To fend off breakaway soccer super league, UEFA plots a $7.2 billion onslaught
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 has been in talks with UEFA for a number of months regarding financing, a person familiar with the matter said. The investment firm had discussed an initial package of about 4.2 billion euros, which was raised to 6 billion euros following the rival Super League proposal, the person said.
Centricus, which oversees about $30 billion in assets according to its website, is well connected to large, wealthy institutions in the Middle East and Asia, and helped SoftBank Group Corp. raise $100 billion for its massive Vision Fund.
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.
Despite running a small team from London, Centricus has become known for a string of opportunistic deals. It is currently working with Indian commodities tycoon Anil Agarwal on a plan to invest $10 billion in turnaround opportunities in India, and last year made a last-minute pitch to buy TikTok’s operations in several countries for $20 billion. In 2019 it made a foray into the high-end hotel and resorts sector and bought the iconic Capri Palace Hotel & Spa.
Within the sports industry, Centricus was also part of a consortium, alongside SoftBank and FIFA, to launch a brace of new soccer tournaments, and has held talks to invest in Swiss club FC Basel.
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.
–With assistance from David Hellier.