MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) – FIFA president Gianni Infantino has refused to deny that he or his staff met with rebel European Super League clubs before they launched their ill-fated project last month but said he never had supported a breakaway closed league.
Spanish La Liga president Javier Tebas has publicly accused Infantino of having been behind the project while the New York Times on Thursday cited sources saying that some of Infantino’s staff had been involved in talks about potential FIFA backing for the plan.
Asked on a press conference call, after FIFA’s congress on Friday, if he could categorically reject Tebas’s charge and the other claims of his or FIFA’s involvement, Infantino did not answer the question directly.
“We should look at the facts not rumours or corridor gossip. Especially not coming from certain parts,” he said.
“I have worked in different positions of relevance in football for decades. I know many clubs, I speak with clubs for many years, since my days with UEFA,” said the former secretary general of the European body.
“When speaking with European clubs, the Super League was always topic of discussion, always, everybody in football knows that. So let’s not play games here,” he added.
“Everyone in football knows that for years and years some clubs are studying or preparing for this or similar projects.
“In the 16 years I was at UEFA, we always managed to manage that and I can tell you that there were projects that were far more advanced than the one we have seen recently.
“It is also my responsibility, FIFA’s responsibility to meet and discuss with stakeholders,” he added.
But the Swiss official said that discussions did not imply support for a project.
“To listen to some clubs and speak with some clubs, it doesn’t certainly mean that in any way FIFA was behind, was colluding or was plotting for any Super League project. No,” he said.
Last month, 12 of Europe’s top clubs, six from England’s Premier League, along with leading Italian and Spanish clubs, announced they were creating a Super League.
But after intense criticism from across the game and from governments and fan groups, the six English clubs withdraw after just 48 hours and the proposal collapsed.
FIFA issued a joint statement in late January, after reports of the plan emerged, warning of sanctions against clubs who broke away, including banning players from featuring in FIFA’s World Cup.
“In January, I signed a statement that was very, very clear. I signed it myself, I was the first signature on the statement. I was very clear and this obviously didn’t deter some clubs to move on with their project.
“In that moment the rupture was becoming inevitable and a rupture is never good for anyone, no war is good, ever.
“I was again very clear and very firm at the UEFA congress (in April), I said then and I repeat it – either you are in, or you are out.”
(Reporting by Simon Evans, editing by Pritha Sarkar)