FIFA president Gianni Infantino has insisted there was no ‘collusion’ over the European Super League project, despite claims from LaLiga president Javier Tebas that he was involved in the plans.
In an impassioned defence of his conduct in the lead up to the failed scheme, Infantino dismissed Tebas’ allegation as ‘corridor gossip’.
And he went on to claim that FIFA had the best interests of football at heart.
‘You should look at the facts and not rumours or corridor gossip,’ Infantino told journalists following the 71st Annual Congress of the governing body.
FIFA president Gianni Infantino has been clear in his criticism of the Super League plan
President of LaLiga Javier Tebas claimed Infantino had encouraged the Super League, a claim he has strongly denied at a press conference following the 71st FIFA Annual Congress
The row follows moves by 12 of Europe’s biggest clubs to set up the breakaway league in April, but the scheme collapsed within 72 hours in the face of a furious backlash by fans, clubs, politicians and governments.
The founder members, which included the Big Six in the Premier League, Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea and Arsenal, stood to pocket £310 million each to join the competition.
The Super League would eventually total 20 teams, but 15 would be ‘founder members’ – including Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid, AC Milan, Inter Milan and Juventus – and guaranteed participation year after year, with only five actually qualifying.
UEFA’s Champions League would have been under serious threat from a breakaway league
President Infantino explained that in his role he must speak to all clubs and football federations.
But he added: ‘To listen to some clubs, and to speak to some clubs, doesn’t certainly mean that FIFA was behind, was colluding, was plotting for any Super League clubs.’
The row blew up after Tebas was quoted as saying: ‘I’ve said it before and I will say it again, behind all of this is FIFA president Gianni Infantino.’
And on Thursday, the New York Times claimed those involved in the doomed project spent two years courting FIFA’s approval, including by agreeing to play in a proposed annual Club World Cup organised by the governing body.
FIFA and UEFA have threatened clubs and players who participate in any European Super League with a ban from their competitions, but lawyers are sceptical about that claim
However, Infantino was clear at his press conference on Friday and set out his record on the Super League.
‘In January I signed a statement (denouncing breakaway competitions) that was very clear, I was the first signatory of the statement. And this obviously didn’t deter some of the clubs to move on with the project.
‘The rupture was becoming inevitable and the rupture is never good. No war is good.
‘We are ready to defend football from projects we know are wrong and we need to be strict about that. But I also left room, and also will always leave room, for clubs to come back, to discuss, because we need to care about football as a whole.’
Manchester United and Chelsea were among a group of six Premier League teams who announced they would join a breakaway European Super League before it collapsed
‘I was clear when I addressed the UEFA Congress. I said, “you are either in or you are out”,’ said Infantino.
”We do not want to kill the dream of that club who thinks it can climb the ladder of success. A closed league is the opposite of that.
‘We need to keep the dream alive and protect the sacred link between the bottom and top of the pyramid.’
Manchester United fans laid banners outside Old Trafford in protest at the Super League
This Arsenal supporter demonstrated against the plan at the Gunners’ stadium, The Emirates
UEFA and FIFA threatened clubs that participated in the Super League that their players would not be allowed to play in international competition and they would be excluded from domestic leagues.
Infantino said that he accepted there were challenges in football, including a competitive imbalance between clubs and countries, as well as too many games for players and fans, and he suggested FIFA was best placed to address those issues.
‘The only ones who speak, they speak to protect their own interests – fine, legitimate, perfect. At FIFA we have to protect the interests of everybody.
‘That’s why we need to speak to everyone and why we need to speak about everything and I don’t close the doors to any discussion with anyone, never – new formats, new competitions, new ideas, I’m ready to listen.’
‘I have been elected by 211 member associations in order to defend their interests, not only a few who want to criticise,’ he added.
And he concluded: ‘The worst that can happen to world football is some sort of breakaway league outside of the structures. I hope this clarifies once and for all.’
Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham were the six