beautiful game'

From Matias Grez, Rob Picheta, Ben Church and John Sinnott, CNN

Updated 5:22 p.m. ET, April 19, 2021
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10:53 a.m. ET, April 19, 2021

UEFA says players who take part in breakaway league will be banned from World Cup and Euros

From CNN's Aleks Klosok

UEFA President Aleksander Čeferin reiterated on Monday that any players involved in the proposed breakaway Super League will be banned from the World Cup and European Championships. 

The Slovenian pulled no punches in an extraordinary media briefing, which came after 12 of European football’s biggest clubs announced on Sunday their intention to form a breakaway competition.

UEFA and the footballing world stand united against the disgraceful, self-serving proposal we have seen in the last 24 hours from a select few clubs in Europe that are fuelled purely by greed.
As previously announced by FIFA and the six (continental) federations, the players who will play in teams that might play in the closed league will be banned from playing in the World Cup and Euros, so they will not be able to represent their national teams at any matches."
UEFA President Aleksander Čeferin gave an extraordinary press briefing on Monday.
UEFA President Aleksander Čeferin gave an extraordinary press briefing on Monday. Franck Fife/AFP/Getty Images

The 53-year-old thanked European leaders, including UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and French President Emmanuel Macron, who have voiced their disapproval of the planned League.

“Super League is only about money, money of the dozen, I don’t want to call them dirty dozen – but UEFA is about developing football, and about financing what should be financed, that our football, our culture, survives – and some people don’t understand it. 

“Solidarity is something that stays forever. For some people, solidarity doesn’t exist. Unity doesn’t exist. The only thing that exists is their pockets. Ultimately, we believe that these changes and the support structure we are implementing can protect what our sport is all about,” Čeferin added.

UEFA on Monday voted to approve new plans for an expanded and restructured Champions League to kick-in from the 2024-25 season.

The total number of teams participating will increase from 32 to 36 with the traditional group stage being remodelled into to a single league stage.

10:55 a.m. ET, April 19, 2021

Football is in a "civil war" -- but fans can stop the Super League, says Tottenham Supporters' Trust

From CNN's Rob Picheta

The Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London.
The Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London. Tolga Akmen/AFP/Getty Images

Football fans can stop the European Super League despite the beginning of a "civil war" within the sport, a board member of the Tottenham Hotspur supporters' Trust has told CNN.

Tottenham were one of six English sides to announce they would take part in the new tournament, which has enraged fans and governing bodies of the sport.

Martin Buhagiar told CNN's Becky Anderson that the club's fans "feel betrayed" by the plan, hatched "without any consultation whatsoever with supporters -- probably because they knew this would be the reaction."

"We have seen these owners as custodians, but now we see them as imposters. Football is in a state of civil war today. Let’s make no mistake about that. We need to fight together," he said.

He urged fellow fans to put aside rivalries and work to stop the plans. "We feel that together football fans can stop this ... We will be speaking to other supporters groups. This is a time for rivals to come together and fight together."

"It’s all about pure greed," he said of the plans.

Tottenham joined Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Liverpool and nearby rivals Arsenal in forming the competition.

Earlier on Monday, Tottenham parted ways with their manager Jose Mourinho after a disappointing run of form.

10:45 a.m. ET, April 19, 2021

"R.I.P LFC": Liverpool fans lead Super League protest outside Anfield

From CNN's Matias Grez

Banners are placed outside of Anfield, home of Liverpool FC, by fans to protest against the team's decision to join the European Super League.
Banners are placed outside of Anfield, home of Liverpool FC, by fans to protest against the team's decision to join the European Super League. Peter Byrne/PA Images/Getty Images

A number of Liverpool fans are feeling particularly aggrieved with the club's choice to join the Super League.

There has been always a strong desire among fans that the club should represent the city of Liverpool, which has suffered its fair share of economic problems.

Since John W. Henry's Fenway Sports Group took control of Liverpool, the club has trumpeted the slogan of "This Means More" as a way of showing fans this is a football team that is connected to its fanbase.

For many supporters, that idea now rings hollow.

Outside of Anfield, Liverpool's stadium, fans led a protest against the club.

"Shame on you. R.I.P LFC. 1862-2021," read one banner.

Another read: "LFC fans against European Super League."

