European Super League

Plans for a rogue competition of Europe’s self-proclaimed ‘elite’ football clubs fall apart amid fervent backlash from fans

Real Madrid owner and architect of the Super League project, Florentino Pérez. Photo by Pressinphoto/Icon Sport via Getty Images.

— 4 minute read — By Alex Kurtis

Though not shocked at the realisation of a long-term plan, the footballing world was left outraged this month as twelve of Europe’s ‘best teams’ announced their intentions to form a so-called Super League. The competition would see some of Europe’s top clubs, including six from England, three from Spain and three from Italy, sacrifice their place in their domestic leagues and cups in favour of playing each other every week. Perhaps the shocking and rather spectacular element of the story was the strength of reaction from fans and protest that eventually forced many of the major clubs to withdraw.

For the foreign billionaires who own England’s largest clubs, a £300m cheque for accepting the invite to the Super League, followed by promises that the league could triple what clubs receive from competing in the Champions League easily drowned out the voices of fans. An elite contest from which teams cannot be relegated or promoted, that consistently generates absurd levels of cash for the owners, sounds like a wonderful idea for anyone not concerned with any sort of fair competition.

It has long been understood that the club owners are very much out of touch with the game they invest in. Part-owner of Manchester United Joel Glazer has personally admitted it took him two years to learn the offside rule and that he still struggles to grasp the concept. The money such billionaire investors have poured into the Premier League’s top clubs created an obvious divide in domestic competition. The inflation of player prices and contracts ostracised many of the smaller clubs looking to climb the footballing ladder. Over the years, the working-class foundations of many of the clubs has slowly been eroded away and rebuilt as global brands. Whilst there is no shame in wanting to spread England’s footballing culture around the world, too often has it been at the expense of the lower leagues and teams.

The logistics of the Super League modelled itself after American closed league systems such as the NFL or NBA, where teams are essentially a subsidiary of the League and therefore protected from total collapse. With half of England’s so-called top six (Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal) under American ownership, such a model seems obvious after witnessing such success in the states. On the other hand, the European footballing model has each team as an independent organisation; mismanagement or failure to secure funding only affects that team, and they can fall down through divisions just as they can rise through them. A breakaway competition of apparently elite clubs would be catastrophic for those left behind, with media coverage and viewership likely to tank against the flashy and internationalised Super League.

Although one could argue the European model makes glory for smaller clubs almost unattainable, the opportunity to do so is at least solely in the hands of the club, not any higher conglomerate. As made evident through Leicester City FC, miraculous success stories are possible, and far more gratifying when achieved purely on merit. The inclusions of Tottenham Hotspur and AC Milan meanwhile seem to prove that the owners of these elite clubs are not interested in meritocratic values, with the former not winning any major trophy since 2008 and the latter not qualifying for Europe’s current top-tier competition since 2014. No Spurs fan could have been excited at the prospect of joining a Super League, predestining their future to be sat rock bottom, but unable to be relegated to face more equal competition, stuck in a groundhog day losing to the same teams over and over again, never to be put out of their misery.

Regardless, the Super League never once appeared like a genuine way to create more exciting competition. The willingness to go ahead despite clubs such as Paris Saint-Germain and FC Bayern Munich not participating clearly proves it was never about the game; not having last year’s Champions League finalists takes a whole lot of ‘super’ out of the Super League.

Hours after its announcement, the Super League brainchild was condemned by Europe’s largest football governing bodies. UEFA President Aleksander Čeferin went so far as to say “we didn’t know we had snakes so close to us” in reference to some of the league’s top executives Ed Woodward (Manchester United) and Andrea Agnelli (Juventus); on the day of the declaration, Agnelli resigned from UEFA’s executive committee and from his position as chairman of the European Club Association, essentially severing ties to those he knew would oppose him. Still he was ruthlessly berated by Serie A club owners via a Zoom call. Even large corporations also not often known to handle money ethically such as Amazon, and institutions such as the British Government refused to support the League.

Fan protests ensued. Former player and now-technical adviser Petr Cech was sent out to calm furious supporters in West London while they blocked the team bus from entering the stadium. Angry signs and graffiti enveloped Anfield and The Emirates protests were in full swing. Four days after the initial announcement, the Super League was reduced to Real Madrid and FC Barcelona; all other club owners had pulled out. Chelsea’s Roman Abramovich was the first to do so, with a representative of the club stating “the club is preparing to pull out. Roman’s involvement with the club has never been about money, it has always been about the community and fans. This is not what we want”. Liverpool owner John Henry also came out with a statement, albeit curiously dressed in hunting gear with a teleprompter appearing to reflect off his glasses.

Currently there has been no public evidence of sanctions handed out to the clubs involved. Leading pundits like Gary Neville have called for points deductions for the guilty parties, though the more likely punishment will be against the owners and not the players, who have expressed widespread opposition to the Super League. Liverpool Captain Jordan Henderson organised a meet with all other Premier League Captains, putting out a very clear statement: “we don’t like it and don’t want it to happen”.

The drama may have exposed club owners as the power-hungry conglomerates they are, though maybe it is the collective power of fans that has been the biggest revelation through all this drama. Protests like the one outside the Emirates signals a new revolution, taking the power back and restoring the integrity of England’s most successful clubs. recently, Swedish Billionaire, Spotify founder and proclaimed lifelong Arsenal fan Daniel Ek has joined forces with former Arsenal Legends Henry, Bergkamp and Vieira to buy the club from the Kroenkes. If successful, this would be a huge moment for fans, as it is obvious this move is motivated by the extreme backlash the ownership has faced recently. Even more recently, Old Trafford was stormed by fans protesting the Glazers ownership of Manchester United before a fixture against Liverpool, forcing the game to be postponed; this also postpones arch-rivals Manchester City’s coronation as Premier League Champions, though I am sure this of little significance to these fans.

The complacency and passive frustration many supporters have had for years has manifested into real action; the future of football feels far more hopeful than it has in a very long time.