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Proposed Breakaway European Super League Outrages Soccer World

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

To a huge shake-up now in the world of soccer - a dozen of the richest teams in the world's most popular sport have announced they are forming their own league. Clubs, including Manchester United, Real Madrid and Juventus, are breaking away from established competition to start what they are calling the European Super League.

Those who are not breaking away are not happy. European soccer's governing body, UEFA, has called it a, quote, "disgraceful and self-serving proposal." And Roger Bennett is not particularly happy either. He is co-host of "Men In Blazers" on NBC Sports Network, and he is accustomed to explaining European football to Americans.

Sir Roger Bennett, welcome back. Thanks for coming to help us out again.

ROGER BENNETT: Oh, Mary Louise, it's a joy to be with you even after a historic, harrowing 24 hours for global football.

KELLY: (Laughter) Well, explain what this means. How would this work? What is the Super League?

BENNETT: The idea is that 12 of the biggest, richest teams in Europe have all signed up to form a breakaway league funded by JPMorgan, in which the six biggest clubs from England and then three each from Italy and Spain will form their own closed competition. In American terms, it's a bit like as if Duke, North Carolina and Kansas announced they'd have a breakaway from March Madness, in which they're guaranteed participation every single year. It's really an enormous decision point, which will transform European soccer, possibly destroy the Premier League. And that's devastating.

KELLY: The Premier League being the national league in England. Go on.

BENNETT: Correct. It's all we have left - the royal family, "Downton Abbey," the tweed industry and the Premier League. And none of those are in great shape right now, Mary Louise.

KELLY: What is driving this? Is this all about money?

BENNETT: You've got it nail on the head. I mean, European football is a "Star Wars" cantina of leagues played domestically in each nation, and the best teams also play each other in a myriad of continental contests. The best known is the Champions League, and they're run by a group called UEFA. And the big teams in the world who are all now enormous moneymaking machines, global brands - your Barcelonas, your Real Madrids, Liverpools, Manchester Uniteds, Chelseas - they all feel like they bring more to the European competition in terms of brand prestige and viewing eyes and no longer want to share that revenue with the smaller clubs. They want to do their own thing. And right now they're risking killing the goose that laid the golden egg so that they can maximize their return.

KELLY: Well, people may be gathering where you fall on this issue. I saw your tweet that it takes a lot to make World Cup in Qatar the second-worst idea ever in world football history.

BENNETT: (Laughter).

KELLY: Sum up for me some of the other notable responses to this. There is a lot of opposition.

BENNETT: There's a lot of opposition. UEFA, the controlling body in Europe - their response has been instant and brutal. They've threatened to ban any player who plays in a Super League from playing in the World Cup or the European competition. They won't be allowed to play for their national teams. The president, Aleksander Ceferin, said, quote, "greed allows all human values to evaporate." The fan backlash has been instant and enormous. Liverpool fans put an enormous black banner outside their stadium this morning that says, rest in peace, Liverpool, 1892-2021.

KELLY: Wow.

BENNETT: And take it from me, Mary Louise, pissing off hundreds of thousands of Liverpudlians - Scousers - it rarely ends well.

KELLY: Given all that, is this a done deal? Is this actually going to happen?

BENNETT: Well, it does seem serious. It seems like this is no bluff. It's no power play just to force UEFA to shape their competitions to provide more money to bigger teams. The team owners I've spoken to assure me that they are serious about the Super League starting in the next couple of months. There's a lot to go down at every single level - government, football bureaucracy. But it's going to be nothing less than a civil war within the world of football.

KELLY: That is Roger Bennett of the podcast "Men In Blazers."

Roger Bennett, always a pleasure - thank you.

BENNETT: Courage.

(SOUNDBITE OF D.P. KAUFMAN'S "BRAVERY" Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.