The future of European club football will be decided in court. At least that's how dramatic it is presented by both sides in the Super League dispute that has been going on for over two years. The European Court of Justice (ECJ) must in principle arbitrate.
This Thursday (9:30 a.m.) the verdict is to be announced in case C333/21, which will neither abruptly stop the Champions League nor immediately introduce a competing product - but will be a clear sign of who decides how the games of the top clubs for the FC Bayern, Real Madrid and Manchester City can decide.
What is the dispute over the Super League about?
Two and a half years ago, twelve top European clubs tried out the great revolution. The clubs around Real Madrid, FC Barcelona and Juventus Turin announced that they would establish a Super League as competition for the established Champions League. The outcry from leagues, fans and politicians was violent. UEFA threatened to be excluded from all competitions and the players involved should no longer be allowed to take part in World and European Championships. The English teams, among others, quickly withdrew and the Super League was off the table - for the time being. But Real and Barcelona in particular didn't let up. The German RTL manager Bernd Reichart represents the project for the A22 agency and is lobbying clubs on a European tour.
Why does the European Court of Justice make a ruling?
Among other things, the ECJ must decide whether UEFA and FIFA are acting as a cartel and abusing their dominant position in the market for football competitions. The Superleague Company is making this accusation because the football associations have threatened sanctions if the league is founded. In addition to the antitrust accusation, the case also touches on other questions of European law, such as compatibility with fundamental freedoms such as the free movement of workers or freedom of establishment.
What is the significance of the Opinion of the Advocate General?
The Opinion of the Advocate General is an opinion in which the Advocate General examines the legal questions and gives his opinion. The judges often follow the opinion, but not always. In the case of the Super League, the Advocate General supported UEFA in his opinion almost a year ago. He was of the opinion that the Super League could start its own league, but would then no longer be allowed to take part in FIFA or UEFA competitions without their permission. This could be an indication that the judges make similar decisions. But you can also judge completely differently, because the opinions are not legally binding.
What happens legally after the verdict?
In principle, the ECJ initially only interprets questions of European law. The national court that submitted the case to the ECJ then decides on the specific case. In the Super League case, a court in Madrid was called upon and asked the ECJ to interpret EU law for the proceedings. The Spanish judges must comply with the requirements of the ECJ.
What is the position of UEFA and the German clubs?
UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin prefaces practically every statement about the dispute with the dismissive term "the so-called Super League" and has announced several times that the construct is "dead". The governing body condemns any attempt to organize club competitions outside its own borders and sees itself as the only organization responsible for football in Europe. The German clubs were not among the initiators of the first attempt, which failed in April 2021, and have clearly stood by UEFA ever since. Two of the most influential executives in German football sit on its executive committee: Karl-Heinz Rummenigge (for the club association ECA) and Hans-Joachim Watzke.
How should a Super League be structured?
Originally, the concept of the Super League mainly envisaged permanent participants, but there will no longer be any permanent members. The last model to date stipulated that several divisions would offer space for 60 to 80 teams, which would guarantee at least 14 European appearances in a league system with promotion and relegation. Basic principle: In the event of a bad season, access to all European revenue should not be at stake.
What does the future of the Champions League look like?
UEFA's competitions will be fundamentally reformed starting next season. The group phase, which has existed for decades, will be abolished; the preliminary round will be played with 36 (instead of the previous 32) clubs in a league system with eight games each against eight different opponents. The best eight qualify directly for the knockout round, the other 16 teams up to 24th place play in playoffs for a place in the round of 16. A total of 64 additional games can be seen. UEFA expects a significant increase in revenue - the Super League makers, however, see disadvantages: There would be even more insignificant games, criticizes Reichart. "It would be wiser to concentrate on building a better competition in which there are more exciting and decisive games from the first to the last matchday."