Twelve of football’s richest clubs have declared their intent to form a ‘Super League’, but their proposal has instantly alienated football fans and threatens to unleash calamity in the world’s most popular sport.
There would be nothing super about a tournament motivated by greed and lacking real risk — and therefore excitement.
The cynicism displayed by the clubs in question — England’s Manchester United, Liverpool, Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham; Spain’s Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid; and Italy’s Juventus, AC Milan and Inter Milan — is as barefaced as it is astonishing.
Each would receive 3.5 billion euros ($4.64 billion) just for joining “to support their infrastructure investment plans and to offset the impact of the COVID pandemic”, in the knowledge that television viewers in the US, Asia and the Middle East would tune in for (and fund) the spectacle, even if local fans turned away.
Real Madrid president Florentino Pérez has been named Super League chairman and claims: “We will help football at every level and take it to its rightful place in the world.”
“Football is the only global sport in the world with more than 4 billion fans and our responsibility as big clubs is to respond to their desires.”
The language of the statement, and the lack of the word “European” in the Super League’s branding, indicates the clubs’ desire to further drink from the tap of global revenues, even if it disenfranchises local fans.
Manchester City’s Official Supporters’ Club has, significantly, spoken out against the breakaway.
“These owners, irrespective of where they come from, seem to think football belongs to them — it doesn’t, it belongs to us — the supporters, irrespective of which team we support,” they said.
Supporters’ trusts from the other English clubs also took aim at their teams’ move, labelling it “unforgivable”, “a decision of greed”, “the ultimate betrayal” and “the death of the club”.
UEFA, which runs the European game, has responded with threats: “Every club and player participating in the Super League could be banned from all UEFA and FIFA competitions, European or International level.”
The guardians of the international game, FIFA, tut-tutted but used more mealy-mouthed language.
“In our view, and in accordance with our statutes, any football competition, whether national, regional or global, should always reflect the core principles of solidarity, inclusivity, integrity and equitable financial redistribution. Moreover, the governing bodies of football should employ all lawful, sporting and diplomatic means to ensure this remains the case. Against this background, FIFA can only express its disapproval to a ‘closed European breakaway league’ outside of the international football structures and not respecting the aforementioned principles.”
What’s the proposal and what’s the problem?
The announcement of the proposed breakaway came on the eve of a revamp of UEFA’s gold-standard club competition, the European Champions League, which has also been harshly criticised.
Ostensibly the Super League is a response to UEFA’s moves to make the Champions League more bloated, less exciting but more revenue-raising.
The Super League would be a mid-week competition with 15 perennial clubs and five more who “earn” their spot at the table every season — the particulars on how those five would qualify have not been made clear yet.
Those teams involved hope to remain in their respective domestic leagues and compete for those titles.
The main point of ire for traditional football fans is that the self-proclaimed giants would automatically qualify year after year.
The very essence of football and one of the reasons it is such a global game is that every club, from the smallest of local teams to the European giants, feels part of an interwoven network.
Systems of relegation and promotion exist in most leagues around the world (the lack of relegation in Australia is a matter for impassioned debate among football fans), as is the sense that, despite all the financial doping that exists, at some level, football is a meritocracy. Your team, no matter how small or unfashionable, could have a wild run in the knockout cup or could put together a mammoth season and earn promotion to the next division.
To single out a group of 15 clubs and suggest they will forever be elite goes against the very ethos of football, or in fact any sport.
It is also easily debunkable that the 12 clubs who have declared themselves “super” are, in fact, the crème de la crème, and shall forever remain so.
Before Manchester City’s 2008 takeover by Abu Dhabi’s mega-rich Sheik Mansour, the club was a minor player that had not won a league title since the 1960s.
Once-great AC Milan haven’t won the Serie A title in 10 years. Arsenal haven’t won the league since 2004, Spurs since 1961. Why should they be able to self-declare as the best?
Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp said in 2019 that he opposed such a tournament: “I hope this Super League will never happen. Why should we create a system where Liverpool faces Real Madrid for 10 straight years?”
The proposed format of the Super League itself drains most of the joy and romance out of the game. The same sides playing each other every year in two large groups of 10, with very little riding on each game – before the top eight teams play knockout quarter-finals. The Champions League has been criticised for the dullness of its group stages, which are usually a procession for the big teams, but this is even worse. More games with less to lose.
And with those same teams guaranteed income stream from the Super League, domestic competitions are likely to suffer even more disparity, with the self-chosen elite gradually building a financial wall between themselves and the rest.
The Super League may not happen – some believe it is a bargaining chip the rich clubs are using to wrest power away from the traditional governing bodies, something they have been attempting for decades.
Even if it never comes about, the clubs who have put their name to it cannot retreat from the fact that this is what they moved for, in direct contrast to the wishes of vast swathes of their fans.
Manchester United legend and Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville has already gone viral with his response.
“I’m a Manchester United fan for 40 years and have been for most of my life, but I’m disgusted. Absolutely disgusted,” he said.
“Manchester United, 100 years, born out of workers around here and they are breaking away to a league without competition, that they can’t be relegated from? We have to wrestle back the power in this country from the clubs at the top of this league … It’s pure greed.”
The only way to stop the powerbrokers from having their way may be for UEFA and FIFA to pull the trigger on their threats, banning all clubs involved from existing competitions and barring the players from taking part in Euros and World Cups.
No matter who wins this stand-off, the outcome for football looks bleak.