By Tariq Panja
Real Madrid’s president, Florentino Pérez, recently held talks with officials from some of Europe’s leading soccer clubs, as well as FIFA president, Gianni Infantino, to outline his vision for the sport. What he is proposing, according to people familiar with the conversations, is nothing less than a groundbreaking power shift in the club game.
One elite competition comprising the world’s richest clubs, untethered from their domestic leagues for a new full-season competition. Domestic leagues stripped of their biggest and most historic brands. And thousands of top-division games rendered far less valuable to everyone from sponsors to broadcasters to, perhaps most important, fans.
With financing in the works and the clout of Real Madrid backing the venture, and with the game’s officials beginning to sketch the framework of the new global soccer calendar that will take effect after 2024, the outlines of a European super league could be closer than before.
At the heart of Pérez’s plan is his long-held desire for Europe’s biggest teams, like his, to break away from their domestic leagues and form an elite European competition that would be played across an entire season, according to people familiar with the discussions.
The current iteration of the plan would see two 20-team divisions, composed almost exclusively of clubs from Europe’s five biggest leagues: England, Spain, France, Germany and Italy. Some clubs have been told that, according to projections, they could expect to double their revenues by leaving their domestic leagues to join. The concept of promotion and relegation — a fixture of world soccer that rewards success and punishes failure — would be retained but only between the two divisions.
The proposal most likely would meet fierce resistance. At a stroke any such competition would decimate the value of domestic league matches, but by taking the best teams they also could destroy the value of the Champions League, the world’s richest club championship and the financial engine of European soccer’s governing body, UEFA.
Pérez, who as Real Madrid’s president became a founding member of a new global association for international clubs when it was begun last month at FIFA’s headquarters in Zurich, declined, through the club, to comment on his proposals. During his visit to Zurich, though, he discussed his ideas with Infantino, who has spent much of the past year pushing his own idea about how to remake club soccer.
Infantino’s vision for club soccer has largely been focused on the creation of a new 24-team Club World Cup that will begin play in 2021, but he also has a broader vision for FIFA, the game’s global governing body, to have a stronger hand in club soccer.
Only last week, for example, he pushed the idea of investing hundreds of millions of dollars in a new Pan-African league, as a means to increase quality there and also slow the global talent drain to Europe. The FIFA president has also had talks with national associations in Asia about the possibility of creating regional or subregional leagues there, and conversations with President Donald Trump about the quality of soccer in the top U.S. league.
“One of the FIFA president’s duties is to listen to stakeholders’ perspectives about relevant topics for football,” FIFA said in a statement in response to questions about Infantino’s discussions with Pérez and others about changes to the club game. “FIFA believes that an open and constructive dialogue between different members of the football community is essential to find the right balance and the best solutions for the future of the game.
“FIFA (including the president) has met with football clubs from around the world in order to discuss how to make the new FIFA Club World Cup an outstanding success, in particular, from a sporting point of view.”