In an exclusive interview in AS, Florentino Pérez, Real Madrid president, defends his project for European football: “Only clubs backed by a state or a multimillionaire will survive”.

Florentino Pérez (Madrid, 1947) has been the president of Real Madrid for nearly 20 years. He saved the club from serious economic problems when he took over at the Bernabéu in 2000 and put the club on the road to the multinational giant it is today with the ‘Gálacticos’ project. Now, he’s searching for a new plan that will get football out of the crisis in which it finds itself, aggravated by the pandemic. And he’s ready to fiercely defend his ideas…

You’ve said that the Super League project is not dead, that it’s going on. What is the current situation? And what are the next steps?

The entity exists and the members who make up the Super League are there too. What we’ve done is given ourselves a few weeks to reflect on the hostility with which certain people who don’t want to lose their privileges have manipulated the project.

Do you regret having launched the Super League in the way it was done?

No, because, whether it was done one way or another, the reaction of these privileged few would have been the same. Back in January the president of UEFA sent out severe warning shots about the Super League. We wanted to talk through the details with UEFA, but they didn’t even give us time. An orchestrated, manipulated operation was organised, the like of which I’ve never seen. I’ve never seen anything like it. We were forced to turn to the courts, who issued an injunction, enough said. It orders UEFA and FIFA, and also the leagues and national football associations to abstain from taking any measure or action, or issuing any statement or communication, that prevents the preparation of the Super League. In my opinion, this judgement ends UEFA’s monopoly. But despite it being issued on Tuesday, the president of UEFA continued with his threats on Wednesday. These are actions that go against free competition in the European Union, and that is very serious.

The main criticism of the Super League is that it is detrimental to the national, domestic leagues and gives the impression of being a private club which no team can enter on their own merits. What do you have to say about that?

Neither argument is true, rather, everything has been manipulated. It is not a plan which excludes clubs, nor is it detrimental to other leagues. The Super League project is the best possible solution, and it has been created to help football get out of the crisis. Football is severely damaged because its economy has been ruined and it has to adapt to the new era we are living in. The Super League does not go against domestic competitions and its objective is to ensure that more money is available for all sections of football. The concept is to generate more interest for the games. Nor do I think that the changes which UEFA have made are a real solution to the problem because what has been proposed isn’t even an improvement on the current model. Also, we cannot wait until 2024. But in any case, we must have done something badly. We are going to try to turn this around and develop more ideas. Maybe the solution is for the top four teams in every league to play. I don’t know, but something needs to be done because today’s youth, those between 14 and 24 years of age, are abandoning football because they see it as being boring compared to the other forms of entertainment that they prefer. There are four billion football fans all over the world and half of them are fans of the clubs in the Super League. Football is the only global sport.

Are things economically so bad for you to say that the situation is extremely serious, and that football is dying?

Lets look at the data: a recent report by KPMG – in the first three months of the pandemic alone last season, the 12 clubs in the Super League reported losses of 650 million euros. By the end of this season, with the pandemic still ongoing, the losses will be between 2,000 and 2,500 million euros. Girondins [Bordeaux] have recently gone into administration. Either we do something soon or many more clubs will go under.

Your project proposes a simple solution which will boost revenue – make the games more competitive and more exciting. How can that be done without the smaller clubs feeling upset?

The reality is that football games which are more interesting, entertaining and competitive will bring in more money. And that will be for everyone, not just for a few, because the national leagues will be worth more. And we will have major amounts for solidarity, which is an important part of the project.

Did you have the support of a television network?

We’ve been working on this project for three years and we’ve studied it in detail. The project is designed to bring back the interest of the fans, and that will bring in more money for everyone: big clubs, medium clubs and small clubs.

– Why do you think Bayern Munich and PSG did not join the Super League?

For different reasons. In the case of Bayern, they are in a process of changing their management and in the case of PSG, because we were going to tell them later. Because the group of 12 have been set up and working for a number of years. But both were going to be invited.

If this information is correct, the 12 clubs of the Super League have not only signed a binding contract, they cannot leave the project until 2025 without paying penalties of hundreds of millions of euros. Is that right?

I’m not going to take my time to explain what a binding contract is here. But the fact is, the clubs can’t leave. Some, because of the pressure, have had to say they’ll leave. But this project, or something very similar, will happen, and I hope it’s in the near future.

Has JP Morgan, the bank financing the Super League project, left?

That’s not true, they haven’t left either. They’ve taken time to reflect, like the 12 clubs. If something needs to be changed, it’ll be changed, but the Super League is the best project we’ve thought can be carried out. What we need to do is get the fans back, the youngsters. And to do that, changes have to be made. If UEFA want to do it with the project they announced the other day, well the truth is I didn’t understand it nor do I think it would be a good solution. What’s more, they want to start in 2024, and we’ll see which teams push back.

Some are suggesting that this could all go against Real Madrid, either in the back offices or out on the field of play. What are your thoughts?

In the democratic Europe which we live in, nobody could think that is something that could happen.

What do you find more worrying: that the 12 founding Super League clubs will have estimated losses due to the pandemic of some two billion euros (between all of them) or that half of all youngsters between 14 and 24 are losing interest in football?

Both are equally worrying. That’s why we need to find solutions. That’s why we came up with the Super League.

So the solution for the future of football is more revenue? Has cost cutting been thought about, salary caps…? And if within a few years one billion euros are needed to sign the next Mbappé, with 300 million for the transfer and a salary of 60 million, where will that come from?

