The European Super League is dead. But did the fans or the villains win?

·6-min read
Chelsea fans hold a banner outside the stadium before the match after reports suggest they are set to pull out of the European Super League.
Chelsea fans hold a banner outside the stadium before the match after reports suggest they are set to pull out of the European Super League. (PHOTO: Reuters/Kevin Coombs)

By Noah Tan

This past weekend saw the biggest scandal to hit world football since Pavel Nedved beat Thierry Henry to the Ballon d’Or in 2003.

Call it what you want. Outrageous. Shocking. Disgraceful, even.

But the fact that Tottenham Hotspur, with a grand total of one FA Cup and two League Cups in the last 30 years, was included as part of the European Super League (ESL) is nothing short of an affront to all that we know and love about football.

Arguably the biggest sin committed by the ESL, however, was that it distracted us all from mocking Jose Mourinho for getting sacked by Spurs.

I kid, of course. (Or did I?) The real crime was the formation of the ESL itself – a breakaway tournament formed by 12 of Europe’s biggest clubs, including Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, AC Milan, Inter Milan and Juventus.

I still firmly believe that the other two clubs in the ESL, Spurs and my beloved Arsenal, were only invited so that punters could get their AOS (Any Other Score) fix.

But barely 48 hours after announcing the formation of the ESL, the competition was effectively canned. In the face of widespread backlash from fans, players, and the English Premier League (EPL) itself, the owners of the six English clubs involved in the ESL lost whatever little was left of their backbone, and withdrew their participation from the competition.

What. A. Farce.

I guess the good news is we won’t have to pay exorbitant prices to watch Eric Dier amble around the pitch for 90 minutes trying to mark Willian. But the damage – to the clubs’ reputations, as well as to the relationship between the clubs and their fans – has been done, perhaps even beyond repair.

No number of apologies, carefully worded statements or explanations can save these clubs from the public relations disaster they brought upon themselves.

The fallout from the ill-advised ESL venture has already claimed its first high-profile victim in United’s executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward. After 16 long years at the club, Woodward will step down from his role at the Red Devils at the end of the year.

So at least ONE good thing came out of the ESL. Well, good for United fans, that is, not so much for the rest.

Woodward, it is understood, was one of the main men behind the ESL, though many also believe he was a mere pawn of the Glazers. Nonetheless, his departure from United is merely a plaster on a gaping wound the size of Florentino Pérez’s ego – it does nothing to alleviate the worry that some of the biggest clubs in the world are owned by men who could not give a fish’s tit about football history, culture and tradition.

All they care about is money. The rich want to get richer – where have we heard this trope before?

Now, I won’t bore you with all the reasons why the ESL is an abomination to football, or why it failed the way it did. Better writers than I have written multiple opinion pieces expounding those points more clearly and with more passion than I could ever muster.

No, I’m here to tell you the bad news. If you think the ‘good guys’ won because the ESL is now in shambles, think again.

Spanish media outlet Mundo Deportivo have alleged that the six EPL clubs were persuaded to leave the ESL because they were offered a ‘significant’ amount of money by Uefa to do so. Whether that is true or not, I cannot say for sure. But I wouldn’t bat an eyelid if it was.

Also, amidst the furore over the ESL, you might have missed the news that Uefa has pushed through very significant changes to the format of the Champions League.

The changes, which will take effect in 2024, include having 36 teams compete in the Champions League, up from the current 32. More significantly, the traditional group stage of the competition will be binned and replaced by a single league stage that includes all participants. The top eight sides will qualify automatically for the knockout stages, while teams from ninth to 24th will face off in two-legged play-offs to earn a spot in the last-16.

Games will also be played on Thursdays, instead of Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Well, at least Arsenal will be well prepared for that, having had years of practice in the Europa League.

But does this format change sound familiar to you? If it does, it's because it is a competition format that is essentially similar to the one proposed by the European Super League.

And there’s really only one reason for those changes – more money.

After all, the new format will ensure that there will be more Champions League games being played each season, player welfare be damned. More games equate to more broadcast revenue, more sponsorships, more advertisers.

At the end of the day, money talks. And money in the world of football just so happens to talk at a similar volume to the Landlady in Kung Fu Hustle.

If you believe the spiel of Uefa, Fifa and the European domestic leagues that they were so vehemently opposed to the ESL because of their desire to protect the purity and sanctity of football, what rock did you crawl out from and can I have some of whatever you’re smoking, please?

These organisations – long synonymous with greed in the world of football, before the ESL came and blew them out of the water – were simply afraid of losing their cash cows, hence the panic and outrage.

But now, their cash cows are safe and sound in the meadow that is the Champions League/Europa League. Now, they can rest easy while dreaming of the billions of dollars they will be able to make.

Meanwhile, for us fans, we are left to pick up the pieces after being betrayed by the clubs we love. We will have to live with the knowledge that our favourite clubs treat us as nothing but a footnote in their money-grabbing shenanigans.

But that, unfortunately, is the way of football now. So, us fans had better buckle up, because it will only be a matter of time before the next hare-brained scheme comes along to get us all in a tizzy once again.

For now, though, maybe we can cheer ourselves up by finally laughing at Mourinho?

This article, "The European Super League is dead. But did the fans or the villains win?", originally appeared on Football Siao – Singapore’s craziest EPL website.