A22 Sports Management, the Spain-based company formed to promote and assist in the creation of a breakaway European soccer league – originally to be known as the European Super League (ESL) – announced revised plans for the competition in February, after its failed attempt in April 2021.
The original announcement proposed 12 permanent members from England, Italy, and Spain, but 15 were planned in total, with a further five clubs to qualify for the competition annually.
The founding clubs – and permanent members – were England's 'big six' of Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, and Tottenham Hotspur, plus AC Milan, Inter Milan, and Juventus of Italy, and Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, and Real Madrid of Spain.
However, within 72 hours the original project had collapsed, with strong opposition from fans, players, managers, politicians, and other clubs not involved in the Super League.
This was largely due to perceptions of the project being elitist and having a lack of competition due to its semi-closed format.
Inter and AC Milan, for example, were 26th and 53rd, respectively, in the UEFA club coefficient rankings at the time but were to obtain permanent places over the many teams that were above them in the rankings, contributing to the arguments that the permanent positions had not been awarded on merit.
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Asked in the aftermath of the original ESL collapse in 2021 whether the project could still happen, project co-founder and then-Juventus chairman Andrea Agnelli told Reuters: "To be frank and honest, no. Evidently, that is not the case.”
And yet, the relaunch was announced this February under the banner of the European Football League, with Juventus very much involved.
This time, there would be “no permanent members,” with the relaunch claiming to be “more meritocratic, transparent, and competitive.” It would be a multi-division competition with 60 to 80 teams, with promotion and relegation, and with qualification apparently on merit, not automatic.
The six English Premier League clubs originally involved in the project, however, had already acknowledged “that their actions were a mistake” and had “reconfirmed their commitment to the Premier League and the future of the English game,” according to a Premier League statement.
In fact, the clubs had agreed that “any similar actions in the future would lead to a 30-point deduction.” They would also each have to pay a £25-million ($31-million) fine.
The relaunch also faced criticism for its alleged similarity to UEFA’s current system, with its three European club competitions, except UEFA’s competitions have 230 teams instead of A22’s 60 to 80.
Speaking to GlobalData Sport, Bernd Reichart, chief executive of A22, outlines the changes that have been made to the project, how he believes it would benefit European soccer, and says the European Football League is “in a much stronger position today.”
Why were the plans for the European football league revised?
The reaction to the 2021 proposal was clear and well-understood. While there were some misunderstandings about the format, we listened, learned, and reappraised our approach. The current situation in European club football is characterized by a number of challenges that will not resolve themselves on their own.
Huge imbalances have emerged across the continent and clubs with glorious European traditions are no longer able to compete. These problems must be addressed. We remain determined to do so and will continue to speak with football stakeholders, incorporating modifications to the original proposals.
What is the difference between the original and relaunched plans for the league?
We have initiated a comprehensive dialogue with stakeholders across Europe on the future of club football. Since last October, I have spoken to a large number of European clubs and stakeholders. The vast majority of them share the assessment that the very foundation of European football is under threat, and it is time for change.
The consistent feedback received by A22 has been distilled into the 10 principles presented this February and will set the framework for a sustainable sporting model for any future European club competitions.
A22 said the relaunch is more “meritocratic, transparent, and competitive” – how will that be ensured?
We have proposed 10 principles as a preliminary result of our ongoing dialogue. In accordance with our first principle, we firmly commit to broad-based and meritocratic competitions, with no permanent members and participation based on annual sporting merit.
Further, European club competitions shall be club run and with transparent, well-enforced financial sustainability rules. Transparency will be at the heart of our state-of-the-art governance policy.
How would the European football league compare to UEFA competitions in terms of distribution of revenue?
As part of the principles, we have committed to distributing a minimum of €400 million ($441 million) per year to non-participating clubs, social causes, and investments in grassroots. This is double the amount that existing European club competitions currently provide as solidarity payments into the football pyramid.
It is still too early to discuss how revenues would be distributed among participating clubs, as our dialogue is still ongoing.
Following the fallout of the original launch, is a potential European football league in a weaker position now?
I believe we are in a much stronger position today. Since October, we have been leading an open and honest dialogue about the future of European club football and today know that the majority share our assessment that change is inevitable.
Football is a people’s game. I am convinced that a European league model will gain broad acceptance if developed jointly with clubs, players, coaches, associations, and anyone passionate about club football.