The proposed European Super League has unleashed a torrent of backlash from longtime fans of the clubs involved, football associations and even political leaders.
If the controversy is not resolved, it would not only threaten the future of the leading clubs but also the careers of their top players and the loyalty of fans who are the core pillar of the world’s most popular sport.
The Super League will involve six English clubs: Liverpool, Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur. Spanish clubs Real Madrid, Barcelona, Atletico Madrid and Italian clubs Juventus, AC Milan and Inter Milan round up the tentative clubs in the Super League, with another three clubs set to join in the inaugural season that is intended to start as soon as possible.
Money is what matters most
The announcement of the breakaway league on Sunday came just a day before UEFA was planning to discuss possible expansion of its Champions League to 36 teams and increase the number of matches from 125 to 225. UEFA was said to be planning the revamp in a bid to stave off any attempt by the leading clubs to create a separate league.
Money is clearly the primary consideration in the proposed Champions League revamp as well as for the Super League.
By increasing the number of matches, UEFA is hoping to entice the leading clubs of more revenue-sharing opportunities.
Nonetheless, the breakaway clubs are clearly not convinced of the merits of UEFA’s proposals. In its statement, the breakaway clubs said, "The Founding Clubs will receive an amount of €3.5 billion solely to support their infrastructure investment plans and to offset the impact of the COVID pandemic."
The fact that American financial powerhouse JPMorgan Chase is involved in the financing the Super League of up to US$5 billion indicates that the project could potentially be very lucrative for all the clubs concerned. Each breakaway club stands to gain hundreds of millions of dollars through broadcast and sponsorship rights, far more than the current arrangements under the Champions League.
Merit vs pedigree
According to the breakaway clubs, the Super League envisages their guaranteed participation, with another five teams to qualify annually on the basis of their results in the prior season.
This plan would further entrench the great divide between the marquee names in club football and the lesser teams.
On paper, it is ludicrous that Manchester City, Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur and Atletico Madrid are even in the Super League when they have yet to win the Champions League or the old European Cup. Their pedigrees pale in comparison with the likes of Holland’s Ajax Amsterdam, which had won the continent’s most prestigious trophy four times, and two-time winners Portugal’s Benfica and Porto. Even unfancied Steaua Bucharest from Romania and Red Star Belgrade from defunct Yugoslavia have each won the trophy once.
Slamming the Super League plan, a Premier League spokesperson said, “The Premier League condemns any proposal that attacks the principles of open competition and sporting merit which are at the heart of the domestic and European football pyramid.”
While the Champions League in its current format isn’t ideal, it lets the champions from the smaller leagues, such as those in Scandinavia and eastern Europe, a chance to compete with the biggest clubs if they were to prevail in the qualifying rounds. The revamped Champions League could result in even more involvement from the clubs in the smaller leagues.
The proposed Super League with its meagre invitation of just five outsider clubs to participate each season will shut out many potentially deserving clubs across the continent.
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp spoke for many when he reiterated his long-standing objection to the Super League by referring to the current English Premier League position of 4th-placed West Ham United. Klopp said, “I like the fact West Ham may play Champions League next year. I like that they have that chance.”
Beyond the further entrenchment of a two-tier club system, the Super League could also result in the breakaway clubs facing the prospect of not being able to participate in the domestic leagues if the Super League were to take off.
In a strongly worded joint statement, UEFA and the football associations and leagues of England, Italy and Spain warned that “the clubs concerned will be banned from playing in any other competition at domestic, European or world level, and their players could be denied the opportunity to represent their national teams”.
The breakaway clubs must therefore consider if launching the Super League is too high a price to pay. Clearly, there is no merit for them to participate in a standalone league without their participation in other domestic, regional and international club competitions. Broadcasters and sponsors would not want to associate themselves with any one-competition clubs and this would nullify their goal of financial sustainability.
If players from these clubs are threatened with the prospects of being shut out from many games, they would also see their market value nosedive. As such, the clubs may face an exodus of players to the clubs not involved in the Super League.
Above all, there is the question of whether fans will stand by the breakaway clubs and their players. The statement by the Chelsea Supporters' Trust echoes the sentiment of many fans of the other Super League clubs, "Our members and football supporters across the world have experienced the ultimate betrayal. This is a decision of greed to line the pockets of those at the top and it has been made with no consideration for the loyal supporters, our history, our future or the future of football in this country."
It remains to be seen how the saga would pan out in the coming weeks. UEFA and the breakaway clubs might come to a compromise in terms of revenue-sharing and other areas. The Super League proposal might have been an ace card held by the clubs all along to force such a compromise.
It doesn’t matter who will blink in the end. The Super League has exposed longstanding deep divisions in the football hierarchy and system across the European continent and beyond. The aim of football authorities to leverage the sport as a unifying force for good rings as hollow as the empty stands in the stadiums during the current pandemic.
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