The creation of a European Super League took a step closer to reality on Sunday as 12 leading clubs agreed plans for a new competition.
Six English clubs, three Italian sides and three Spanish teams have joined forces to create a tournament which has long been in the offing, despite significant opposition from UEFA and the respective leagues.
Reigning European champions Bayern Munich and last season's Champions League finalists Paris Saint-Germain are not included, though it is said the competition plans to expand to 15 teams before its inaugural season, which will start "as soon as practicable".
The Premier League's "big six" – Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham – are the teams to have signed up alongside Real Madrid, Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, Juventus, Milan and their city rivals Inter.
Leading European football clubs announce new Super League competition.— Liverpool FC (@LFC) April 18, 2021
It is an announcement which comes just before UEFA was set to confirm its intentions to alter the format of the Champions League from 2024 onwards.
UEFA, along with Europe's top five leagues and corresponding football assocations, all strongly emphasised their opposition to the proposal, and vowed to sanction those involved.
Yet a statement released on Sunday read: "Twelve of Europe's leading football clubs have today come together to announce they have agreed to establish a new mid-week competition, the Super League, governed by its Founding Clubs.
"AC Milan, Arsenal FC, Atletico de Madrid, Chelsea FC, FC Barcelona, FC Internazionale Milano, Juventus FC, Liverpool FC, Manchester City, Manchester United, Real Madrid CF and Tottenham Hotspur have all joined as Founding Clubs. It is anticipated that a further three clubs will join ahead of the inaugural season, which is intended to commence as soon as practicable.
"Going forward, the Founding Clubs look forward to holding discussions with UEFA and FIFA to work together in partnership to deliver the best outcomes for the new League and for football as a whole."
UEFA's proposed sanctions include banning the member teams from its club competitions, while a FIFA ban on players who play for the teams involved from participating in the World Cup was alluded to.
The timing of the announcement also came under scrutiny, with the season not yet over, and many clubs across the continent struggling in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
Yet, in their statement, the Super League clubs claimed the impact of COVID-19 is what has made this move necessary.
The statement continued: "The formation of the Super League comes at a time when the global pandemic has accelerated the instability in the existing European football economic model.
"Further, for a number of years, the Founding Clubs have had the objective of improving the quality and intensity of existing European competitions throughout each season, and of creating a format for top clubs and players to compete on a regular basis.
"The pandemic has shown that a strategic vision and a sustainable commercial approach are required to enhance value and support for the benefit of the entire European football pyramid. In recent months extensive dialogue has taken place with football stakeholders regarding the future format of European competitions.
"The Founding Clubs believe the solutions proposed following these talks do not solve fundamental issues, including the need to provide higher quality matches and additional financial resources for the overall football pyramid."
The Premier League, with the support of the FA and the UK Government, stressed its opposition to the proposals. Counterparts in Spain and Italy, as well as Germany and France – who currently have no representatives in the competition – also followed suit.