Centricus, UEFA Said to Weigh Increased Soccer League Financing

Centricus Asset Management may boost the size of its multibillion-euro package to finance a revamped UEFA Champions League soccer tournament, after plans for a rival breakaway league crumbled, according to people familiar with the matter.

The London-based investment firm could offer even more than the previously discussed 6 billion euros ($7.2 billion) to underpin the flagship soccer contest if discussions proceed to an agreement, the people said, asking not to be identified discussing confidential information.

It comes as UEFA, European soccer’s governing body, seeks to reassert its grip on the game after being briefly challenged by a proposed new Super League backed by the region’s biggest clubs, including Real Madrid of Spain and the U.K.’s Manchester United.

The Super League would have effectively ended the Champions League’s decades-long reign as the premier competition in club soccer by creating an alternative tournament in which 15 founding clubs were guaranteed a place each year.

The rival project, which was being bankrolled by 4 billion euros in financing arranged by JPMorgan Chase & Co., collapsed just days after its launch in the face off fierce opposition from domestic leagues, fans and politicians. Critics said its closed-shop model went against the history and culture of soccer and created an elitist competition that threatened the financial security of smaller teams.

At the same time, UEFA has been pushing ahead with reforms to the Champions League in a bid to generate more interest in the early stages of the tournament and increase the number of teams involved.

Centricus has been in talks with UEFA for a number of months, Bloomberg News reported this week. The investment firm had discussed an initial package of about 4.2 billion euros, which was raised to 6 billion euros following the rival Super League proposal.

Any new money would in part be used to support clubs after the impact of Covid-19 lockdowns on revenue. It is unclear whether Centricus would provide the financing in the form of a loan or a strategic investment in a newly-formed entity.

Discussions are ongoing and there’s no certainty they’ll result in an agreement, according to the people. A representative for Centricus declined to comment, while a spokesperson for UEFA didn’t immediately provide comment.

Centricus, which oversees about $30 billion in assets according to its website, is well connected to large, wealthy institutions in the Middle East and Asia, and helped SoftBank Group Corp. raise $100 billion for its massive Vision Fund. The firm was started in 2016 by Nizar Al-Bassam, a former investment banker at Deutsche Bank AG, and ex-Goldman Sachs Group Inc. partner Dalinc Ariburnu.

Despite running a small team from London, Centricus has become known for a string of opportunistic deals. It is currently working with Indian commodities tycoon Anil Agarwal on a plan to invest $10 billion in turnaround opportunities in India, and last year made a last-minute pitch to buy TikTok’s operations in several countries for $20 billion.

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