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Liverpool at centre of FIFA and UEFA tug of war

A European Premier League is an idea that has been floating around since the real money started rolling in to the top flight.

TV revenues that have allowed the Premier League to grow and become a powerhouse have so far been able to increase year after year. But that pattern that has now been disrupted, rather worryingly for the biggest and best in English football, by the coronavirus pandemic.

And then last week, it was revealed by Sky News that the idea for an exclusive European tournament for the footballing juggernauts was being presented once more, less than a week after ‘Project Big Picture’ had essentially been kicked to the kerb.

Liverpool are reportedly among a number of leading clubs to have been approached regarding talks over the proposed tournament, which is claimed to have been backed by world governing body FIFA.

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Financiers were also mentioned, suggesting that this time people were getting serious about the idea, with Wall Street banking behemoth JP Morgan to stump up some £4.6bn of debt financing, repaid through a slice of the TV pie, to help launch the idea, with other private equity firms also said to be in on the act, such as Spanish finance house Key Capital Partners and American firm Providence Equity Partners.

Liverpool have declined to comment thus far while Manchester United executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward told investors during the presentation of their rather grim financials on Wednesday that he ‘didn’t know where the story came from’ before rowing back slightly and declining to comment further.

UEFA did feel emboldened enough to comment, though.

In a statement on Tuesday following the revelations, UEFA said: “The UEFA President has made it clear on many occasions that UEFA strongly opposes a Super League. The principles of solidarity, of promotion, relegation and open leagues are non-negotiable.

“It is what makes European football work and the Champions League the best sports competition in the world.

“UEFA and the clubs are committed to build on such strength not to destroy it to create a super league of 10, 12, even 24 clubs, which would inevitably become boring.”

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When the story broke there had been some uncertainty over whether or not the idea had the backing of UEFA, something emphatically put to bed by their statement.

UEFA knows that such a power play from FIFA, aligning themselves with the biggest clubs in Europe, would cause untold damage to the Champions League, the competition that generates so much money for the organisation, as well as the potential knock on effect for other competitions such as the Europa League.

For UEFA, the figures demonstrate just how important their premier club competition is.

For the 2018/19 financial year, UEFA booked more than £2.4bn (84 per cent of gross revenue after competition costs taken out), an increase of more than £500m on the previous financial year.

From that, 93.5 per cent of the revenue was split between participating clubs while UEFA banked 6.5 per cent, some £159m from the funds, down from £190m in 2017/18 due to significantly enhanced payments to clubs.

With Euro 2020 now Euro 2021, and no assurances that fans will be back in stadiums or that the commercial income so plentiful in normal times will flow anywhere like normal, the last thing UEFA want is a challenge to the Champions League’s supremacy and ability to pull in the big bucks.

But FIFA have their own issues.

Their own study found that the impact of coronavirus on clubs across the global game stings to the eye-watering tune of £11.1bn.

World football’s governing body will want to enhance as many opportunities as they can to maximise revenue streams at a time when broadcast companies are the least keen they have ever been, highlighted in DAZN’s decision cut its rights deal with UEFA a year early for their Southeast Asia territory which includes Japan, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Singapore, Brunei, the Philippines and Taiwan.

Speaking on the Price of Football Podcast, football finance expert Kieran Maguire said: “FIFA make money one year in four and lose money three years out of four and they are very jealous of UEFA because the Champions League is an incredibly successful competition from a financial point of view. It delivers bums on seats, it delivers eyeballs and it has huge commercial partners.

“The people at the top of FIFA wanted to expand the World Club Championship to 24 clubs, and that’s never really generated much traction, so this is alternative to that.

“If it increases the power of FIFA and decreases the power of UEFA you can see how the people at FIFA would be delighted if that went ahead.”

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All this sets FIFA and UEFA on a collision course as they both seek ways to manage through unprecedented times.

The idea of a European Premier League has usually chimed with opportunity, and that has presented itself again with coronavirus and the impact that it is having on the finances of clubs across the globe, from top to bottom.

And it seems like Liverpool are placed right at the heart of it all.

One of those said to be in discussions around the idea, one of world football’s biggest and most recognisable names, a huge draw to commercial partners owing to their staggering global reach, the Reds will likely find themselves smack bang in the middle of a tug of war between FIFA and UEFA should this idea continue to progress.

On Thursday FIFA President Gianni Infantino seemed to pour cold water on the idea altogether, although it is an issue that won’t disappear anytime soon it seems, certainly given UEFA’s robust response to the reports.

In an interview published by German-language newspaper Aargauer Zeitung and other regional Swiss media, Infantino said: “As FIFA president, I’m interested in the Club World Cup, not the Super league.

“For me, it’s not about Bayern Munich against Liverpool, but Bayern against Boca Juniors.

“Liverpool have 180 million fans worldwide. Flamengo have 40 million fans and 39 million of them are in Brazil. Liverpool have maybe 5 million fans in England and 175 million fans around the world,” he added.

“I want clubs from outside Europe to have global appeal in the future. That’s my vision: to have 50 clubs and 50 national teams who can become world champions.”

FIFA had previously declined to comment on the proposals.

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