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Written by Devkaran Singh Nandawat

The proposed European Super League (ESL) sent shockwaves through the world of football in 2021. While the initial fanfare quickly withered under immense public pressure, the legal and regulatory challenges it threw up remain, casting a long shadow on the future of European football governance and competition law. This blog delves into this complex landscape, exploring the key legal hurdles the ESL faced and the wider implications for the beautiful game.

BACKGROUND: What is the European Super League?

The European Super League (ESL), which is the brainchild of Real Madrid President Florentino Perez, is a proposed breakaway football league involving some of Europe’s most decorated and top-tier clubs. The initial proposal included 12 founding clubs – the Big Six of the Premier League (Liverpool, Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham); the Big Three from Spain (Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid); and the Big Three from Italy (Juventus, AC Milan and Inter Milan). Initially, it was proposed as a closed league with 20 founding members who were guaranteed participation regardless of their domestic performance without any relegation.

The aim of this breakaway league was to financially benefit the clubs, as according to reports each founding club was to receive a sum of 1 billion euros for its participation in the first season of the Super League. Moreover, the Super League did not have the concept of relegation and promotion thus, lacking a sporting merit. Henceforth, because of this capitalistic and anti-competitive nature of the Super League there was a huge backlash/outrage from the fans around the globe.

Furthermore, the supporters of the ESL claimed that they did not get a fair share of the revenue which they generated as clubs and thus, the profit and revenue sharing agreements with UEFA and FIFA was unfair. Moreover, they also claimed that the existing system of revenue sharing does not allow them to sustainably operate. For instance, Barcelona was recently declared as ‘technically bankrupt’. So in such situations receiving the 1 billion euros by virtue of participating in this breakaway league would help them overcome such cases of financial distress. This was the capitalistic vision brought out by Florentino Perez. 

As a result, UEFA and FIFA immediately imposed sanctions threatening to ban the founding clubs from domestic competitions if they are a part of the super league. This led to the withdrawal of 9 of the 12 founding clubs, thus leaving behind Juventus, Real Madrid and Barcelona as the three rebel Super League clubs. Thus, this matter was then taken to the Spanish Court which further requested the European Union’s Court of Justice to hear the matter.

Challenging the Established Order of Competition Law:

One of the ESL's primary legal battlegrounds was competition law. Critics argued that the closed-shop format, with guaranteed founding members and limited competition through fixed qualification, stifled competition and threatened to create a monopoly, thereby violating EU competition rules. Additionally, the preferential revenue distribution and control over broadcasting rights raised concerns about market distortion and hindering smaller clubs' growth. In a landmark 2023 ruling, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) sided with the ESL on this, declaring UEFA's control over competitions and regulations as an abuse of its dominant position.

This judgment struck down UEFA's requirement for prior approval for independent competitions, potentially opening the door for future breakaway leagues. However, the court also emphasized the need for regulations to safeguard sporting principles and financial fairness within competitions, leaving ample room for legal maneuvering. European Court of Justice in its ruling stated that neither UEFA nor FIFA can impose sanctions on clubs that participate in alternative competitions. However, this does not indicate that a breakaway league could be formed. Thus, it could be inferred from the ruling that UEFA and FIFA should work together on the existing shortfalls and move forward in solidarity towards the betterment of the European football pyramid.

Complex Structure of National and International Regulations:

Beyond EU competition law, the ESL faced a web of legal issues arising from national regulations and existing football governance structures. For instance, contractual obligations with national leagues and broadcasters threatened legal action and financial penalties. Additionally, player participation would have required navigating labor laws and potential sanctions from FIFA and national football associations.

Furthermore, the ESL challenged the established pyramid structure of European football, where leagues and competitions are interconnected, with promotion and relegation creating opportunities for smaller clubs. By guaranteeing perpetual participation for founding members, the ESL risked undermining the sporting merit and competitive balance that lies at the heart of the traditional system.

Balancing Individual Rights and Collective Agreements:

The proposed ban on players participating in other competitions by FIFA and UEFA raised concerns about individual rights and freedom of movement. The potential restrictions on playing for national teams also sparked debate about player autonomy and potential conflicts with national labor laws. Moreover, the ESL's player selection process, based on historical performance and commercial considerations, raised concerns about discrimination against smaller clubs and players not deemed “elite” enough. Balancing the rights of individual players with the collective bargaining agreements signed by unions and governing bodies’ remains a crucial unresolved issue.

Implications for the Future:

The legal and regulatory saga surrounding the ESL has left a lasting mark on the landscape of European football. While the initial proposal may have faltered, it has triggered a crucial discussion about the power dynamics, financial disparities, and governance structures within the game. The ECJ ruling opens up possibilities for alternative competition models, prompting UEFA and national leagues to adapt and potentially introduce reforms to address financial imbalances and sporting fairness concerns. However, navigating the complex interplay of competition law, national regulations, and individual rights will require careful consideration and collaboration among stakeholders.

Furthermore, the debate on player autonomy and freedom of movement is likely to intensify, requiring a balanced approach that protects both individual rights and the integrity of competitions. Additionally, the ESL's emphasis on financial rewards and commercialization highlights the need for sustainable financial models that ensure the long-term health of the entire football ecosystem.


The European Super League saga serves as a stark reminder of the intricate legal and regulatory framework governing European football. While the initial proposal might have met its demise, it has left behind a critical conversation about the future of the game. Navigating the legal challenges, addressing financial disparities, and ensuring sporting merit will be crucial in shaping a sustainable and equitable future for European football. Ultimately, the decisions made in the wake of the ESL will dictate whether the beautiful game continues to captivate hearts or succumbs to the lure of closed-shop exclusivity and financial gain.

*The Author is a legal Scholar from India

(The Image used here is for representative purposes only)


  1.  Marcotti, G. (2022, July 11). Will court case revive European Super League? explaining what’s at stake. ESPN.  

  2. Eurosport_UK. (2023, December 21). Blocking of European Super League by FIFA and UEFA was unlawful, rules European Court of Justice. Eurosport. 

  3.  European Super League: Key questions left behind: How did it unravel so quickly? what are the ramifications?. Sky Sports. (2021, April 22).

  4. Marcotti, Gab. (2023, February 20). New Super League Manifesto tries to appeal, but says little new -- and that new stuff is problematic. ESPN.

  5.  Pathak, M. (2024, January 7). UEFA set to “Lose power” but will football’s super league take off? Al Jazeera.  


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