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Real Madrid and Barcelona are holding their breath over the Super League verdict

Next Thursday, December 21, will be a hugely historic day for European football — but it is especially important for Real Madrid, Barcelona and La Liga, as well as for their presidents Florentino Perez, Joan Laporta and Javier Tebas.

The final European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruling in the case taken by the European Super League Company is primarily to decide whether UEFA has an illegal monopoly to organise and commercially manage elite football competitions in Europe.

UEFA continues to be convinced that the ECJ will rule in its favour (as a preliminary report did last December), while the Super League is also fully confident that the law is on its side.

The verdict is perhaps most eagerly awaited at Real Madrid, where club president Perez is closely associated with the entire Super League idea and project. He has been pushing for such a breakaway competition for more than two decades, publicly and privately. He has spoken regularly in recent years about how his member-owned club needs extra income from a Super League project to keep up financially with rivals with super-rich backers, whether from Middle Eastern states or United States venture capitalists.

The 76-year-old was the president when the breakaway European Super League project was surprisingly launched in April 2021. When it collapsed even more spectacularly, he was (arguably, unfairly) abandoned to defend an idea that many others — with six of the 12 founder clubs from the Premier League — had secretly signed up to.

Since then, the construction magnate has continued to be the figure mostly closely and publicly associated with the idea. The legal battle against UEFA began in the Spanish courts (the European Super League Company has an English name but is legally based in Madrid). Its advisors, A22 Sports Management, and its German chief executive, Bernd Reichart, are based in the Spanish capital, too (from where they are now promoting a much more open multi-division format potentially attractive to many clubs around Europe, not just the historic giants). Legal advisors from Clifford Chance also have a documented history of working closely with Grupo ACS, Spain’s largest civil engineering company led by Perez since 1997.

Arguably, confidence that a Super League was surely coming down the line sooner rather than later, with a big boost for Madrid’s annual income, has been behind much of the recent decision-making at the club. This could include borrowing over €1billion (£861m; $1.1bn) for Perez’s other big flagship idea — the spectacular remodelling of the Santiago Bernabeu stadium. Some around the club worry this has drained money that could have been used to strengthen the team.


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A promised influx of funds from a future Super League would help Perez pay off the stadium debt and continue to sign new ‘galactico’ superstars, perhaps one, or even both, of their long-time targets Kylian Mbappe and Erling Haaland. An adverse ruling from the ECJ would make both those aims more difficult for Madrid, while also being another high-profile embarrassment for a figure much more used to personal success and acclaim.

But there has been little discussion of the consequences of such a defeat. Talk of the Super League has again been prominent during events and meetings around the Santiago Bernabeu in recent weeks. Instead, The Athletic has encountered confidence among many figures working within the club that any idea backed by Perez will ultimately be successful.

A victory in court next Thursday would be huge for Perez. It would make him the man who shook up European football, or brought it into the 21st century, as he might argue. That would elevate him to a similar status as legendary Madrid president Santiago Bernabeu, who also fought an established order to help set up the European Cup in the 1950s. Breaking the ‘monopoly’ of UEFA and striking a blow against state-owned clubs elsewhere would be hugely welcomed at Madrid, who remain (in theory) a club where their members are collectively sovereign.

Laporta and Perez, pictured together in December 2022 at a Super League event at Madrid’s Ritz Hotel (Oscar J Barroso/Europa Press via Getty Images)

Thursday’s ruling in Luxembourg is being eagerly awaited at Barcelona as well — a setback for the Super League project would be a serious blow for their president, Laporta, too.

When Laporta was campaigning to be re-elected as Barca president in January 2021, he said a Super League “could destroy the essence of football”. Once he was actually in control at the Camp Nou a few months later, his tune changed dramatically. Given the club have debts totalling more than €1billion, the returning president knew Barca needed to find new ways of improving their finances. They became one of the Super League’s founding members.

“It was not difficult to convince Laporta,” Perez told Spanish TV’s football talk show El Chiringuito de Jugones at the time. “The Super League will save Barca, who are going through a bad time financially. Tomorrow, Laporta will come out and tell everyone.”

Laporta knew better than to show his face as the project quickly unravelled amid angry protests in England, but he and Barcelona remained firm backers and there was little such outcry among fans or pundits in Spain. Barca’s fans are generally not big supporters of UEFA following a series of spats over issues ranging from the display of Catalan flags at the Camp Nou to financial fair play (FFP) rules and the Champions League anthem has been whistled before home games in recent years.

Over time, Laporta has become much more publicly supportive. In November 2022, he claimed that the Super League would guarantee €300million extra for the club each year. Such a windfall would reduce (or even potentially end) Barca’s reliance on ‘levers’ — the policy of borrowing from the future to make short-term bets on raising the team’s level. If Thursday’s verdict brought this lucrative future a step closer, Laporta could argue that his strategic decision to ally with Perez and Madrid was paying off.


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Conversely, different external ‘enemies’ — including Tebas and UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin — have regularly pointed to the awkwardness of Barca following Perez’s line on the Super League in such a public way. Should this support turn out to have been for nothing, it would give ammunition to future critics of Laporta — if any serious challengers to his position were to emerge.

The third big figure with a lot on the line is Tebas. La Liga’s boss has regularly and loudly railed against the Super League’s threat to the European football model and domestic leagues, even when many other observers — especially in England — have long believed the idea was dead.

The Super League judgment is seen to be so vital to La Liga’s long-term commercial and competitive interests that Tebas’ formal return for four more years as president was moved forward by a month to ensure he would be officially in place to react as required.


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That means, in a way, that a victory for the Super League in Luxembourg would actually be a vindication of sorts for Tebas, who has complained about a lack of support from elsewhere over the issue. Any defeat for Ceferin would also have its positive side given Tebas’ regular criticism of how UEFA is run and of how state-owned clubs are not constrained by its FFP rules (one of the very few things on which Tebas and Perez agree).

However, Tebas — and the vast majority of Spanish clubs who publicly back him against the Clasico duo in this and other areas — really wants the ECJ to side with UEFA this time. Whether that would stop other clubs — such as Atletico Madrid, Sevilla or Villarreal — from signing up for any new Super League in the future is difficult to know for sure.

The looming verdict from Luxembourg is uppermost in many Spanish minds as December 21 approaches. Tebas will likely react quickly on social media whichever way the decision goes. Laporta will learn the news when he gets off the plane in Dallas, Texas, as Barca are travelling for a showpiece friendly against Mexican side Club America, another sign of the Catalan club’s need to grab money wherever they can find it.

Perez will hear the verdict as Madrid make their way north to the Basque city of Vitoria for their final La Liga game of 2023, at Alaves. Such unglamorous fixtures are far from the sparkling image that the European Super League wants to promise those who back it. Whatever way the ECJ goes this Thursday, the impact will be felt throughout Spanish football.

(Top photo: Angel Martinez/Diego Radames/Europa Press via Getty Images)

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