An announcement regarding a breakaway European Super League (ESL) on Sunday (18 April) evening was quickly met with a backlash from governing bodies, governments and supporters. What would this mean for players though?
A breakaway league isn’t a brand new concept and has been threatened before. It is widely reported that this time 12 clubs, including six from England, have agreed to join a new ESL. Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham from the English Premier League have been joined by Spanish sides Athletico Madrid, Barcelona and Real Madrid as well as Italian clubs AC Milan, Inter Milan and Juventus.
These ‘founding clubs’ are set to be joined by three more with a further five qualifying for the midweek competition designed to replace the Champions League. The ESL “is intended to commence as soon as practicable”.
On Monday 19 April, UEFA, European football’s governing body, announced that their Executive Committee unanimously voted through a new 36 team Champions League format due to start in 2024. Commentators are speculating that the timing of the ESL is a power play by big European clubs who are not happy with the changes being made to the Champions League.
Banned from domestic leagues and internationals
The ESL has been condemned by governing bodies. In a joint statement on Sunday with Spanish, English and Italian leagues and federations, UEFA said it will consider “all measures”, including the courts, in opposition to plans for a breakaway competition.
“The clubs concerned will be banned from playing in any other competition at domestic, European or world level, and their players could be denied the opportunity to represent their national teams,” UEFA said.
Rebel tours and competitions
Can players indeed be lawfully banned from competition? Cricket has seen players banned from international competition in the past when international cricketing bodies and governments across the world banned international cricket in South Africa because of apartheid. Several ‘rebel tours’ were still organised between 1982 and 1990.
A rebel touring English side in 1989/90 featured players who mostly did not play for England again. Captain Mike Gatting served a three year ban from Test cricket before a recall to the international side. This is different with regards to the political position but UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has tweeted about the announcement saying that plans for a breakaway European Super League would be “very damaging” for football.
“The clubs involved must answer to their fans and the wider footballing community before taking any further steps,” Mr Johnson tweeted.
The Premier League
A Premier League statement said: “A European Super League will undermine the appeal of the whole game, and have a deeply damaging impact on the immediate and future prospects of the Premier League and its member clubs, and all those in football who rely on our funding and solidarity to prosper.
“We will work with fans, The FA (Football Association), EFL (English Football League), PFA (Professional Footballers’ Association) and LMA (League Managers Association), as well as other stakeholders, at home and abroad, to defend the integrity and future prospects of English football in the best interests of the game.”
What are the implications for players?
Clearly the palpable threat of sanctions from the Premier League and UEFA cannot just be ignored.
If the ESL does go ahead as threatened, and if sanctions are lawfully levied in accordance with relevant legislation, players – those currently with one of the teams proposing the ELS or potentially looking to move to one of those clubs – would inevitably be placed in an unenviable position. A footballer’s playing career is short and their livelihoods are at stake. The glory of playing against a top European side each week balanced against potentially being estopped – if legal – from the opportunity of representing your country. An impossible decision, which will likely prompt serious negotiations between clubs and the regulatory authorities and governing bodies. Is it right to ‘punish’ players for decisions taken by clubs? Players not at that level would be advised to reflect carefully on their position and question the impact this would have on their careers.
Irrespective, a review of a player’s current and proposed future playing contract would be of paramount importance and consideration.
The announcement has sent shockwaves right through the football industry and there are many other significant considerations. The Premier League is a cash generator but what would losing these six clubs do to the Premier League in terms of TV rights, sponsorship and generating money?
This does appear to be the closest we have come to date for a new ESL so people representing their players, agents and professional advisers, will have a crucial role to play for those caught in the middle.
Please contact Dov Katz, Partner and Head of the Sports Law team at Blake Morgan if you wish to discuss further.