The Radio Times logo

What is the Super League? Full details of breakaway league explained walks you through the Super League plans including what the proposals are, which teams are involved and when it could start.

Super League
Getty Images
Published: Monday, 19th April 2021 at 3:58 pm

Football has been plunged into turmoil following the announcement that 12 of the best football teams in the world are gearing up for a brand new tournament, the Super League.


If you've been anywhere near social media – or the internet in general – you'll have no doubt seen the headlines, the concept and the sheer fury vented by fans at the plans.

The idea of a European Super League has been bounced around among the Premier League big six and more teams across the continent for some time, but now the Super League is becoming a reality.

There's plenty to wrap our heads around, and we're here to help you make sense of it all. brings you everything you need to know about the Super League, the format, the end goal and the controversy.

What is the Super League?

Here we go. Right now, domestic football leagues are neatly divided up into nations. In terms of top divisions, England boasts the Premier League, Spain has La Liga, Italy is home to Serie A, Germany has the Bundesliga and so on.

The only time clubs from different nations play each other on competitive terms is via the Champions League and Europa League competitions, both run by governing body UEFA.

The top teams in each nation's top division qualify for the Champions League, with more places awarded to 'bigger' leagues such as the Premier League and fewer to perceived 'lesser' leagues.

Other teams who finish highly (but not at the very top) in divisions across Europe qualify for the Europa League. Both the Champions League and Europa League tournaments are played in midweek slots during regular domestic campaigns, with teams progressing through the rounds until champions are crowned.

Now, some of the heavyweights in European football would also prefer the stability of featuring in lucrative competitions such as the Champions League every year, and cynics might suggest they believe they are entitled to greater shares of TV revenue too.

For example, Liverpool won the Premier League in 2019/20 and therefore qualified for the Champions League in 2020/21.

However, because the Reds have underperformed in the 2020/21 Premier League season, they could miss out on qualification for the Champions League, thus losing out on Champions League prize money, TV money and the prestige of featuring in the tournament.

Super League
Fans are against the idea of the Super League, including those of teams involved Getty Images

Enter, the Super League. The Super League is set to be made up of 12 confirmed teams, plus three more to be announced, as well as five 'qualifiers', though the early proposals of the format don't specify how 'qualifiers' would work.

The 12 – soon to be 15 – confirmed teams would be permanent fixtures in the Super League calendar. No need for qualification, no worries about relegation, no chance of dropping out. This would be a self-regulated closed shop with little chance for any other teams to muscle their way in.

In the words of the official Super League statement, the format will work as follows: "The Super League is a new European competition between 20 top clubs comprised of 15 founders and five annual qualifiers.

"There will be two Groups of 10 clubs each, playing home and away fixtures within the Group each year.

"Following the Group stage, eight clubs will qualify for a knockout tournament, playing home and away until the single-match Super League championship, in a dramatic four-week end to the season."

Why is the Super League controversial?

You're probably already seeing why this plan is extremely controversial, but for clarification, fans are simply opposed to arbitrarily-selected teams being untouchably placed into the league, which is set to be financed by US bank Morgan Stanley to the tune of around £4.3billion.

The clubs have outlined plans to play in the Super League as well as their own domestic leagues. For example, Manchester United and Real Madrid would play in the Premier League and La Liga on weekends, and could play each other in the Super League during the week.

Of course, the issue with this is that fixture schedules are already extremely congested. Ironically, the 'big six' Premier League managers regularly complain about fixture pile-ups. Something has to give.

The Super League could effectively be brought in to 'replace' the Champions League, a prospect that has sparked a furious reaction from UEFA, who state that any teams or players who feature in the Super League will be banned from participating in their competitions.

Santiago Bernabeu
The Santiago Bernabeu, home of Real Madrid, one of the teams involved in the Super League Getty Images

If clubs did join the Super League, their revenues would increase enormously due to the financial backing of the project, a move that many fans and rival clubs claim would give them an unfair advantage in domestic leagues such as the Premier League.

And this is where we currently find ourselves. A confirmed batch of 12 teams want to start their own league, but current governing bodies (FIFA, UEFA), football federations (The FA), and individual leagues (Premier League) are all adamant that their crown jewels cannot play in both a breakaway league, and their current divisions.

On top of that, UEFA's warning extends to international football. For example, if the Super League begins with Tottenham in it and UEFA stick to their threat, England striker Harry Kane would be unable to play for the Three Lions at Euro 2020 this summer.

The same goes for the likes of Mason Mount at Chelsea, Marcus Rashford at Manchester United and, across the continent, it could prevent Cristiano Ronaldo from featuring for Portugal due to Juventus' involvement.

Something has to give, and nobody knows how this will pan out.

Check out our comment on what the Super League means for English football.

When will the Super League start?

Ominously, on the subject of a start date, club statements say the tournament is "intended to commence as soon as practicable". That could mean anything.

Statements confirm the intention is to run the tournament between August and May, in-sync with existing league structures around Europe, but it remains dubious whether these plans can be enacted smoothly in August 2021.

The likelihood is that it won't come to pass this year, but then again nobody truly knows how advanced the plans and preparations are.

The club announcements are only just the start. Expect many more twists and turns in this tale. Expect more threats and sparring between governing bodies and the breakaway clubs. Expect legal battles, courtroom challenges and messy dealings before a ball is kicked in the Super League.

But one thing is looking increasingly clear. Change is coming.

Check out our relaunched Football Times podcast featuring special guests, FPL tips and match previews available on Apple / Spotify / Acast.

For the full breakdown of what games are coming up check out our Premier League fixtures.


If you’re looking for something else to watch check out our TV Guide or visit our Sport hub for all the latest news.


Sponsored content