Florentino Perez's Vision for the Future of the Champions League

Real Madrid and the Future of European Football

by Faruk Imamovic
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Florentino Perez's Vision for the Future of the Champions League
© Getty Images

Speaking to reporters after Saturday’s Champions League final, the Real Madrid president, Florentino Perez, reflected on the long-standing bond between the club and the competition. “It’s a magnificent night because this competition is the one we like the most,” Perez said following Madrid’s 2-0 victory over Borussia Dortmund, which secured their 15th European title. “It was created by Santiago Bernabeu along with L’Equipe newspaper, and it made us important in the world. Some clubs leave and others come, but this competition is very much ours.”

Real Madrid’s history with the European Cup is illustrious. The club dominated the early years, winning the first five titles from 1956-60 with legends like Paco Gento, Alfredo Di Stefano, and Ferenc Puskas. Another victory came in 1966, followed by a 32-year drought before three more titles around the turn of the century, featuring stars like Raul Gonzalez, Luis Figo, and Zinedine Zidane. Recently, the team has rebuilt around young talents like Vinicius Junior, Rodrigo, and Jude Bellingham, with the potential addition of Kylian Mbappe.

Present Tensions

Despite this storied relationship, Perez’s vision for the future of European football is controversial. He advocates for replacing the Champions League with a Super League, arguing it’s necessary to save football. “We are doing this to save football at this critical moment,” he told Spanish television show El Chiringuito in 2021. “If we continue with the Champions League, there is less and less interest, and then it’s over. The new format which starts in 2024 is absurd. In 2024, we are all dead.”

Perez remains committed to the Super League, encouraged by recent legal victories and continuing his dispute with UEFA, which he accuses of monopolizing European football. UEFA has responded by introducing a new Champions League format, the “Swiss model,” where 36 teams will play eight games each in a notional 36-team “league.” Perez has dismissed this as “absurd,” and he may have a point. The format appears bloated and convoluted, an attempt to please everyone while potentially satisfying no one.

A Complicated Landscape

Sitting at Wembley and witnessing Dortmund in the final again felt like a throwback. The last time they reached the final in 2013, Jurgen Klopp’s team was seen as a “workers’ club” facing the commercial giant Bayern Munich. Similarly, when Inter Milan reached the final against Manchester City last season, it highlighted how some historically significant clubs struggle to compete financially with even mid-tier Premier League teams.

The European game is at a crossroads. The football is thrilling, but the structure feels increasingly broken. Greed and entitlement have led the biggest clubs to demand ever greater shares of revenue and more protection against failure. UEFA’s solution is to give the elite more of what they want, but this rarely satisfies them. Perez and his allies propose a Super League, allowing the most powerful clubs to operate without UEFA’s constraints.

UEFA Logo
UEFA Logo© Getty Images/David Ramos
 

Future Directions

Perez’s view is clear: “To fix a problem, you have to first recognize that you have a problem,” he said in 2021. His belief is that European football’s issue lies in the lack of top-level games year-round featuring the best players. This perspective, however, often prioritizes marketable matches over genuine competition.

The past decade of European competition has seen two major contradictions. First, despite Madrid’s dominance, their performances have not always been convincing. Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City, for example, have only one European Cup despite consistent excellence. Second, several big clubs have mismanaged their newfound wealth. Barcelona has faced financial crises, Manchester United has underperformed, and Juventus has declined amid ownership and management issues.

Perez’s Real Madrid, by contrast, has managed its affairs astutely. They have invested wisely in young talent and maintained a clear vision. While Barcelona and Manchester United have spent erratically, Madrid has built a stable, winning environment. They have also been fortunate in key moments, benefiting from both good luck and shrewd management.

The Changing Face of Success

The most uplifting stories in recent European football have come outside the Champions League. Clubs like Villarreal, Eintracht Frankfurt, and Sevilla have triumphed in the Europa League, while the Conference League has provided moments of joy for Roma, West Ham United, and Olympiacos. These successes highlight the potential for upward mobility and the continued relevance of smaller clubs.

Former Juventus chairman Andrea Agnelli once questioned whether Atalanta deserved a Champions League spot despite their consistent performance in Serie A. Such perspectives miss the point: European football must allow for upward mobility and the possibility of success for clubs beyond the traditional powerhouses.

In this evolving landscape, Real Madrid remains the apex predator, once again champions of Europe. Yet, as the football world grapples with its future, it’s clear that the game needs strong leadership to preserve its traditions and competitive balance. Perez, despite his reverence for the European Cup’s history, has a different vision. As love stories go, it’s increasingly complicated.

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