European football's governing body UEFA is leading a fierce backlash against plans for a breakaway Super League, saying associated players and clubs could be banned from its competitions.
UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin addressed an emergency meeting the day after 12 of Europe's top clubs announced the new league, which was labelled an "absolute disgrace" by many football fans.
Ceferin described the Super League plan as a "spit in the face" of all football lovers.
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"As soon as possible they (the clubs) and the players have to be banned from all our competitions," he added.
Three of the 12 clubs in the new league - Real Madrid, Manchester City and Chelsea - could be withdrawn from this season's Champions League semi-finals, UEFA executive committee member Jesper Moller told Danish broadcaster DR.
"The clubs must go, I expect that to happen on Friday," said Moller, who is the head of the Danish FA.
The renegade clubs will be guaranteed places in the new competition, in contrast to the Champions League, which requires teams to qualify via their domestic leagues.
News of the breakaway competition came hours hours before UEFA announced its own plans for an expanded Champions League competition - opting for a 'Swiss system' involving one giant pool of 36 teams playing 10 group matches home and away.
Liverpool were the first of England's 'Big Six' clubs to play domestically since the controversial Super League announcement sparked worldwide backlash and the Reds' Premier League match away to Leeds was met with a stunning player protest.
Leeds players took to the pitch for their warm-up in shirts that read “Champions League. Earn It” and “Football is for the fans”.
Supporters also brought signs to Elland Road that read: “Fans say no to Fenway’s Super Greed. No Super League” and “Love for the working class game ruined by greed and corruption! RIP LFC. Thanks for the memories”.
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp has been opposed to the Super League idea since it was first mooted and reiterated his stance on national television after admitting he hadn't been consulted by the club's owners about joining the breakaway league.
“One thing I understand and that people think is not right is the competitiveness, I get that,” Klopp told Sky Sports.
“I like the fact that West Ham might play Champions League next year. I don’t want them to, because I want us to be there, but I like that they have the chance.”
Responding to the messages on the Leeds player's shirts during the warm-up, the Liverpool manager cut a frustrated figure.
“I heard there are warm-up shirts, we will not wear them, because we cannot," Klopp said in his pre-game interview on Sky Sports.
“But if somebody thinks they have to remind us to ‘earn it’ to go to the Champions League, that’s a real joke and it makes me angry.
“If it was a Leeds idea, thank you very much, nobody has to remind us.”
US investment bank JP Morgan is financing the new league, providing a 3.5 billion euro ($5.4 billion) grant to the founding clubs to spend on infrastructure and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Britain will do everything possible to block the league and is examining options to penalise the six English teams that have signed up, sports minister Oliver Dowden said on Monday.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson was quick to object to the plans on Sunday, and Dowden said the government would seek to block the project if football authorities could not.
"If they can't act, we will," he told parliament. "We will put everything on the table to prevent this from happening."
French President Emmanuel Macron and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi have also voiced concerns.
Super League players face threat of bans
FIFA had warned in January that any breakaway league would not be recognised by them and that players taking part could be banned from the World Cup.
Bans or other sanctions could open the way for complicated legal battles.
UEFA's plan to expand the Champions League from 32 to 36 teams and create more group stage games (and hence more match day revenue) was designed to appease the top clubs.
The European body's president Ceferin said the new format would start from the 2024/25 season but it has been overshadowed by the Super League announcement. He also stressed that UEFA distributes close to 90 per cent of its revenues back to all levels of the game.
"Super League is only about money, money of the dozen, I don't want to call them dirty dozen, but UEFA is about developing football."
While guaranteed spots in the Super League go against long-standing tradition in European football, the founding clubs argue it will create a more sustainable financial model.
"The formation of the Super League comes at a time when the global pandemic has accelerated the instability in the existing European football economic model," the clubs said.
In the past, breakaway threats have led to compromises between UEFA and the big clubs in the Champions League.
The founding clubs include Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal, Manchester City, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur in the English Premier League.
Barcelona and Atletico Madrid join Real Madrid from Spain, while AC Milan and Inter Milan make up a trio from Italy along with Juventus.
Paris St-Germain and European champions Bayern Munich, which is majority-owned by its fans, have not signed up, meaning France and Germany are not represented.
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