LONDON — A group of the world’s richest and most storied soccer clubs has agreed in principle on a plan to create a breakaway European club competition that would, if it comes to fruition, upend the structures, economics, and relationships that have bound global soccer for nearly a century.
After months of secret talks, the breakaway teams — which include Real Madrid and Barcelona in Spain; Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea in England; and Juventus and A.C. Milan in Italy — could make an announcement as early as Sunday, according to multiple people familiar with the plans.
The so-called super league they have agreed upon — an alliance of top clubs closer in concept to closed societies like the N.F.L. and the N.B.A. than soccer’s current model — would bring about the most significant restructuring of elite European soccer since the 1950s and could herald the most important transfer of wealth to a small set of teams in modern sports history.
In its current form, European soccer supplements domestic league play — an English league for English teams, a Spanish one for Spanish clubs — with Continental competitions like the Champions League. Both funnel hundreds of millions of dollars of annual television and sponsorship revenue to the world’s wealthiest clubs, who regularly qualify for the European play based on their success in their own leagues. But the format also sustains smaller teams in each country, who benefit from the gloss of their encounters with the giants and share in the money those teams bring in from broadcasters.
The new super league model would change that by effectively walling off the wealthiest clubs in their own closed competition — and allowing them to split billions of dollars in annual revenue among themselves. According to projections shared with prospective clubs earlier this year, each of the teams could earn more than $400 million just for taking part — more than four times what the Champions League winner took home in 2020. At least 12 teams have either signed up as founding members or expressed interest in joining the breakaway group, including six from England’s Premier League, three from Spain’s top division, and three from Italy’s, according to the people with knowledge of the plans.
European soccer officials moved quickly to try to block the plan. The Premier League condemned the concept in a statement and sent a letter to its 20 member clubs warning them not to participate. Its top officials and their counterparts in Spain and Italy held emergency board meetings on Sunday. Officials at European soccer’s governing body, UEFA, labeled the proposal for a closed super league a “cynical project” in a statement co-signed by the Premier League, La Liga in Spain and Italy’s Serie A, as well as the soccer federations of each country.
But UEFA also was taking the threat seriously. Its leaders spent the weekend in discussions about how to block the plan, including banning the breakaway teams from their domestic leagues and blocking their players from competing for their national teams in events like the World Cup. UEFA also pointedly reminded the breakaway clubs (and, effectively, their players) that FIFA, soccer’s global governing body, and its six regional confederations have backed that threat.