Sports

Real Madrid president: ‘We are creating a European Super League to save soccer, the situation is dire’

Florentino Pérez, who will be the new chairman of the breakaway project, said last night that it is aimed at giving the sport an economic boost after the financial losses caused by the coronavirus pandemic

Florentino Pérez, the president of Real Madrid.
Florentino Pérez, the president of Real Madrid.FRANCK FIFE / AFP

The president of the Real Madrid soccer club, Florentino Pérez, took to the Spanish airwaves on Monday night to explain the reasons why 12 of Europe’s biggest teams have decided to create a breakaway Super League, a move that has sparked all-out war in the sport. Pérez, who is set to head up the new project as chairman, sought to paint an apocalyptic panorama for the sport during his interview on the TV show El Chiringuito.

“We are doing this to save soccer, which is going through a critical time and is close to ruin,” he argued during the show. “The situation is dire. For some time now people have been losing interest. Audiences and audiovisual rights are falling and something had to be done. Soccer is in freefall. If we don’t do something, it won’t last for long. It needs to evolve, as life, people and companies all do. It has to adapt to the times.”

Pérez argued that the biggest teams had lost up to €5 billion during the coronavirus pandemic

Pérez’s interview marked the first time that he had spoken in public since the bombshell announcement was made on Sunday night about a plan that has been two years in the making. The Real Madrid president was highly critical of the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA), which is the governing body of the sport in Europe, and is also in charge of the Champions League, which is set to be hurt the most by this new project.

Pérez, a businessman who also heads up the ACS civil engineering group, argued last night that the biggest teams had lost up to €5 billion during the coronavirus pandemic. “Us, at Real Madrid, we have lost €400 [million],” he explained. “It was already a delicate situation, but the coronavirus has come to deal us the deathblow. In this situation, we die.”

The conclusion that the teams involved in the new project have reached, he continued, is “to hold more competitive and attractive games to mitigate the money that has been lost.” The target audience, he explained, are young people who have drifted away from the sport. “There are a lot of poor-quality games and [youngsters] are going to other platforms,” he argued. “What is attractive is for the big teams to play. Nowadays the Champions League is only attractive from the quarterfinals onward. The rest, not very much. We play against modest teams that are not appealing. Youngsters prefer to entertain themselves in different ways, and say that the games are very long for them. Perhaps we need to shorten them.”

The proposal of the European Super League is for the 12 founding teams – Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester City, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur from the UK, Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atlético de Madrid from Spain, and Juventus, Milan and Inter from Italy – to play midweek games, along with three guest clubs (PSG, Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund are in the frame). Another five teams would be able to classify each year or would be invited to participate.

Soccer is in freefall. If we don’t do something, it won’t last for long. It needs to evolve, as life, people and companies all do
Real Madrid president Florentino Pérez

The 20 teams would be divided into two groups of 10, with home and away games. The three top teams in each group would move onto a knock-out stage from the quarterfinals onward, also with home and away games played. A total of 197 games would be scheduled, and the final would be held at the weekend. The competition is slated to begin in August 2022. Pérez will be chairman, accompanied by Juventus president Andrea Agnelli and Manchester United owner Joel Glazer as his deputies.

According to Pérez, the plan is that “those at the top,” with their millions of fans around the world, can generate funds that will flow “in a supportive way” to the rest of the clubs. “We can’t have a situation in [Spain’s top-flight league] LaLiga where modest clubs make money and Barcelona loses it,” he argued. “Or that in England the six teams from the Super League lost money and perhaps the other 14 make money. That won’t last long.” As much as €7 billion is set to be shared out among the participating teams in the new Super League.

The aim of the breakaway clubs is to get started as soon as possible, as early as this August. But they have said that they are prepared to delay the project if a deal with UEFA is possible. “We want to talk to them and to FIFA,” said Pérez, in reference to the international governing body.

UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin discussing the European Super League.Richard Juilliart/UEFA / VÍDEO: REUTERS-QUALITY

Both UEFA and FIFA, however, have so far expressed their displeasure about the plan. “The Super League is a spit in the face of football and our society,” UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin said on Monday, adding that Juventus president Andrea Agnelli was a “persistent liar.”

Pérez, meanwhile, slammed UEFA as being a “monopoly,” adding that it “does not have a good image.” The body, he continued, “should dialogue and not threaten. This is over. What UEFA cannot do is insult [Agnelli]. What it has done is unacceptable.” He also rebuffed claims made yesterday by the sports governing bodies that the teams would be expelled from the current Champions League tournament. “The law protects us, that is impossible,” he stated.

The controversy coincided with UEFA’s announcement yesterday of a redesigned Champions League. But Pérez was dismissive of the plan. “No one understands the model, it doesn’t work,” he said. “It doesn’t create the income needed to save soccer and they say they want to start it in 2024. By then we will all be dead. With the current income from the Champions, we will die. The big teams, the medium ones and the small ones. The audiences are ever-smaller and there is less and less money,” he insisted.

The president of LaLiga, Javier Tebas, on Monday called the project “secessionist, elitist and selfish,” and his stance was later backed by the Spanish government. “The first thing you have to be is transparent, the style says a lot,” Pérez said last night in response. “We’re talking about something very serious.

Pérez also responded on several occasions to the accusations that the Super League is a tournament for rich clubs and will erode the value of national competitions. “Why would it be worse than LaLiga?” he responded. “The complete opposite. If there are stronger clubs, we’ll all be stronger. These are deep-rooted competitions. In basketball [Real Madrid] plays in the ACB [domestic league] and the EuroLeague. To start with there were difficulties but they can coexist perfectly. We want to do the same as we did in basketball, but to keep it simple.”

English version by Simon Hunter.

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