European Super League is not about football, fans or more high-quality games; it's purely about the bottomline of elite clubs

At the very onset, it should be made clear that European Super League is not about the football or competitive football or fans. This is about the $$$. And a lot of it.

Tanuj Lakhina April 19, 2021 17:10:12 IST
European Super League is not about football, fans or more high-quality games; it's purely about the bottomline of elite clubs

A selection of scarves of the English soccer Premier League teams who are reported to be part of a proposed European Super League. AP

If you’re one for sporting romances, for David vs Goliaths, for a minnow causing upsets or going close to the money bags, look away. If you’re one for Ajax, Benfica, Nottingham Forest, Celtic, Hamburg, PSV Eindhoven, Red Star Belgrade rubbing shoulders with European elite, and going all the way, look away. If you’re one for the likes of Monaco going through Real Madrid, Chelsea; or Bayer Leverkusen sending Manchester United packing, look away.

The Super League is here.

The idea that a rival for the UEFA Champions League was being formulated was not a secret. It had been in the works for a while. Outgoing Barcelona president Josep Bartomeu said the club had accepted to be part of the Super League. "The European Super League will make it so the club can remain being one of the members," he said in a mic drop moment. LaLiga chief Javier Tebas believed it was Real Madrid president Florentino Perez who prodded Bartomeu into making the revelation. “This (league) has been a dream by the Real Madrid president. ... He has worked for this for a long time, this is nothing new,” said Tebas.

On Sunday, those hushed boardroom talks, those private emails bore fruition — at least in terms of intent. Twelve of Europe’s biggest clubs published statements backing the league. The timing couldn’t have been more ironic. It came just as Fulham held Arsenal to a 1-1 draw in England, while in Italy Juventus were beaten 1-0 by Atalanta. A couple of hours later in Spain, Real Madrid were held by Getafe.

At the very onset, it should be highlighted that this is not about the football. This is not about fans. This is not about having a competitive tournament. This is not about having more games — something UEFA is slated to announce in a Swiss-style format. This is about the $$$. And a lot of it.

The proposals put the league at €6 billion, which would see 15 founding clubs receive between €89m and €310m immediately for signing on the dotted line. “Things that usually take years were done in hours,” a European football executive told The Guardian. “The upfront cash was being dangled like bait. All clubs need money — and if you’re told that everyone else is involved, you don’t want to be left without a chair when the music stops.”

Let’s run through the twelve clubs: Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur from the Premier League; AC Milan, Inter Milan and Juventus from the Serie A; Real Madrid, FC Barcelona and Atletico Madrid from LaLiga. The statement released on Sunday said three more clubs will join ahead of the inaugural season.

Four of the clubs forming the “elite” breakaway league — Arsenal, Manchester City, Spurs and Atletico Madrid — have never won the European Cup. AC Milan haven’t been part of the Champions League since 2014. Arsenal since 2017. Spurs have played a grand total of six seasons in the European top-tier. Manchester City have played 11 seasons. Atletico Madrid, nine seasons since the turn of the century.

If we dwell further into these “elite” clubs for their league success, it paints an even grimmer picture. Arsenal haven’t won the league since 2004, Manchester United since 2013, Spurs since 1961, Atletico Madrid since 2014, AC Milan since 2011 and Inter Milan since 2010. The reason these clubs are able to enter repeatedly, each year is on the basis of club co-efficient which is helped along by their peers.

Now that we’ve looked at the clubs involved, let’s look at the reasons. Or the means to justify this bait. The carrot at the end of the stick. Kieron O’Connor, name behind The Swiss Ramble, pointed out that 11 of the 12 clubs lost a combined £1.2 billion (before player sales) in the 2019-20 season — when only three months of the season were impacted by COVID-19 . Going further in, the 12 clubs have a combined jaw-dropping debt of £7.4 billion. Deloitte’s Football Money report stated clubs witnessed a €257m fall in matchday revenue.

When you look at the numbers, the decision, the rush to get the proposal out before UEFA’s meeting makes sense. In true financial terms, it is a no brainer.

But where it doesn’t make sense is that it helps no one — not the domestic leagues, not the competitor clubs, not the governing organisations, not the fans. European football’s finances have never been kind to clubs other than the biggies. Where every English Premier League club gets paid millions of dollars in TV money, Croatian clubs get 150,000 euros annually. Within the same league, if Manchester United garnered €580.4 million in revenues, Everton earned €212 million.

At the heart of it, there is the disdain for wholesome sporting stories — for Leicester City winning the league, Greece the European Championships. For the entire point of sport itself — a coming together of different beliefs, cultures and people. Reduce that to just a few, governed by themselves, and you’re limiting the potential for it to grow. Take the Cricket World Cup: instead of growing and including more teams, it has been trimmed to 10 teams under the defence of “quality control”. Lesser the number of teams, more the money between them and smaller the growth of the sport.

What makes Champions League exciting is the drama, the unpredictability. Not just in the results but also in the teams involved. A Clasico four times a season is an overkill but under the Super League you might get it that very often. Football on-demand. A streaming service for football minus the thrill.

Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville, a former Manchester United player, minced no words. “I’m disgusted with Manchester United and Liverpool the most,” Neville said. “They’re breaking away to a competition they can’t be relegated from? It’s an absolute disgrace. We have to wrestle back power in this country from the clubs at the top of this league — and that includes my club.”

“It’s pure greed, they’re impostors. The owners of Man United, Liverpool, Chelsea and Man City have nothing to do with football in this country. Manchester United, Arsenal, Tottenham aren’t even in the Champions League. Have they even got the right to be in there? They’re an absolute joke. Time has come now to have independent regulators to stop these clubs from having the power base. Enough is enough.”

Worth seeing what UEFA and FIFA do now. There’s been enough talk. Will they be able to ensure defending Champions League winners Bayern Munich, Ligue 1 champions Paris Saint-Germain ‘remain’? If they do, UEFA can continue to try and break “the 12” and shove this whole thing. Either way, the statement has been made and clubs have played their hand. What will UEFA do to wrestle back the power? Additionally, what can UEFA and FIFA do to ensure they hold the upper hand going forward instead of club presidents.

As an aside, the proposed tournament is called The Super League. Not European Super League. Not The European Super League. The Super League which potentially leaves the door open for non-European clubs to join in. So is there room for MLS teams, Chinese Super League teams to join in at some point?

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