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UEFA Weighs $7 Billion Centricus Deal to Stop Super Lea...

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UEFA Weighs $7 Billion Centricus Deal to Stop Super League

Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo (front) in action during the FIFA World Cup 2022 qualifying soccer match between Luxembourg and Portugal in Luxembourg, 30 March 2021. (Photo: EPA-EFE/Julien Warnand)
By Bloomberg
19 Apr 2021 0

UEFA is in discussions with Centricus Asset Management over a 6 billion-euro ($7.2 billion) financing package to overhaul its flagship soccer tournament and stop plans for a new breakaway Super League, according to people familiar with the matter.

The Switzerland-based sporting body is working with Centricus on a plan to fund a new-look UEFA Champions League tournament, the people said, asking not to be identified discussing confidential information.

Negotiations are ongoing and there’s no certainty UEFA and London-based Centricus will reach an agreement, according to the people. A representative for Centricus declined to comment, while a spokesperson for UEFA didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

It comes as UEFA prepares to battle with a new Super League that could mark the biggest upheaval of European soccer since the 1950s and end the Champions League’s decades-long reign as the world’s premier club contest.

A group of the world’s richest soccer clubs, including Manchester United and Real Madrid, announced plans for the breakaway league starting in August in a statement early Monday. The marquee names — six from England, three from Italy and three from Spain have signed up so far — would play each other midweek as an alternative to the UEFA tournament. In addition to what will be 15 permanent teams, another five will qualify each year for the Super League.

The 4 billion-euro plan, which is being bankrolled by JPMorgan Chase & Co., has already drawn heavy criticism from domestic leagues and politicians. UEFA has said it could ban Super League team players from national teams that take part in the national Euro and World Cup competitions.

Centricus, which oversees about $30 billion in assets according to its website, has been increasing its presence in soccer deals. It was part of a consortium, alongside SoftBank Group Corp. and FIFA, to launch a brace of new soccer tournaments, and has held talks to invest in Swiss club FC Basel.

The firm was started in 2016 by Nizar Al-Bassam, a former investment banker at Deutsche Bank AG, and ex-Goldman Sachs Group Inc. partner Dalinc Ariburnu. Centricus advised SoftBank on the creation of its $100 billion Vision Fund and also worked on its $3.3 billion takeover of Fortress Investment Group LLC.

Proponents argue the Super League would create a more exciting competition because the game’s very top teams would play each other more often. It would also be lucrative for them, with permanent membership removing the uncertainty of the Champions League, whose teams must qualify annually or risk losing broadcasting and sponsorship revenue.

But the idea of creating a competition that removes the drama of a smaller team such as four-time champion Ajax winning the trophy or of a bigger club having to qualify in the first place, has angered supporter groups and former players, who say it rides roughshod over the history and culture of the club game.

Even if the Super League plan is stopped by its opponents, it represents a powerful threat that could help the clubs win more concessions from UEFA. The body’s plans to expand the Champions League from 32 to 36 teams and increase the number of games have irked some teams complaining the season already has too many matches.

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