To start with, without revenue there’s nothing. Next up, it’s necessary to have a stable competition, with strict Financial Fair Play, which works, and allows competition on a level playing field, not like now with competition against state financed clubs. Real Madrid, for example, has just three sources of income: ticket sales, television and sponsors. And right now I’m even more worried, because the president of UEFA has just said in their Congress, this very week: “We need to free up investment and protect the people who economically support the clubs because of their passion for football and their love of their local community…” They’ll explain to me how Madrid, a club owned by its members, can compete against a state financed club.

– You argue that the economic viability of football depends on the Super League, a tournament that promotes competitiveness. But Madrid is carrying out an enormous renovation of its stadium, Atlético have a brand new ground… How can you explain this to the fans? Is it not contradictory?

Both projects were started before the pandemic, which nobody expected. But, moreover, Atlético reached a great agreement with Madrid City Hall. And Real Madrid has financed the renovation of the Santiago Bernabéu over 30 years with incredible terms. The club’s delegates approved it because the renovation will bring in annual revenue of between 150 and 200 million euros. Meaning it will be highly profitable.

What do you take from the fact that three of the four semifinalists in the Champions League (Manchester City, Chelsea and PSG) have been investigated by UEFA for breaching Financial Fair Play rules?

I don’t want to judge anyone. But I would say to you that yes, we’re worried. But not because of what’s already happened, more because of what could happen. Because we’ve already seen what the president of UEFA has said. If the state financed clubs or rich owners can inject cash without limits it will be difficult to compete under equal conditions. That’s why transparency is necessary and to know where clubs’ revenue comes from.

Were you surprised by the reaction of Ceferin and Tebas, in particular, in opposition to the project? Why do you think they reacted like that and why do you think it’s an orchestrated manoeuvre?

The president of UEFA’s behaviour has been less than proper, even more so from the presidency of an institution that promotes football and its values. Everything that has happened has been lamentable, insults and threats included. The strength of it took us by surprise. All the ideas that I’m setting out in this interview I could personally explain to them.

According to some sources, it was Laporta who told Tebas over a meal about the imminent announcement of the Super League. And it was Tebas who told Ceferin, who was then able to organise his attack. Do you know if that was the case?

I don’t believe it, honestly. Laporta knows the Super League is the best solution because it gets back the passion for football and as a consequence the revenues. The economic situation is not going to give anyone a breather.

How long do you think the clubs can hold out without reforming the Champions League, call it the Super League or whatever?

Not long at all, and what’s more the teams will have to sell their best players and it’ll be less and less interesting. The pandemic is not just what we’ve suffered so far, but the economic effects it will cause.

But if UEFA have a monopoly on football in Europe, why would they let it go?

Because European legislation prohibits monopolies. And there’s a ruling from a judge that clearly states that.

Could all of this mess with UEFA been solved if the clubs had participated directly in the negotiations with the television networks?

That’s what we’re trying to do. That’s set out in the Super League binding contracts. The 12 are in agreement, and others who appear to be against the project, but at the same time play in the basketball EuroLeague. Now is the time to put in the work and explain the project to people, to explain that it’s false to say it’s exclusive. We want to do the same as happened in basketball with the EuroLeague. But whenever there’s a change, even if it’s a change for the better, it gets met with rejection. The same happened when the national leagues were set up at a time when there only regional leagues, and of course when the European Cup was created, in 1955. But times change and people and the world evolve, and it’s necessary to adapt. Not only is it necessary, but what’s more it’s for the best. I’m not going to tell UEFA what to do, but I think they should change, because it’s necessary to create tournaments that are more intense and more competitive.

Does making major signings depend on whether the Super League goes ahead or not? If it doesn’t, will we see the state financed clubs getting bigger every year and the rest falling away?

It’s important for everything to be transparent and for the origin of the funds to be visible. For example, for sponsorship to be what it really is, and not what it seems to be. And if everything gets better, well that will be good for everyone. In the group of 12 there are clubs with millionaire owners who have understood the point.

– With that backdrop, can Madrid hold onto Vinicius, or Barça a Pedri, or will they end up leaving, as happened with Ferran Torres?

The problem won’t be being able to sign, it will be holding onto squads. Let’s see if nobody is forced to sell their best players! The footballers could end up in those teams with unlimited resources, over and above the three sources of income I mentioned earlier.

This Thursday, Tebas met with all the clubs [in LaLiga] except for Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atlético. Were your ears burning?

That’s not what is important. What I need to explain is that the bulk of the resources for LaLiga come from Real Madrid, Barça and Atlético Madrid. That’s the truth. Going against who gives you the most doesn’t seem very normal, but as there are historic privileges already acquired, well people get confused.

How long do you give the Super League to move forward on or be aborted – the four years you have ahead of you as the president of Real Madrid, for example?

As soon as possible. We need to do it before it’s too late. We can’t endure four years, because if things carry on like this… I’ll tell you the report from KPMG, for all the clubs, is devastating for football.

In Italy the TV rights have just been renewed for 300 million euros less. Is that a warning?

The same will happen in Spain and in England. The next round of contracts will be lower unless we remedy the situation by increasing the competitiveness of, and the interest in, the games. Otherwise, the youngsters will go to other platforms which entertain them more and which are working day in day out to give them what they want and win them over as new clients. The result will be that our audience falls and keeps falling.

– There’s no doubt you are not convinced by UEFA’s reform of the Champions League for 2024…

The truth is, no. Not the format, that nobody understands, not the time period, because by 2024… either we fix this before or all the clubs go bankrupt. There will be a mutiny of the teams as they go bankrupt, because the only ones who will survive will be state financed clubs or who have multimillionaire owners, who are willing, for their own entertainment, to lose hundreds of millions [of euros] each season.