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Bayern Munich and Real Madrid break with ECA over Club World Cup — what is the endgame?

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The two clubs broke with all 232 other members of the European Club Association to vote in favor of Gianni Infantino’s new Club World Cup. Why?

FC Bayern Muenchen Visits Hospital Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images

In November of last year FC Bayern Munich’s CEO, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge was mentioned in a document leak. According to a the leak, Rummenigge plotted to form a Super League with other European powerhouses used his time as a chairman of the European Club Association (ECA). Three weeks later, a subsequent report indicated that Rummenigge actually derailed Real Madrid’s plans to start a Super League.

But new revelations have cast that version of the story into doubt. Flash forward to this week when the ECA met in Switzerland. Among the topics of discussion was FIFA President Gianni Infantino’s proposal for an expanded Club World Cup format consisting of 24 clubs. The ECA was unanimously opposed to it. The day the meetings began, FC Bayern’s Twitter page tweeted out this tweet, seemingly swearing their allegiance to the ECA.

However, instead of being unified with the rest of the ECA member clubs, Bayern flipflopped and became only one of two clubs to support the new Club World Cup format of 24 clubs, according to a report by SZ. That was the outcome of an ECA meeting of senior club executives in anticipation of the ECA’s upcoming general assembly on March 25-26.

The other club was — you guessed it — Real Madrid. Out of 232 member clubs of the ECA, only two are potentially in favor. Could this be because they are also unified in pushing for a new Champions League format that is basically formatted like a Super League?

Despite Bayern’s protestations in November that they had no knowledge of Real Madrid’s plans to found a European Super League, it has now been revealed that Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and chief counsel Michael Gerlinger had in fact met with representatives of Real Madrid just two weeks before the document outlining Real’s Super League plans — a draft of a “binding declaration of intent” — had been drawn up.

According to SZ, Bayern now admits the meeting:

There was a meeting with officials from Real Madrid last October, at which various topics were discussed. Among other things, the people from Real Madrid asked us our opinion about a Super League. We said it was not possible in Germany.

Why then, SZ asks, was Bayern Munich included on the draft declaration of intent that Real prepared two weeks after Rummenigge supposedly told them that the idea was a non-starter? And of course, why did Bayern also deny any knowledge of Real’s plans once they were revealed? Bayern responded to questions by denying that the Super League was discussed in depth, insisting rather that Real had merely asked “what they thought” about the idea.

UEFA’s President, Aleksander Ceferin, said that he was confused about the rumors of a Super League.

What I find interesting is that in 2018 almost nobody discussed a new Super League. And that there was a document that said that it would happen. We spoke with all the big clubs and there was no serious discussions about it. 99 percent didn’t know anything about it.

Bayern and Real appear to be that one percent, and they are now the same two clubs, and the only two in Europe, that now support Infantino’s new Club World Cup format, which Infantino railroaded through FIFA without the votes of the powerful European clubs. What is the connection?

Infantino is looking for allies, especially in Europe, to be on his side for his different business ventures. Above all, Infantino may be looking for support for his highly dubious plan to sell FIFA’s rights to an investment consortium for some $25 billion. The “FIFA Digital Corporation” Infantino would create would manage, among other things, precisely this new Club World Cup.

Could Bayern and Real be catering to Infantino in the hope of securing a large share of future revenue? Or is it a quid pro quo — the return being a new, even more lucrative Champions League format? If this is all true, what comes next for the two clubs? Do they stay with the ECA and attempt to change the rest of the clubs’ minds, or do they split the ECA and hope to bring more powerhouse clubs with them? The outcome of the ECA’s general assembly in two days will be closely watched.