Hidden among the pages and pages of the financial and legal terms that make up the founding decade of the European Premier League – the failed project that briefly threatened the structures and economy of European football a century ago – there were references to a “fundamental” demand.
The clause was considered so important that the organizers agreed that the dissident plan could not succeed without its approval, and yet it was so secret that it was named even in the joint contracts between the founders.
These documents, copies of which have been analyzed before New York timesPoint out the need for the founders of the Premier League to reach an agreement with an organization disguised as W01, but easily identifiable as FIFA, the premier entity in world football. The documents say this agreement was “a prerequisite for the implementation of the SL project”.
Publicly, FIFA and its president, Gianni Infantino, joined other football officials, sports and political fans in criticizing the short-lived Superliga project, which would have empowered a small group of European teams, including Spain’s Real Madrid, Italy’s Juventus, and. The powerful Englishmen Manchester United and Liverpool, among others, are accumulating a greater share of the wealth generated by the sport.
In secret, however, according to interviews with more than half a dozen football officials, including the owner of a Superliga club, Infantino knew of the plan and learned that some of his close advisers had been in talks for several months – at least until the end of January – regarding grants. FIFA support the renegade league.
The Premier League is perhaps the most humiliating failure in modern football history. At the end of Sunday night in April, 12 of the world’s richest clubs announced they were abandoning the project after less than 48 hours, amid a storm of protests from fans, leagues, teams and politicians. Since then, the founding clubs – some several times – have apologized for participating, and some may still face significant financial and sporting consequences.
But the behind-the-scenes discussions that led to a week of public drama revealed underlying tensions between FIFA and UEFA, the entity that represents European football, over control of billions of dollars in annual revenue. He exposed a series of wear and tear in relations between some of the top sporting leaders, who may not return; He raised doubts about the role of FIFA and Infantino in the project that had shaken the foundations of football.
FIFA has refused to answer specific questions regarding the involvement of Infantino or its advisers in planning the Premier League. Instead, the organization pointed to past statements and its commitment to processes in which “all the major players involved in football were consulted”.
Superliga negotiations with FIFA began in 2019. It is led by a group known as A22, a group of advisers led by financiers Anas Lagari and John Hahn, who live in Spain, and are responsible for drafting the Superliga project. The A22 members met with some of Infantino’s closest advisors, including FIFA Deputy Secretary General Matthias Grafstrom.
In at least one of these meetings, the dissident group suggested, in exchange for FIFA’s approval of the project, that Superliga agree to up to 12 of its major teams participate in the current FIFA Club World Cup. The teams have also agreed to allocate up to $ 1 billion annually to FIFA in the payments they will receive to participate in the tournament, which represents a potential additional profit for the entity. After the initial meetings, the counselors report that they have been received by listening ears.
Fifa’s support was not just a guarantee. The organization’s approval was necessary to prevent the project from plunging into a costly and lasting dispute – and to prevent any punishment for the players participating in the tournament.
But this was also a gamer insurance policy. In a previous discussion about a similar league, in 2018, FIFA made threats to the athletes, saying that players who participated in a tournament not approved by the entity would be banned from participating in their national teams – and thus, from the World Cup.
In the middle of last year, A22 advisors told clubs that “FIFA was on the boat,” according to the owner of the Superliga team. Those interviewed, including several sources with first-hand knowledge of the meetings who spoke on condition of anonymity because they would be prosecuted if they disclosed this information publicly, due to decades of secrecy, stated that FIFA was at least open to the idea of the new. League. But they said the organization and its leaders would not make any commitment – at least not formally – until more details were worked out about the project structure.
Confident they can get the support they need, the organizers discussed various concepts for the new league before arriving at what they presented to the world when they revealed their intent on April 18th. The Premier League, as it will become known, will always have 15 members, but it will allow access to five other European teams in each season of competition.
The A22 has been working on Premier League iterations for three years. Lagari, CEO of the consultancy Key Capital Partners, who has known Real Madrid president Florentino Perez since childhood, will be the entity’s first secretary-general. Perez has always been the force behind the Premier League, but now, that he’s more confident in FIFA’s endorsement, the stars have lined up in front of him and his friend.
The team owner said the founders’ plan was to link the Premier League to the Club World Cup. Thus, up to 12 of Europe’s biggest teams will commit to the ambitious Infantino tournament, in exchange for FIFA endorsing their new league. To facilitate the deal, they considered allocating $ 1 billion in potential profits to FIFA, so that the entity could use the amount, known as solidarity payments, to develop projects to promote football around the world.
It is not known if further negotiations took place between FIFA and Superliga in the weeks that the teams ended disguise and announced the project. But FIFA was the last major soccer organization to issue an official statement about the proposed league after the clubs went public – and it only did so after UEFA, the First Division League and politicians made clear their opposition.
The FIFA statement, issued while Ceferin called the opposition league leaders “false snakes,” was more conservative. Any hint of disqualifying players from the World Cup has been secretly abandoned, and FIFA has instead opted for moderate and conciliatory terms. FIFA declared that it remained “firm in favor of solidarity in football and an equitable redistribution model capable of assisting in the development of football as a sport, particularly at the global level”.
The organization also reiterated that it “will only express its rejection of the” closed dissident league in Europe “that was outside the structures of international football.”
For those involved in the Premier League, the words – as in January – were vague enough to indicate that there is still hope for the project, and that FIFA remains open to support it.
But after two days, their hope faded. Opposition to the plan spread. UK fans – home to six of the twelve founding members – were protesting in the streets, and politicians threatened to propose laws to ban the league.
Infantino, as in January, was pressured by Ceferin to distance himself from these plans. He did so during a speech at the UEFA European Football Conference on April 20, in which he actually stepped out of the Premier League project.
“The only thing we can do is firmly reject the creation of the Premier League,” Infantino said. “The Premier League which is a closed institution, and opposition in relation to the current institutions, leagues and associations, in relation to UEFA and FIFA. There is a lot to give up for the immediate financial benefit of some. They have to think, they have to take your responsibility.”
Hours later, when they realized that the “basic” condition for running the project was not going to happen, the first clubs began to walk away. By the end of the afternoon, all six English clubs had announced their exit. In the middle of the night, three other founders did the same.
Today, only three teams – Real Madrid, Juventus and Barcelona in Perez – still hold this hope and refuse to sign the letter of apology requested by UEFA as a condition for the reinstatement of European football. If they do not sign, the three clubs will face heavy penalties, including a possible ban from the Champions League. / Translated by Augusto Kallel