A pounds 2BN EUROPEAN football super league would involve as many as 80 clubs, according to secret plans which show for the first time the scale of the soccer mutiny being planned.
The Independent has obtained details of how the organisers have set up a group of five companies based in Holland which will run a 32-club league competition and a knockout "Pro-Cup" involving between 40 and 50 more teams.
News of the size of the breakaway came as Manchester United and Arsenal, two of the English teams who, with Liverpool, have been linked to the breakaway, admitted they had been examining the proposals.
The scale of the plans and the advanced nature of negotiations - codenamed Operation Gandalf - forced Uefa, the European football governing body, to claim it had plans for a super league of its own. Uefa said it would unveil its proposals at an executive committee meeting in Lisbon in October. "The difference between Uefa and the other group is that we have to speak to everyone involved before we make any of our intentions public," a spokesman said.
Franz Beckenbauer, president of the German club Bayern Munich, said: "Gerhard Aigner [Uefa general secretary] has the plans for a European league in the cupboard. So now he has to open it. I can certainly imagine co-operation between this finance group and Uefa."
Such co-operation, however, may be too late. Documents seen by The Independent suggest the company behind the breakaway, Media Partners International, plans to set up a group of companies registered in Holland for tax reasons. The group will be named the European Football League, or EFL group, and will be controlled by EFL Holdings BV in Rotterdam. EFL Properties BV, also based in Holland, will control the intellectual property rights - the commodity to be sold to television companies for millions of pounds each game. In Britain, the breakaway will be governed by two companies, FootballCo and PropertyCo.
Clubs who participate are expected to earn more than double the amount they realise for Uefa competitions, the Champions' League, Cup Winners' Cup and Uefa Cup.
According to planning documents, a certain amount is to be set aside for investment in "grass-roots" football.
In return for signing away certain rights to the EFL group, clubs will be given a minimum payment, thought to be pounds 20m, and other sums dependent upon their "commercial input", a phrase thought to mean television pulling power.
A letter sent to the tax authorities in Holland by lawyers for Media Partners International says: "Our client intends to set up a group of companies to run an alternative football competition. The targeted first operational year would be the season starting August 2000. It is envisaged that the new pan-European Football League will comprise two main competitions which will offer an alternative [to] the current Uefa competitions."
The first such competition will be among the top 32 European clubs in the form of a league, possibly split into two divisions. The second will be a knockout tournament featuring as many as 50 or more other clubs and called the Pro-Cup.
The letter describes Uefa-run competitions as "monopolistic" and says returns for clubs are "sub-optimal". It continues: "This results in a deficient and unpredictable revenue stream for clubs from these competitions. Furthermore, the clubs have very little influence on how these competitions are governed and run."
The almost-identical statements issued by Arsenal and Manchester United, the clubs confirmed they were "involved in discussions concerning the formation of proposed new European competitions. We would, however, stress that we are totally committed to the FA Premier League and other domestic competitions and are very mindful of our responsibilities to the governing bodies."
Mike Lee, a spokesman for the Premier League, welcomed the statements from the clubs. "It has become clear that talks have taken place. Once this was confirmed for us last week, we requested certain assurances from the clubs involved, and these assurances have been given to us in writing. [The] statements make clear that they are committed to domestic competitions and to a proper discussion involving the Premiership clubs on future arrangements in Europe."
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