Europe’s top clubs threaten to break away from Fifa and Uefa
• ECA teams unhappy about finances and international fixtures
• Clubs may bypass governing bodies and run their own affairs
European clubs will break away from Fifa and Uefa and create their own super league unless the world governing body urgently addresses their growing concerns over international fixtures and finances. It would be the most radical development in the history of football since the first World Cup in 1930, ripping up the established world order of the game and seizing power from Sepp Blatter, Fifa’s president.
The Guardian can reveal the background to Karl-Heinz Rummenigge’s comments on Tuesday about a “revolution” for football: a European super league that would see the clubs seize control of their own affairs from the regulators. The European game is currently ordered through a memorandum of understanding between clubs and Uefa that was signed three and a half years ago. It runs until 2014, and when it expires the top European clubs will no longer be legally bound to play in Uefa’s Champions League or, crucially, to release their players for international friendlies or tournaments, including the World Cup.
In a reflection of their belief that Fifa lacks legitimacy – especially in the wake of the damaging bribery allegations currently surrounding the organisation – the clubs will not shrink from breaking away if they do not receive sufficient guarantees.
A board member of the European Club Association of which Bayern Munich’s Rummenigge is president told the Guardian on Wednesday: “The fact that Bayern Munich, who have always been close to the institutions, are being so vocal and loud about the situation is a clear sign we’re very close to breaking point. We have a memorandum of understanding with Uefa that expires in 2014. After that time we can no longer be forced to respect Fifa statutes or Uefa regulations. And we won’t be obliged to compete in their competitions.”
When asked what that would mean for clubs’ finances if they were to withdraw from the Champions League, which generates tens of millions of pounds a year for his organisation’s richest and most influential members, the ECA board member responded: “Don’t be naive. Don’t think there would be no alternative competition.”
Although the ECA has a broad constituency, representing 197 European clubs, it is the interests of nine in particular that will drive this agenda. They are Real Madrid, Milan, Liverpool, Internazionale, Manchester United, Barcelona, Arsenal, Chelsea and Rummenigge’s Bayern. When the Guardian contacted the four English clubs for their views on the matter, all declined to comment. However, a director at one of the clubs said: “[Financially] there is a lot of unfulfilled potential in football as it stands.”
The English experience of the past 20 years, since a breakaway group of the leading clubs withdrew from the Football League to form the Premier League (albeit under the auspices of the Football Association), has been exceptionally lucrative for the game domestically and the hawks within the ECA are pushing for a replica at European level.
The news will not come as a surprise at Uefa where in some quarters there is a long-held view that the clubs will seek to go their own way. This has arisen from a number of points of conflict with the world football authorities. As revealed by the Guardian last month there is considerable disquiet about perceived moves to expand the international calendar, forcing clubs to release their expensively remunerated players to national associations without any payback. Fifa denies there have been any discussions about the subject but the ECA source claimed that the matter will be ratified at a Fifa executive-committee meeting in the autumn. As is consistent with relations between Fifa and the clubs, the decision will have been taken without any formal negotiations with the clubs about how the additional fixtures would be accommodated.
There is a further grievance, this time with Uefa about insurance. The ECA alleges Uefa has pulled back from its commitment to provide insurance for players who are called up for international duty. “Uefa said we would have our insurance after their presidential elections [in March],” the source said. “Now the elections have taken place and we’re still waiting for talks.” A spokesman for Uefa did not respond to the Guardian’s call.
Yet despite the details of the enduring dispute between the clubs and Fifa and Uefa, there is an overriding financial motive. “When you have every club losing money every year and the only winners the players and Fifa,” the source said, “how can that be allowed to go on?”