UEFA goes on the attack after talks with European Super League proposers A22

It was at UEFA‘s headquarters in Nyon on Tuesday that the antagonists intent on reforming European football discovered what they were up against. And if they left unsure — even just a little bit — a caustic parting to send them on their way ensured there was no room for doubt.

A22, a “private commercial venture” formed last month to create a European super league with the apparent backing of real Madrid, Barcelona and Juventus, went into the lions’ den and came out bleeding. UEFA and its all-star support cast gave a pointed reminder, for now at least, of who continues to hold the power.

The fallout from the meeting, in particular, was spectacular. A22 was accused of disrespect and greed. “They claim not to represent the three remaining clubs,” said UEFA. “They refuse to define what their alleged new approach is. They claim to want dialogue. But when presented with the chance, they have nothing to say.”

Not quite true. Bernd Reichart, chief executive of A22, had attempted to find the positives from a bruising first encounter with the organization he effectively wants to bring down. “This is an important signal to clubs and fans across Europe that we need discussion and that it is welcome, even when it is difficult,” he said.

And boy did it prove difficult. Aleksander Ceferin, president of UEFA, had promised to listen to A22 and did so with influential backers from across the European game at his side. A united front was unequivocally projected — a deliberate show of solidarity before politeness was eventually thrown to the wind by nightfall.

The story will not end here but in this piece, The Athletic analyzes the latest installment of the European Super League saga.

How did the meeting come about?

This was at the request of A22, a sports management company with its headquarters in Madrid. A22 has made no secret of its wish to revive the European Super League plans that collapsed in the spring of 2021 and is attempting to be a presentable, more transparent vehicle to the one that crashed and burned with Real Madrid, Barcelona and Juventus left in the wreckage.

Reichart, a former media executive in Germany, has been the face of A22 since becoming its chief executive three weeks ago and took to Twitter on Tuesday morning in high spirits, telling the world of his impending meeting with UEFA.

The intention was to restart the conversation around a breakaway league for the elite. Reichart has said “football cannot continue as it is now” and that reform is unavoidable. Others, he believes, are aligned with Real Madrid, Barcelona and Juventus in a refusal to let go of a super league.

UEFA said it had “accommodated” the request for a meeting from A22 and duly gathered its biggest hitters to greet Reichart, Anas Laghrari and John Hahn, the two bankers who claim to own A22, on the shores of Lake Geneva.

Who else was there to make their feelings known?

If Reichart had planned a cordial welcome followed up by gentle discourse, he would be left disappointed. Ceferin was flanked by a small army of those vehemently opposed to the reform that A22 clings to and the attack dogs each had their turn.

As well as Javier Tebas and Luigi De Siervo, presidents of La Liga and A league, there was Nasser Al-Khelaifi, Paris Saint-Germain president, and Bayern Munich chief executive Oliver Kahn. A total of 12 different figures represented the European Club Association (ECA), the body that speaks on behalf of almost 250 clubs. Only a pre-arranged Premier League shareholders’ meeting on Tuesday lunchtime prevented a greater English influence in attendance.

For good measure, there was also Jonas Baer-Hoffmann and David Aganzo, general secretary and president respectively of the players’ union FIFPRO, and supporters’ representatives Ronan Evain (Football Supporters Europe) and Englishman Kevin Miles (Football Supporters’ Association). Aside from those he traveled with, Reichart did not find a friend in the room.

What was discussed in the meeting?

Close to three hours came and went before time was called on what has been described as a “remarkable” meeting.

The Athletic has been told A22 was asked directly who it represented and how it was funded, only to offer vague responses. Reichart claimed A22 did not represent any individual clubs and, for now, was only planning to open dialogue over the future of European football. Hahn and Laghrari said that together they owned A22 but did not yet have a newly packaged project to present.

Evain, of FSE, is said to have been particularly vocal in his opposition, decrying the absence of meaningful engagement with fans.

