Officials from English soccer’s so-called “big five” clubs—Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, and Manchester United—reportedly met on Tuesday (March 1) at The Dorchester with representatives of the American billionaire Stephen Ross. The meeting sent the soccer world into a frenzy.
Could they be discussing a controversial new league made up of the biggest clubs in Europe?
While the clubs have denied reports of a breakaway league, sources tell The Guardian that officials did debate the format of the Champions League, the elite European competition run by Europe’s governing body UEFA. ESPN reports that discussions about a breakaway league have previously taken place as other clubs in Europe get increasingly concerned about the financial power of Premier League teams.
Unsurprisingly, this idea has sparked some backlash. “It would destroy football as we know it,” West Ham United co-chairman David Sullivan told The Telegraph. “It’s so sad that five clubs all owned by foreigners are even considering it.” A breakaway group of the best of the best in Europe would indeed look a lot like a closed American sports league—with no pesky relegation to ruin the profits.
Rumors of a “Euro League” have been around for a long time. In 2009, Real Madrid’s Florentino Pérez had called for Europe’s elites soccer clubs to unite, saying “we have to agree a new European Super League which guarantees that the best always play the best—something that does not happen in the Champions League.” A few months later, Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger boldly claimed that a super league would become a reality within 10 years.
The idea would go on to be backed by everyone from Dutch great Clarence Seedorf—who called it ”an NBA of football”—to Scotland manager Gordon Strachan.
What’s fueling this round of rumors is the presence of the real-estate magnate Ross at the meeting. Ross is the owner of the Miami Dolphins, has invested $1 million to turn drone racing into a profitable sport, and was once tipped to be Formula One’s next boss. He’s also behind the International Champions Cup, a tournament held each summer in the US—between the best soccer clubs in Europe (paywall).
Critics point out that the meeting between these teams come at an opportune time as clubs like Leicester City threaten this elite. The five teams have dominated the Premier League since the early 1990s. Now, Leicester is the shock leader—Arsenal sits in third, Manchester City fourth, Manchester United in fifth, with Chelsea and Liverpool trailing far behind.
As the league currently stands, three out of these five clubs would not even qualify for next season’s Champions League. There was speculation that the officials of the big five clubs are discussing proposals that could include guaranteed entry for the biggest teams in the Champion’s League.