European soccer split as 12 clubs launch breakaway league

The Official UEFA Champions League match balls are on display ahead of the Champions League quarter final second leg soccer match between Liverpool and Real Madrid at Anfield stadium in Liverpool, England, Wednesday, April 14, 2021. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
The Official UEFA Champions League match balls are on display ahead of the Champions League quarter final second leg soccer match between Liverpool and Real Madrid at Anfield stadium in Liverpool, England, Wednesday, April 14, 2021. (AP Photo/Jon Super) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

LONDON – A group of 12 elite English, Spanish and Italian clubs dramatically split European soccer on Sunday by announcing the formation of a largely-closed Super League. They are leaving the existing UEFA-run Champions League structure despite warnings they could be kicked out of their domestic competitions and face legal action.

The seismic move to shake up the world's biggest sport is partly engineered by the American owners of Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United who also run U.S. franchises in closed leagues — a model they are trying to replicate in Europe.

The power-play came after the rebel clubs reneged on a promise on Friday to back the plan by UEFA — European football's governing body — to expand the Champions League beginning in 2024. The deal was designed to appease their wishes for more games, seemingly because they couldn't control the sale of rights to the existing competition.

The Super League plan was first leaked in January but re-emerged this weekend.

Real Madrid president Florentino Perez would be the founding chairman of the SL, which said it "intended to commence as soon as practicable" as a 20-team competition playing in midweek like the current Champions League and Europa League.

“We will help football at every level and take it to its rightful place in the world,” Perez said in a statement. “Football is the only global sport in the world with more than four billion fans and our responsibility as big clubs is to respond to their desires.”

No evidence was presented that supporters want a Super League. Fan groups across Europe last week criticized even the current Champions League expansion plan as a “power grab."

Only 12 clubs have signed up for now — with none from France or Germany — but the SL hopes for three more as permanent members. Barcelona and Atletico Madrid are the other founding members, along with Juventus, AC Milan and Inter Milan. Five slots would be left open to be determined each year based on the previous season's results.