10:39 a.m. ET, April 19, 2021

"I fear it will happen," says leading football writer on Super League breakaway

From CNN's Matias Grez

Author Michael Calvin speaks with CNN on Monday. 
Author Michael Calvin speaks with CNN on Monday.  CNN

Michael Calvin -- author of the book 'Whose Game is it Anyway?' -- says he fears the Super League will now likely go ahead.

"I would hope that the authorities are strident in their opposition," he told CNN's Amanda Davies and Alex Thomas.

"The English FA were essentially rendered impotent when they allowed the Premier League to essentially gain influence of the game in England.

"UEFA cannot afford to be marginalized in the same way, so I would say -- I know it's a romantic gesture perhaps -- let the top six clubs in England go."

Watch the full interview below.

9:33 a.m. ET, April 19, 2021

Global players' union warns of Super League's impact on 'fabric and cultural identity of football'

From CNN's Matias Grez

The global players' union FIFPro has warned of the impact the breakaway Super League could have on the "fabric and cultural identity of football."

FIFPro, which is the worldwide representative organisation for 60,000 professional footballers, said the decision leaves players with "many concerns and questions" on their careers.

FIFA and UEFA have previously suggested players competing in the Super League could be banned from playing at the World Cup or European Championship.

"Football is built on its unique social and cultural heritage, which not only gives it an unparalleled relationship to its fans but also has created the engine to spread the professional game like no other sport," FIFPro said in a statement.

"For this to be sustained, a healthy and solidarity-based cooperation between domestic and international competitions is critical. A new competition undermining this might cause irreparable damage.

"It is important to note that European football’s arrival at this point of potential disruption is a reflection of a governance in which some have enjoyed disproportionate powers and most others including those at the heart of the game – the players but also fans – are largely overlooked.

"Players continue to be used as assets and leverage in these negotiations. This is unacceptable for FIFPRO, our 64 national player associations and the 60,000 players we represent. We will vigorously oppose measures by either side that would impede the rights of players, such as exclusion from their national teams."

9:40 a.m. ET, April 19, 2021

Twelve teams throw the beautiful game into crisis: Everything you need to know about the European Super League

From CNN's Rob Picheta

Getty Images
Getty Images

Football fans, politicians and governing bodies are united in fury after 12 of the sport's biggest teams announced plans to breakaway from European football competitions and form their own "Super League" -- a move that poses an existential threat to the world's favorite sport.

Here's a rundown of what you need to know about the plans, and why they matter.

What is the European Super League? The new competition would see 12 elite teams from across Europe start their own tournament, with no relegation or promotion, which they ultimately expect to expand to 20 clubs. Five teams would be allowed to qualify to join the competition each year.

The league is "intended to commence as soon as is practicable," according to the announcement posted on the 12 clubs' websites, and would likely see the teams quit or be banned from their current leagues.

Who's behind the plans? Six English clubs -- Arsenal, Chelsea Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, and Tottenham Hotspur -- alongside three teams from Italy -- AC Milan, Inter Milan and Juventus -- and three from Spain -- Atlético Madrid, Barcelona and Real Madrid -- are behind the plans.

American investment bank JP Morgan confirmed to CNN on Monday that it will be financing the proposed tournament.

What's the background? Owners of the world's biggest clubs have long agitated for a bigger share of football's TV revenues and other financial rewards, while the increasingly undeniable importance of money in the game has grated with more traditional supporters.

In recent decades, multi-billion dollar takeovers of several teams like Manchester City and Chelsea have widened the gap between football's haves and have nots, and it's extremely rare for a team outside the small group of elites to win a major league trophy.

That disparity has led to rumors of a "super league" for years, and some have suggested the clubs involved could be convinced to shelve the plans in favor of a financial compromise. But Sunday's announcement is by far the closest football has ever come to such a drastic breakaway.

Why does this matter? A key principle of football is that trophies and success are based on competition, and that no team is assured its place among the football elite or protected from relegation. The "Super League" model shatters that centuries-old structure, introducing a closed tournament that only some of the world's richest, most recognizable clubs are invited to.

The financial impact of the move on existing leagues and teams could be catastrophic; the Premier League, for example, would be devalued without its biggest names and could lose huge sums of money from TV deals. Even fans of lower league clubs fear the trickle down impact of the shift, especially after a pandemic that has left many teams in financial turmoil.

And for many fans, the idea is inherently opposed to the essence of football. Upset victories, competitions that see big teams take on lowly opponents, and fairytale stories such as Leicester City's remarkable Premier League title success in 2016, would be ended if the world's biggest teams left the established footballing universe in order to only play against each other.

