The European Super League is perfectly poised to ruin what it is to be a football fan
It has been announced that some of the largest football clubs in Europe have agreed to join a new European Super League (ESL). What would be a seismic move for football, the ESL is set to be a brand new midweek competition, with plans for teams to continue to compete in their respective national leagues. This “American-style” structure, without any form of relegation or promotion, will only exacerbate football’s class divide.
The move has been widely condemned. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has noted that the move is not good news for fans and football in general, while France’s President Emmanuel Macron supported French clubs that are refusing to join. The issue has everyone united in disgust & revulsion at such greed and stupidity.
The move has been lambasted as being driven purely by money, with the potential to destroy multiple domestic leagues and to go against the integrity of the sport. It has been a slippery slope for football over the last few decades, due to the influx of billionaires injecting absurd amounts of cash into the sport and commoditising its every element. Look no further than Manchester United’s official sponsor list, which includes the likes of an “Official Tyre Partner”, to see the horrifying effect Ed Woodward and the Glazer family have had on this once great club.
It is easy to understand the motivations behind the idea. The global pandemic has accelerated the pre-existing instability in the European football economic model, leaving the teams with even less capital to play around with. Barcelona are £1 billion in debt. Juventus need to find about £100m by the end of June. Tottenham have a brand new (and empty) £1 billion stadium to pay off. Inter Milan’s owners sought emergency funding earlier this year. The list goes on.
Moreover, twenty of Europe’s biggest clubs lost more than €1bn in revenue in the last year and almost 10% has been knocked off players’ average values as the game grapples with the commercial impact of COVID-19. However, the pandemonium surrounding the pandemic has been used as a motivator for the richest clubs to look after themselves, and themselves alone. But this is to the detriment of everyone else — especially the fans.
According to the ESL’s press release, the founding clubs will split £3 billion for signing on to establish “a sustainable financial foundation.” this works out at about £286 million per team, more than four times what Champions League winners Bayern Munich took home in 2020. Bayern, Borussia Dortmund and Paris St-Germain say that they will not join the breakaway league, and are instead backing UEFA’s proposed amelioration to the Champions League, a competition towards which the UEFA has been lackadaisical in recent years, to say the least.
This idea of a breakaway league is nothing new. Back in 1998, representatives from 12 top clubs threatened to form a rival competition to the Champions League, resulting in reforms and expansions to the tournament from 24 clubs to 32, generating extra broadcast revenue in the process, and allowing the competition to become the behemoth it is today.
This comparison, however, only further highlights the main issue of the static nature of the ESL. In the last decade, five clubs; Barcelona, Chelsea, Bayern Munich, Real Madrid and Liverpool, from just three leagues have exclusively won the Champions Leagues. However, Arsenal who are currently 9th in the Premier League with six games remaining and who last won the League in 2004, haven’t won in Europe since 1994. Yet they will receive an open invitation due to their size and global reach. It is the nepotism hire of football. The intern whose dad is friends with the boss. With the key point that this glorified man-child of a club can never be relegated.
Gone are the days of vying for promotion and desperately trying to swerve relegation. Jeopardy and uncertainty, gone. All because the system doesn’t work when your only motivation is financial gain. It removes any sense of randomness. Of hope. This idea could only have been concocted by someone who does not understand football, and what it means to be a football fan. Their desire to vulturistically gut and dismember football for parts, squeezing it for all it is worth. The proposal destroys the very idea of competitive sport, an unhealthy distraction from the main objective. It is the complete antithesis of meritocracy.
The ramifications of the ESL could have rippling effects for generations to come. Unlike the Champions League, which teams must qualify for, the ESL would include the same 15 teams every year, with the remaining five qualifying yearly. By stating their plan to build a largely closed competition, the biggest clubs in Europe have laid bare their nightmarish view for the future of football: a 12-month dog and pony show, with the single goal of generating a ceaseless stream of content, while lining their pockets with renminbi and riyal.
“I would say it’s a bad idea. Football has to stay united, it’s the most important thing. It’s based on sporting merit and to respect the history that has been built from European football. I believe, personally, that this idea will not go far.”
Grassroots football will be scorched as a result. Right now, the National League clubs are in disarray, going bust and furloughing players, and there are League Two clubs on the edge of collapse. The whole system was already struggling, but now those who already won the largest portion deciding to keep even more for themselves and leaving those lower down to bleed out is disgraceful.
Governing bodies FIFA and UEFA have previously said they would not recognise such a competition, and any players involved have been threatened with bans from all competitions at domestic, European and world level, preventing them from representing their national teams as a result. UEFA released a joint statement with England’s Football Association, the Premier League, the Spanish Football Federation, La Liga, the Italian Football Federation, and Serie A, saying they would “remain united” in trying to stop the breakaway, using “all available measures”.
Most importantly, the Football Supporters’ Association has said the plans were “motivated by nothing but cynical greed”. It is evident that this proposal will hurt fans the most. Fan groups associated from all six English clubs involved are strongly opposed to the ESL, and it is easy to see why. The entire proposal is a complete disconnect from reality. Many view these billionaire owners as nothing but custodians to their clubs. And thus their action on behalf of these clubs disrupts the tradition and the basic fabric of the game.
“The motivation behind this so-called superleague is not furthering sporting merit or nurturing the world’s game. This competition is being created behind our backs by billionaire club owners who have zero regard for the game’s traditions and continue to treat football as their personal fiefdom.”
Statement from the Footballer Supporters’ Association
A move of this magnitude was always possible when clubs are being taken over by outside forces who see them as cash cows. If money is the sole motivator the ESL makes perfect sense, and to hell with fans, lesser teams, and grassroots football in the process. It is an unsavoury revelation that professional sport is simply a racket. The games, founded on noble ideals of competition, fair play and hard work, are now just means to an end. The mythos of it all just helps to sell products.
Sadly, we may have to succumb to the fact that this is what enough people want to see. Not the staunch season-ticket holders or those closest to the beautiful game, but potentially millions globally who view this casually as mere entertainment. A similar split occurred in cricket in 1977, with the launch of World Series Cricket, a tournament fuelled by spite and greed, which only lasted three years. But as the spiritual ancestor to T20, T10, the Indian Premier League and more, its legacy has turned cricketers into millionaires, and changed the face of the sport forever in the process.
It is yet to be seen whether the large governing bodies hold the line and remain unwavering in their threats. Will players acquiesce to having their international careers forcibly curtailed, and if not, can they do anything about it? How much power, if any, does the Professional Footballers’ Association, and similar bodies, have in such a situation? How will the sponsors react? A lot remains uncertain, but we know one thing. This is an unreservedly dreadful idea.