Reports that Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool and other Premier League clubs will be offered as much as £175m to compete in a 'Dream Football League' in Qatar today may have been a hoax.
The Times claimed that there are plans to form a 24-team tournament which competes in Qatar every two years.
Dubbed the Dream Football League, the plans would have seen the world's most elite clubs including Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Manchester City, being offered up to £175m to compete in the tournament.
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However, it appears the basis for The Times article may have originated from a spoof story on website Les Cahiers du Football. The report on the satirical French website was clearly a joke, claiming each team would have their own stadium, players would live on specially built islands, crowd noise would be plumbed into grounds and fans in England could watch holograms of their players in action. The site themselves have subsequently tweeted that their story "came entirely from our imagination."
"We apologise in advance," they added, "if Doha finds the idea sufficiently interesting to implement it #DreamFootballLeague."
The Premier League would not comment on today's story but it is understood they expressed surprise at the plans. It is also understood that no Premier League stake holders have been approached with concrete proposals about a new competition.
The Qatar Football Association also issued a statement saying: "With regard to the story published in today's edition of The Times newspaper concerning a 'Dreams Football League,' the Qatar Football Association and other Qatari football entities can categorically confirm that we have no involvement in any such initiative and has heard nothing to suggest such a concept is genuine."
However The Times have stood strongly behind the story, with the journalist behind it, Oliver Kay, telling Reuters: "I've been amused by the speculation about the source of this story, I can guarantee you 100 percent, 1,000 percent, 175 million percent, that my story had nothing to do with any website, spoof or otherwise.
"I've no idea about their modus operandi. What I know is that my source is very good, the information is very good and that there is more where that story came from."
Tony Evans, Football Editor of The Times, said the speculation was wide of the mark.
"As far as we are concerned the story is true and we stand by it," he told Reuters. "Oliver Kay is an exceptionally good journalist who is unlikely to have fallen for a hoax story on a spoof website.
"He obtained the information after speaking to powerful people in football and after doing his groundwork. He has been working on it for quite a while and there is no reason to doubt he will be fully vindicated."
The details of The Times story, which closely mirror those in the story on Les Cahiers du Football, claimed £175m would be offered to elite teams to compete in the tournament - a sum that would dwarf those currently on offer in other tournaments - with Chelsea awarded £47.3m for winning last season's Champions League.
It also claimed four places would be offered to prestigious English sides among a core of 16 'permanent' teams that play every two years. The remaining eight places would then be filled on an invitational basis.
It was reported that the first tournament was scheduled for the summer of 2015 and would take place in Qatar and neighbouring Gulf States.
Eurosport France journalist Benoit Vittek has dismissed the story entirely.
"Everything in this article screams: 'This is fantasy'", Vittek is quoted as saying.
"It seems like The Times totally misinterpreted it and then tried to claim those fake news were theirs. Terrible. The details we read from English websites match the ones in Cahiers du Football."
The Times story, which led the newspaper's back page today, remains on their subscription only website.Reuse content