Home News The Champions League’s most intense rivalry may take place off the pitch

The Champions League’s most intense rivalry may take place off the pitch


Real Madrid immediately prepared their celebratory kits after securing their place in the Champions League final. As the players ran over each other to cheer on another heart-pounding, nerve-wracking win, staff rushed onto the pitch in their wake to make sure each star was properly dressed.

The back of each jersey features the latest club-approved slogan: No. 15 Porra. 15th. The abbreviation might sound arrogant: Real Madrid is just one win away from its 15th Champions League title. No one, however, seems particularly worried. For a club that has won twice as many titles as any other, the title is firmly in Real Madrid’s hands.

That belief has thrust the Spanish club into the centre of a power struggle in which the stakes are nothing less than control over the future of European football. It is a bitter battle between wealthy clubs and powerful management over who matters most, who should set the agenda and – perhaps most importantly – who should benefit from the billions of dollars in broadcast and sponsorship revenues generated each year by Europe’s richest competition.

The conflict pits two of the most powerful men in world football: Florentino Perez, the president of Real Madrid, who represents the old school of European football, and Aleksander Ceferin, the head of UEFA, who uses his influence and threats to maintain his version of the status quo.

It also puts UEFA, European football’s governing body and the organisation that actually runs the competition, in the increasingly awkward position of having to regularly celebrate a club that poses a serious threat to its authority.

Victory over German side Borussia Dortmund on Saturday would mean Real Madrid clinched title in UEFA’s top competition Six times in the past ten yearsMeanwhile, the Champions League is entering its third year amid a bitter legal battle, fought largely through proxy, that aims, if not to destroy the competition, then certainly to bring about the most radical transformation in its history.

The exact circumstances of the fight depend on the perspectives of the combatants. Last week, a Spanish court Making a ruling Real Madrid and its allies saw this as a strong endorsement of their attempt to launch a rival super league: a competition that would replace the Champions League and be owned and run by the major soccer clubs without the auspices of UEFA.

“The era of monopoly is completely over,” said Bernd Reichart, chairman of A22 Consulting, the front company for the Super League project backed by Perez.

UEFA’s interpretation of this situation is Significantly different“The court does not approve projects such as the Super League, nor has it ever approved such projects,” it said in a statement. “Indeed, the judge claimed that the Super League project had long been abandoned and that it was impossible for her to rule on any abstract project.”

That has left the two sides, and their powerful presidents, in an unsatisfying stalemate.

UEFA has privately insisted that it sees no threat to Mr Perez’s vision of a super league as it currently takes shape. At the same time, it has been unable to strike any decisive blow against him and end the project once and for all.

As a result, relations between UEFA and Real Madrid, and especially between Perez and Ceferin, have become increasingly tense and personal: in a series of WhatsApp messages Online leaks Last week, Ceferin did not dispute the accuracy of a report in online publication Objectivism that claimed he had described Perez as an “idiot and a racist”.

The men are due to meet again on Friday for a customary dinner attended by delegations from the finalists and UEFA executives. The last time they dined together at such an event was in Paris in 2022, just a few months after the birth of the Super League’s new superstar. A short and unhappy life end.

At the time, they completed the pre-match protocol without incident. There was no discussion of any embarrassing incidents at the table – such as Mr Perez trying to sabotage the Champions League. The evening ended with smiles on everyone’s face. Mr. Perez introduces Mr. Ceferin A model of Real Madrid’s revamped Santiago Bernabéu stadium is featured.

Yet the animosity always surfaces, a stark reminder of how fundamentally opposed their positions remain.

Mr Ceferin believes that UEFA is the ultimate guardian of European football, the top of the European football pyramid. For Mr Perez, the hierarchy of football starts with the most powerful clubs in the game, and the most powerful clubs are more powerful than any other club.

When Real Madrid joined the A22 and 11 other top teams in Europe in launching the Super League in 2021, the most jarring question was why it was ending the Champions League. After all, it was the competition that had filled Perez’s club with Self-perception. It was this match that made both sides Define and solidify his presidency.

However, Perez does not believe that the Super League will replace the Champions League. Instead, the Super League is just an iteration of the Champions League. When asked by one of Perez’s favorite media outlets whether winning the Super League counts towards Real Madrid’s growing total of European titles, Perez confirmed that it does. In his mind, wherever Real Madrid is, there is the Champions League.

Over the past decade, that view has been hard to challenge. In 2013, Real Madrid worried that they were cursed in the game. In 2002, Real Madrid won the last of nine trophies; ending the wait and winning the tenth had become an obsession.

Perez had spent heavily in pursuit of that goal – recruiting stars such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka, Xabi Alonso and Karim Benzema – and signed Welsh striker Gareth Bale for a then-world record fee in 2013. At his introductory press conference, Bale confirmed that he had learned to say a phrase in Spanish: La décima (the tenth).

In the following years, his vocabulary expanded only slightly, but after that it was no longer necessary. The following spring, Real Madrid broke the drought, beating city rivals Atletico Madrid in Lisbon. In 2016, he won his 11th title, the “Decade”, and in 2017, he won the “Decade”.

The following year, Real Madrid won the Champions League for the third time in a row, becoming the first team in nearly half a century to win three consecutive titles. Real Madrid defeated Liverpool in 2022, winning the Radzimoquarta (Admittedly, those numbers have become less impressive over time.) Perez won the sixth European title of his presidency.

That was the number worn by Santiago Bernabeu, the iconic president of Real Madrid’s golden era, whose glittering stadium bears his name. On Saturday at Wembley, Perez has a chance to surpass him.

For the continent’s established giants – Real Madrid, Barcelona, ​​Juventus and others – the idea of ​​a Super League is a last-ditch effort as they worry they can no longer compete with their Premier League rivals, which have huge broadcast revenues, and with nation-state-backed teams such as Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain. They see it as the only way to maintain their prestige.

In the case of Real Madrid, the struggle no longer seems so pressing. The club is in the midst of a period of dominance unprecedented in modern football. Its squad is filled with some of the world’s best young players, who will soon be awarded couple more.

Perez continues to agitate for the Super League project, suggesting that its cause is no longer one of existential anxiety. Instead, it has become a struggle for control, an assertion of power and a test of strength.

His view, that it is the clubs that play in the Champions League that give the competition its prestige and appeal and that it is therefore the clubs that should be held accountable, was perhaps best expressed at a meeting of Real Madrid club members late last year.

“Maybe,” he told the congress to widespread applause, “UEFA needs to rethink its view of Real Madrid.”

Tariq Panja contributed to this article.

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