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European Super League: Ruling, reaction, structure and more

The concept of the European Super League has been injected with fresh impetus following Thursday's ruling by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in favour of those pushing for a breakaway competition.

The headline outcome was the ECJ's ruling that FIFA and UEFA had "abused a dominant position" by threatening the clubs behind the proposals and their players with sanctions and potential exclusion from major competitions.

Thursday's news has breathed new life into the prospect of a new league involving Europe's biggest clubs and the situation will need to be managed by the competing sides following the outcry that followed the original proposals in April 2021.

What to take from Thursday's ruling

The ECJ ruling stated that FIFA and UEFA had been wrong to threaten clubs.

It also decided that rules requiring teams to seek approval for "interclub football projects" were "unlawful", adding that exclusively negotiating rights for competitions amounted to a restriction of trade.

The suggestion that their position was "harmful" to clubs, the media and supporters captured the imagination but deeper reading suggested that UEFA's position as European football's ruling body has not exactly changed.

The ruling was based on the 2021 proposals and some issues brought by the stakeholders involved have already been addressed and discussed, and new plans for the Champions League will come in from next season. 

However, the ECJ has not ruled out the possibility of a European Super League, primarily by saying that FIFA and UEFA acted "unlawfully" by blocking the rebel tournament.

That said, the true impact of the ruling may not be understood for months, or potentially years.

A PR battle is sure to ensue, as both sides seem to have claimed a position of strength from the decision.

Reaction to ECJ ruling

UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin says the proposals are "more closed than the 2021 plan" and added that "football is not for sale".

His thoughts seemed to be backed up by Paris Saint-Germain chairman Nasser Al-Khelaifi. PSG were not part of the original breakaway and Al-Khelaifi is also the leader of the European Club Association.

He suggested that he would be open to further redress club concerns but was keen to make decisions that helped all teams, not just the elite and said he was unconvinced if A22 Sports Management, the company seemingly pushing the European Super League idea, were "serious people".

For their part, A22 chief executive Bernd Reichart was bullish, declaring that the "UEFA monopoly is over", football is "free" and that the ruling marked a "great day for football".

The teams pushing for a European Super League

After Juventus' withdrawal earlier in 2023, Spanish giants Real Madrid and Barcelona seem to be the clubs who are the firmest behind the European Super League but there could be government opposition from elsewhere.

The Italian and French governments are believed to be planning legislation that could stop clubs joining, while in the UK, this issue could fall under the remit of the proposed independent football regulator.

As of writing, Premier League sides Manchester United, Manchester City, Tottenham, Chelsea and Liverpool have all pledged their commitment to the current UEFA competitions. Meanwhile, Bundesliga pair Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, and Serie A's Inter Milan, also appear to have backed away from the plans.

That seemingly leaves Real and Barca in a weak position, but responses from around the game suggested that there could be room to work around UEFA and FIFA's positions, meaning that the European Super League could still have a future.

Proposed European Super League structure

Soon after the ruling, A22 unveiled plans for the tournament's possible structure, extending their original ideas to include more teams and prevent accusations of making football more exclusive.

The men's group stage would feature 64 European teams divided into three tiers - Star, Gold and Blue.

The Star and Gold would both involve 16 clubs grouped into two pools of eight, while the Blue division would feature 32 teams split into four groups.

Each side would play 14 matches, seven at home and as many away, with the top four teams from each group in Star and Gold progressing to a knockout stage. That would involve two-legged quarter-finals and semi-finals before a one-off final at a neutral venue.

At the other end of things, the clubs that finish bottom of the Star league will be relegated to Gold, to be replaced by the two finalists of the Gold competition.

The two Blue finalists will also be promoted, while 20 of the 32 teams will leave the competition at the end of the season. These will be replaced by other teams, whose status will be determined by their domestic league form, albeit the final details have yet to be decided.

The Women's competition will have similarities to the Men's, with Star and Gold divisions. However, it will only feature 32 teams, with each pool being made up of 16 clubs.

A knockout phase will follow, with promotion and relegation again featuring.

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