The European Super League: An Attempted Assassination of Football
After 12 of the world’s richest clubs announced their intention to create a new, elite competition, the footballing community was sent into uproar. Calum Muldoon recaps the ridiculous 48 hours that came from the announcement of the European Super League.
The week beginning on Sunday 18th April was, safe to say, shambolic. As a journalist, trying to keep up with all the news that was flying in was a challenge in itself, and containing your rage towards Europe’s top teams was the cherry on top. As you can tell, this article is about the European Super League. Somehow, Europe’s top clubs managed to come up with an idea worse than holding the World Cup in Qatar, but unlike 2022’s crowning international competition, the idea was scrapped almost immediately. I cannot lie – when the news broke that this abomination of a league was due to come to fruition at the beginning of next season, I had a passion project of a piece waiting in the drafts, ready to rinse the 12 teams who thought they were bigger than their sport. But alas, after two days and fan protests in full swing, the clubs were reminded that although their wallets might be fat, they would be nothing without their fans. So… how did football manage to lose its mind before levelling back out within 48 hours?
On the 18th of April 2021, it was reported that 12 teams had united to release plans of a European Super League. Football’s governing bodies decided to rain hellfire on the clubs linked with the proposal, with threats of expulsion from all European, domestic, and international competitions for clubs and players alike. Those teams were Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham, Barcelona, Atlético Madrid, Real Madrid, Juventus, Inter Milan and AC Milan. Within a matter of hours, these 12 teams had not only tainted their public image, but disrespected the sport of football as a whole. While a number of the teams weren’t viewed as complete saints to begin with, this decision damned them to being known as European football’s biggest shame. For whatever reason, these clubs believed that they had this god-given right to hoard the pedigree of intercontinental competition to themselves and, frankly, it was a sickening standpoint to have. Chelsea have won as many European Cups as PSV, Celtic and Red Star Belgrade, while City, Arsenal, Tottenham and Atléti have never lifted the trophy. Juventus haven’t lifted Europe’s top honour in 25 years and neither Milan nor Inter have been anywhere close in the last 10 years – how on Earth could they claim to be the best of the best?
Not only did some of the 12 clubs involved have less to boast about in Europe than Dundee United, but they would also attempt to pass the Super League as something for the fans. Florentino Pérez, Real Madrid’s chairman and the mastermind behind this monstrosity, tried to sell the prospect of having the “biggest” clubs in the world playing on a weekly basis. What he, and the rest of the bigwigs involved, did not consider is that to fans of these clubs, it came across as though they were selling out. Footballing institutions like Liverpool and Manchester United were more than ready to disregard their storied history in their home country and abandon leagues and rivalries – all for a cheque from investors J.P. Morgan.
Each league of the 12 clubs involved campaigned firmly against those looking to break away, but the “elite” initially stood their ground. Sky Sports interviewed an anonymous board member from one of the Premier League’s “Big Six”, who came out and said: “Our primary job is to maximise our revenues and profits. The wider good of the game is a secondary concern.”
When it gets to a point where board members are openly admitting that they only hold an interest in the club’s profits, the commercialisation of the sport has gone too far. Fans seemed shocked when this news broke, but it was merely the straw that broke the camel’s back. Roman Abramovich, a Russian oligarch, bought Chelsea in 2003 and pumped in around £100 million for transfers in his first season at the helm. Sheikh Mansour, a member of the United Arab Emirates’ royal family who is worth £17 billion, bought Manchester City in 2008 and since then, the club has spent £1 billion on player recruitment – for reference, this is £360 million more than Paris-Saint Germain. The rest of the Big Six were bought out by billionaires over the years and their influence has served only to taint the wider game of football. While football has been heading in this direction for years now, and those same billionaires handing even a sliver of power back to the fans seems highly unlikely, there is some hope that this u-turn shows that while the mega-rich may control their clubs, the game ultimately belongs to the fans.
The main battle was fought between the 12 clubs and UEFA. With threats flying back and forth, it was just as surprising to see UEFA act as the good guys – yet, in some ways, they were not. The only reason that UEFA stood with fans was because they were set to miss out on the $42 billion pay packet from J.P. Morgan. If they lost their most lucrative clubs, they would likely miss out on their usual sponsorship money in the Champions League, with sponsors likely to flock to the Super League along with the breakaway clubs. That is the real reason as to why UEFA were so appalled by these rebellious clubs – not because of the integrity of the game, or achievement based off of sporting merit, but due to a risk of losing the funds that these 12 clubs would bring in. In the wake of this disastrous proposal, UEFA announced their plans to shake up the current Champions League format as of 2024, which does little to increase opportunities for “smaller” teams to have a chance at European football, but in fact helps to pat the egos of those 12 clubs. With this, those greedy aristocrats at the richest clubs will be drooling over the opportunity to add a zero or two onto the end of their salary. Frankly, it’s too much to bear. Growing up and learning about seasons gone by where any team can win any trophy based on footballing merit alone seems like a thing of the past. The commercialisation of football has brought some benefits to the game, absolutely, but when clubs like these 12 shift their focus away from football to money alone, the future of the sport looks tragically bleak.
After the dust settled and these plans were firmly scrapped, supporters have learned something about the way in which modern football works. Hold your club accountable. If fans had just sat back and accepted these plans begrudgingly, football could already be doomed. But no. Fans took the fight to their clubs, forcing them to give in. While these teams sheepishly mumbled out apologies like a group of embarrassed schoolboys, fans should not forget what they tried to do. With Ed Woodward, Manchester United’s chief executive, stepping down from his position in the days that followed, it is clear that things can go the supporters’ way. Whether or not Woodward was a sacrifice to save United’s owners’ hides is a mystery, but change did happen, and fans should not stop going after these clubs until they all pay for what they tried to do to football.