European Super League: what action could government take against football's 'big six' Premier League clubs?

Culture secretary Oliver Dowden promises a ‘robust response’ to ESL plans, as six English clubs sign up to the 20-team breakaway competition

Plans for English football’s biggest clubs to form a new European Super League (ESL) have been met with “outrage” from the UK government.

Culture secretary Oliver Dowden promised a “robust response” to the proposal, which has seen six Premier League clubs sign up to the 20-team breakaway competition.

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Six other clubs from Spain and Italy have already pledged their allegiances to the ESL - a direct rival to the Champions League organised by the game’s European governing body UEFA.

Oliver Dowden promised a “robust response” to ESL plans and floated the possibility of further action being taken against the ‘big six’ from the Premier League in his Commons address. (Pic: Getty Images)

Here we take a look at what action the government could take against English football’s ‘big six’ Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur...

What has been the initial response to the ESL?

The initial statement published by the ESL has almost united the rest of the football community across Europe against the new league, which organisers plan to start up as soon as possible.

Criticism ranges from the closed competition element - with 15 clubs guaranteed entry each year - to the threat a midweek league poses for domestic competitions around Europe.

The overwhelming majority of supporters are opposed to the European Super League, study finds. (Graphic by Mark Hall / NationalWorld)

Pundits, such as Sky Sports’s Gary Neville, took aim at the ESL clubs’ owners, with the former Manchester United and England defender saying: “It’s pure greed, they’re impostors”.

Intentions to formalise the ESL caught the attention of Prime Minister Boris Johnson who opposed the plans and said what had been outlined was not “good news for fans”.

“We are going to look at everything that we can do with the football authorities to make sure that this doesn't go ahead in the way that it's currently being proposed,” Mr Johnson said.

What is the government doing in response to ESL plans?

Speaking in the House of Commons, Mr Dowden said “football is in our national DNA” and that he was “appalled” by the ESL proposal, which “goes against the very spirit of the game”.

Mr Dowden said it was for the game’s governing bodies to work together to find a resolution but added that the government “will not hesitate to protect one of our national institutions” if needed.

He pointed towards the lack of consultation from ESL organisers - not least with the supporters of the Premier League clubs involved and said the proposal put “money before fans”.

A fan-led review of football, promised in the 2019 Conservative manifesto, has been triggered to take a “root and branch” look at the game and will be overseen by Tory MP Tracey Crouch.

The review will look into the “financial sustainability of the game, governance and regulation and the merits of an independent regulator,” Mr Dowden told MPs, who also condemned the ESL.

What action can the government take against the ‘big six’?

Mr Dowden promised a “robust response” to the ESL plans and floated the possibility of further action being taken against the ‘big six’ from the Premier League in his Commons address.

One of the options being looked at is a German-style ownership model which sees individual clubs’ fans hold the majority of voting powers, over any one or group of wealthy backers.

Another option open to the government could see a windfall tax imposed on ESL clubs in which they would be financially punished for participating in the breakaway European midweek league.

Changes to image rights, which allow clubs to make vast sums of money, cutting back support for policing matches involving ESL clubs and investigating competition laws were all mooted.

There is also the prospect of handing out fewer work permits to signings from abroad, barring foreign players from travelling to England and blocking ESL clubs from playing in England.

While ESL clubs who took advantage of government loans to help with running costs during the Covid pandemic could be forced to hand back the full loan amount early, under proposals.

“We are examining every option from governance reform to competition law and mechanisms that allow football to take place,” said Mr Dowden, who added: “We cannot have money and brand triumphing and trumping the colour and the joy of the game. Football will be massively damaged by this move.”

What has Labour said on ESL plans?

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer called on the government to legislation blocking English clubs from joining the breakaway ESL.

“It diminishes competition,” he said of the ESL. “It pulls up the drawbridge. It is designed for and by a small elite. But worst of all, it ignores the fans.”