Faced with a seemingly unstoppable new era of football on the horizon, admirers of the beautiful game displayed unprecedented solidarity – showing that football was a lot more than a lucrative market for the financial elite. After a fiercely negative reaction from the footballing community, the collapse of the so called ‘Super’ League appears inevitable.
What was the European Super League?
On April 18, 12 of Europe’s richest clubs released a joint statement stating their intent to leave the pinnacle of European club football, the Champions League, uniting to form a new midweek ‘European Super League (ESL)’, threatening to change the course of football forever. Promising weekly blockbuster clashes between the finest clubs in Europe, watching the ESL should be irresistible for the average football fan. Who in their right mind would not want to see the crème de la crème of European football consistently battle each other to prove their might? However, all is not as it seems at the surface, there was nothing ‘super’ about the ESL and this experiment could well have been the bane of football as we know it.
The structure of the ESL
The ESL would consist of England’s ‘big six’ – Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, and Tottenham; Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, and Real Madrid from Spain; and AC Milan, Inter Milan, and Juventus from Italy. Three other unnamed clubs, were also set to join, bringing the total to 15 ‘founding members’. The founding clubs would earn €3.5 billion between them for simply joining, this coupled with another €500 million for infrastructure upgrades, would be put forward by American investment giant, JP Morgan Chase. The founders would also be given permanent membership and void any form of relegation from the ESL. Five other teams would qualify annually via a qualifying mechanism based on the prior season’s achievements. Real Madrid chairman, Florentino Perez was to be chairman of this league.
Is it good for football?
In my opinion, the ESL in its current form has many problems. By guaranteeing 15 clubs permanent membership, regardless of performance, the ESL creates a closed shop for Europe’s elite clubs and stifles change, stagnating the quality of competition in pursuit of higher revenues and taking away the element of surprise and shock from the beautiful game. The structure in itself takes away the euphoria from football and the sense that anything can happen would be incredibly rare in this Machiavellian league. Who can forget the 2012-13 Champions’ League season, when Celtic upset European giants Barcelona 2-1? What about Porto’s surprise Champions’ League glory in 2003/04? By guaranteeing membership for a league’s largest clubs, the ESL makes it incredibly difficult for smaller teams in that league to pave their way onto the big stage. This season, Leicester City and West Ham could potentially qualify for the Champions’ League, tearing into positions previously dominated by the ‘big six’. However under ESL propositions, this would be meaningless as now smaller clubs would have no clear route into the premiere competition – taking away sporting merit.
As a retaliation, UEFA issued a statement condemning the league and promised that if it came to fruition, the teams involved would be banned from their domestic leagues and players would be banned from international football. If UEFA’s threats heeded through and the teams mentioned joined the ESL regardless, domestic football would suffer greatly. The Premier League would lose its largest clubs, who ensured its global influence, its affluency and its power when negotiating broadcasting contracts, receiving significantly less revenue due to a loss in viewers, and as a result, teams lower down the footballing pyramid would receive less money from the Premier League and could potentially go bust. One need only look at the FA Cup to see the monetary benefit that topflight clubs can have on smaller clubs. In 2015, a debt-ridden Cambridge United side earned a draw against Manchester United, taking the replay to Old Trafford and earning the club £1 million. Results like this are the golden ticket in English football, pumping a lot more money into smaller clubs, keeping them stable, and helping them grow.
What were the reactions?
The reaction to this news from the footballing world was overwhelmingly negative. Sky Sports presenters Jamie Carragher and Gary Neville went on impassioned tirades, condemning the ESL and everybody involved in its creation. Other prominent members of the footballing world joined suit. This in combination with online discussion regarding the ESL, meant that within a day, it had achieved something thought to be impossible, uniting the footballing world; unfortunately, football was united in its disgust with the ESL and football fans were furious. Thanks to the impassioned protests outside Stamford Bridge, Chelsea was the first to withdraw from the ESL, soon followed by Manchester City and the rest of the English sextet, leaving a gaping wound for the ESL. After the English clubs announced their withdrawal, Inter Milan and Atletico Madrid were quick to follow. As it stands, AC Milan, Barcelona, Juventus, and Real Madrid are still pushing for the ESL’s formation, but it seems like the end of this vain, greedy, and stupid project might not be too far away.
Has the battle just begun?
Having heard the news of the mass withdrawal, Florentino Perez stated that all teams had signed a ‘binding contract’ and that they could not leave the ESL just because they wanted to. This statement revealed the main orchestrator behind this sorry saga orchestrated and it seems like he will not yield without a battle. The ESL, while momentarily defeated, has not been abandoned as a concept just yet.
If there is one silver lining to this rotten story, it is that it has shown fans that with enough guts, we can hold our owners accountable. We can wrestle back control from those who view our beautiful game as purely financial properties and show them football isn’t just about the money, but about the beautiful sport and about the communities and stories this sport represents.
By Mustafa Qadri