Manchester United have pledged their commitment to UEFA competitions and the Premier League following a court ruling which appeared to open the door to a European Super League being revived.
Backers of the European Super League declared victory after a court found rules allowing UEFA the right to grant prior approval to new competitions were contrary to EU law.
However, United – who were one of the 12 clubs who founded the controversial Super League in 2021 before withdrawing amid fan protests – say they are committed to the existing competitions.
“Our position has not changed,” the club said in a statement.
“We remain fully committed to participation in UEFA competitions, and to positive co-operation with UEFA, the Premier League, and fellow clubs through the ECA on the continued development of the European game.”
Bayern Munich, who refused to join the Super League back in 2021, and Atletico Madrid – one of the original founding clubs – also gave their support to UEFA on Thursday.
But A22, the company formed to assist in the creation of a European Super League, said the binding ECJ ruling means “football is free”.
Since the ECJ announcement A22 has already presented proposals for new “open and meritocratic” men’s and women’s competitions at European level that would clearly directly rival existing UEFA tournaments if ultimately approved.
A22 says fans will be able to watch live matches for free on a streaming platform called Unify, to be paid for through advertising.
Fan groups remain resistant to anything resembling the 2021 Super League, with Football Supporters’ Association chief executive Kevin Miles describing it as “a walking dead monstrosity” and insisting “no English club will be joining”.
European football’s governing body UEFA insisted Thursday’s ruling was not “an endorsement or validation” of the Super League project. It also remains convinced that the authorisation rules it introduced in June 2022 are “robust” and comply with European law.
“We trust that the solidarity-based European football pyramid that the fans and all stakeholders have declared as their irreplaceable model will be safeguarded against the threat of breakaways by European and national laws,” UEFA said.
The Grand Chamber of the ECJ found that where an undertaking such as UEFA holds a dominant position and has the power to determine the conditions in which potentially competing undertakings, such as A22, may access the market, that power must be subject to criteria which are transparent, objective, non-discriminatory and proportionate.
The court found UEFA and FIFA’s powers were not subject to any such criteria and therefore found both bodies were abusing a dominant position.
FIFA issued a statement taking note of the decision which it said would now be subject to further analysis.
A22 has proposed a new 64-team men’s competition, featuring 16 teams in the Star League, 16 in the Gold League and a 32-team Blue League. The leagues will feature promotion and relegation, with 20 teams qualifying via domestic performance each season into the Blue League, though A22 said more work and dialogue was needed to determine precisely how those 20 teams would qualify.
The women’s competition it proposes features 32 teams split into a Star and Gold League of 16 teams each. In both men’s and women’s competitions, the top eight teams in each league would play a knockout tournament.
Though the judgement has been seized on as success for Super League backers, A22 or any other competition organiser would need to get clubs onside as well as fans.
Real Madrid president Florentino Perez, who was one of the key architects of the 2021 project, said the ruling meant clubs were now “masters of their own destiny”.
The ruling does appear at the very least to give clubs a stronger hand in the future development and governance of competitions, but it remains to be seen whether it leads to reform rather than revolution.
The ruling comes less than a month after the Premier League announced a record-breaking £6.7billion domestic rights deal.
While A22 insists what it proposes is a midweek European competition which would rely on thriving domestic leagues, anything adversely affecting interest in the Premier League’s race for European places could have a commercial impact. The league also relies strongly on competitive balance.
The European Leagues group, which includes the Premier League as a member, issued a statement which said: “The leagues believe in the fundamental principles of openness and qualification for international club competitions via domestic competition annual performances.”
The European Club Association, which jointly runs commercial operations with UEFA for the existing club competitions, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in September which lasts until July 2030. The MoU pledges that ECA members will not join any competition not organised by UEFA.
The ECA’s statement on Thursday said: “The world of football moved on from the Super League years ago and progressive reforms will continue.
“Most importantly, football is a social contract not a legal contract. All the recognised stakeholders of European and world football – spanning confederations, federations, clubs, leagues, players and fans – stand more united than ever against the attempts by a few individuals pursuing personal agendas to undermine the very foundations and basic principles of European football.”