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EU Court Smacks Down European Super League Claims

The European Court of Justice rejected arguments made by the Super League project backed by Real Madrid, Barcelona, and Juventus that UEFA constitutes an illegal monopoly.

Just 20 months ago, the big reveal of the would-be European Super League rocked the soccer establishment and the sports world at large.

Twelve of the world’s top football clubs — Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham, Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid, Juventus, Inter Milan, and AC Milan — had planned to break away from the UEFA Champions League to form their own competition financed in large part by JP Morgan. Those dozen charter members would be exempt from relegation and be joined each year by eight additional qualifying teams. The model would have mirrored closed-system American sports leagues, destroyed Europe’s pro-rel system, and maximized profits at the cost of the world’s most popular club sports competition.

Fan and pundit backlash ensured with incredible haste the Super League concept never actually off the ground, but Real Madrid, Barcelona, and Juventus have remained hard at work to keep the idea (and the massive solidarity payments its member clubs would have received) alive. The trio immediately sued UEFA in Spanish court, alleging that the governing body wielded illegal monopolistic control and governance over European football.

Ahead of a final ruling expected next year, the Advocate General of the European Court of Justice rejected the claim Thursday in a non-binding ruling.

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The lawsuit also aimed to protect the breakaway clubs from impending UEFA sanctions, which included Champions League bans and other unprecedented penalties and punishments.

“The FIFA-UEFA rules under which any new competition is subject to prior approval are compatible with EU competition law,” Advocate General Athanasios Rantos said in his opinion. “Having regard to the competition’s characteristics, the restrictive effects arising from the scheme are inherent in, and proportionate for achieving, the legitimate objectives related to the specific nature of sport that are pursued by UEFA and FIFA.”

Rantos said that EU competition law did not prohibit FIFA or UEFA from issues threats of sanctions against the clubs who tried to form the European Super League. While the Super League clubs could break away and form their own competition, he said, it would still have to follow FIFA and UEFA rules and guidelines.

The ruling means that the hypothetical 12 European Super League teams would neither be able to compete in the UEFA Champions League nor their own respective domestic leagues if they did move forward with the breakaway project. The ruling ensures that ultimate soccer “what if” will remain just that for the foreseeable future — but don’t expect it to fade away entirely, as this moneyed war is far from over.

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