Founders of the failed European Super League believed they had the backing of FIFA and its president Gianni Infantino, according to a report in The New York Times.
12 clubs initially signed up to the project, announced on April 19, which collapsed almost as quickly as it started. Only three remain reluctant to recommit to UEFA – Juventus, Real Madrid and Barcelona, who face serious penalties from Europe’s governing body.
But it is claimed in Tariq Panja’s piece that organisers of the new competition thought their move would be supported by FIFA, with reports that talks took place as recently as January.
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According to the NYT, which has seen documents, officials planned to tie the ESL to Infantino’s plan to expand the FIFA Club World Cup, committing up to 12 teams to the tournament, as well as waiving as much as £700m in payouts, in return for an endorsement.
Organisers knew that they needed FIFA to be on side for the ESL to come to fruition, with talks reported to have started in 2019, when a group known as A22 – a consortium of advisers fronted by Spain-based financiers Anas Laghrari and John Hahn – met with some of Infantino’s closest aides, including deputy secretary general Mattias Grafstrom.
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Talks continued and last year the rebel group were so confident that they apparently stated that ‘FIFA was on board’, according to one Super League owner. Others who were involved in the project were also contacted by the NYT, which confirmed FIFA was at least open to the league.
However, the tone shifted in January this year when reports emerged that the prospect of a Super League was becoming more possible. Almost spooked by the leak, FIFA issued a statement stating that players could be banned from playing for their countries if a closed competition was created.
The NYT says founders of the ESL thought they had found a loophole by proposing having 15 permanent members and five clubs accessing the league through promotion and relegation, but FIFA was one of the many organisations which publicly signalled its displeasure with the idea following the fallout of the plans.
Although more measured than the spiky tone of UEFA, FIFA also said it was opposed to disrupting “solidarity in football” and the existing structure – although there was no repeat of the warnings about international football.
FIFA has declined to comment on the accusations it was involved in the planning of the competition, or Infantino’s alleged involvement.
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