“Football stood strong and united today,” said Aki Riihilahti, vice chairman of the ECA and chief executive of Finnish club HJK Helsinki.

Reichart would later accept there had been “frank, open and direct conversations” with the stakeholders in attendance. “We agreed to disagree on some topics,” he said, with a large dollop of understatement.

What was the fallout?

This was the point when the fun and games really began. UEFA was first out of the blocks with a relatively punchy statement that told the world nothing had changed. Breakaway leagues and those behind them were still the enemy.

The ECA outlined similar sentiments. “ECA remains steadfastly opposed to the creation of any new so-called super league or breakaway project,” it said.

Then, an hour or so later, came A22’s go. “Free speech and the free exchange of ideas are fundamental rights and A22 will continue its efforts to reform football, informed by the views of a wide group of stakeholders including clubs, fans, players, leagues, policymakers and other parties,” said Reichart in a statement. “We are heartened by the fact we have already been contacted by and are in conversations with numerous clubs who wish to take part in this dialogue to develop a sustainable foundation for European club football.”

This became too much for UEFA to stomach and in a giant leap away from convention came that reactionary statement like no other. A distilled, fiery response worth running in its entirety.

“A22 Sports Management has published an account of their visit to UEFA headquarters in Nyon today,” began a statement that deserved to have someone’s name put to it. “UEFA is currently checking the registration to see if they are talking about the same meeting.

“The ‘other executives’ they refer to were not faceless bureaucrats but senior stakeholders from across European football, players, clubs, leagues and fans; people who live and breathe the game every day. To fail to recognize that is disrespectful.

“If there is a ‘takeaway’ from today, it should be that the whole of European football opposes their greedy plan, as was clearly communicated in our media release. European football has constantly demonstrated its openness to change but it must be for the benefit of the whole game, not just a few clubs.

“A22 wanted dialogue so we gave them two and half hours of time from all of the game’s stakeholders and each one rejected their approach. As the Football Supporters’ Association said, the UK has had as many prime ministers in the last two months as they have supporters of their plans.

“They claim not to represent the three remaining clubs. They refuse to define what their alleged new approach is. They claim to want dialogue. But when presented with the chance, they have nothing to say.

“The time for real dialogue is tomorrow (Wednesday), when the Convention on the Future of European Football reconvenes here in Nyon. National associations, clubs, leagues, coaches, players, fans, agents and administrators will gather to discuss the real issues facing the game, not to spend time indulging bankers and marketing executives on ideas that put the future of the world’s favorite game in jeopardy. ”


So what comes next?

This might be another attempt from UEFA to add a full stop to the debate but there is an acceptance this fight has a few more rounds to come yet.

The next will be the publication of the advocate general’s non-binding opinion in the case brought against UEFA by Real Madrid, Barcelona and Juventus in the wake of the Super League collapse.

That will come on December 15 and will likely shape the European Court of Justice’s final decision — expected to come in March — over the claim UEFA holds a monopoly over European club competitions.

A22 admitted themselves there are bigger battles ahead.

“Our takeaway from the meeting was that the status quo is satisfactory to UEFA,” it said. “This position was anticipated as UEFA has been the sole, dominant operator of European club competitions since 1955. This monopoly structure is currently being reviewed by the Court of Justice of the European Union, which is expected to deliver its conclusions in spring 2023.”

Now, though, there is a growing sense the looming verdict is drifting towards irrelevance, at least in the short term. A22, Real Madrid, Barcelona and Juventus might be given greater opportunities to break away from UEFA but without others agreeing to leave the party it will be a hollow victory.

The six Premier League clubs that signed up to the Super League — Manchester United, Manchester City, arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur — maintain they have left the project behind and Atletico Madrid, another to sign up, were even among the clubs represented in Nyon.

A22 can now be sure there is a greater, more audible voice outside of their own echo chamber.

(Top photo: Daniel Roland/AFP via Getty Images)


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