As a result, the plans have achieved something rarely seen in sport -- uniting fans of all teams, along with the sport's governing bodies, in angry opposition.

What's the response been? The governing bodies that run football have pulled no punches in response to the plans, releasing statements that condemn the European Super League and threaten consequences.

FIFA, the global governing body for football, denounced the formation of the Super League, saying it goes against FIFA's core principles of solidarity, inclusivity, integrity and equitable financial redistribution.

UEFA -- which oversees all European football -- along with the English, Spanish, and Italian governing bodies and the top flight leagues from those three countries co-signed an angry statement promising 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."

"We will consider all measures available to us, at all levels, both judicial and sporting in order to prevent this happening. Football is based on open competitions and sporting merit; it cannot be any other way," the groups said.

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson, meanwhile, said the league "would strike at the heart of the domestic game."

What would happen if the league goes ahead? Given the angry stances that FIFA, UEFA and the existing leagues have taken, it appears unlikely that teams would be allowed to take part in the Super League and keep their spot in their respective domestic leagues as well.

In a statement issued in January, after rumors of the new Super League began circulating, FIFA said that it would not recognize the breakaway organization and went so far as to say that "any club or player involved in such a competition would as a consequence not be allowed to participate in any competition organized by FIFA or their respective confederation."

That would mean that many of the world's best players couldn't play for their country -- and would leave the next World Cup without stars like Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Kevin De Bruyne and many more.

9:06 a.m. ET, April 19, 2021

Former players label Super League 'greedy and callous' and call for points deductions

From CNN's Matias Grez

Former footballers Luis Figo and Gary Neville
Former footballers Luis Figo and Gary Neville Getty Images

Former Portugal international Luis Figo, considered one of the best midfielders of his generation, said the new plans for a Super League were "greedy and callous."

Figo played for Barcelona, Real Madrid and Inter Milan -- three of the Super League's 12 'founding members' -- and he warned of its potential impact on the sport.

Former Manchester United star Gary Neville -- who has been publicly critical of his old club since the announcement -- went a step further and suggested those involved should face punishments in their respective domestic leagues.

8:13 a.m. ET, April 19, 2021

Football fans find humor in their anger, mocking Super League clubs and firing some parting shots at Jose Mourinho

Tottenham Hotspur has confirmed that Jose Mourinho has been "relieved of his duties."
Tottenham Hotspur has confirmed that Jose Mourinho has been "relieved of his duties." Peter Powell/Pool/AFP/Getty Images

The Super League's founding clubs were at the sharp end of plenty of humor amid widespread anger at the proposed new competition.

A viral opinion piece for local British newspaper the News and Star, listing the "Reasons why a European Super League would be great for football," got to the point: "There aren't any. End of article."

Plenty of fans also took a dig at Jose Mourinho, whose dismissal from Tottenham Hotspur came hours after the club confirmed they were planning to join the league.

"Jose Mourinho is fired. He is the first of the European Super League managers to lose their job," former England striker Gary Lineker wrote.

"Harsh to sack Mourinho just after he qualified Spurs for the European Super League," journalist Henry Mance joked.

8:09 a.m. ET, April 19, 2021

‘I cannot remain silent:’ Soccer stars outspoken in criticizing Super League plans 

From CNN's Ben Church

PSG's Ander Herrera has condemned the new Super League plans.
PSG's Ander Herrera has condemned the new Super League plans. Aurelien Meunier/PSG/Getty Images

Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Ander Herrera has become one of the first top players to speak out against the new plans. 

PSG, backed by wealthy Qatari owners, is not one of the 12 founding members of the Super League.

Writing on Twitter, Herrera said: "I fell in love with popular football, with the football of the fans, with the dream of seeing the team of my heart compete against the greatest.

"If this European super league advances, those dreams are over, the illusions of the fans of the teams that are not giants of being able to win on the field competing in the best competitions will end.

"I love football and I cannot remain silent about this, I believe in an improved Champions League but not in the rich stealing what the people created, which is nothing other than the most beautiful sport on the planet.” 

Former Arsenal and current Fenerbahce midfielder Mesut Ozil echoed Herrera's criticisms.

“Kids grow up dreaming to win the World Cup and the Champions League - not any Super League,” Ozil tweeted. 

“The enjoyment of big games is that they only happen once or twice a year, not every week. Really hard to understand for all football fans out there.”