The European Super League – What Went Wrong?
Oscar Young looks at the dramatic rise and fall of the controversial new league and what it means to the wider game of football.
‘Disgusting, greedy, a disgrace.’ Just a few of the ways players and fans alike described football’s proposed European Super League (ESL). In the midst of an unprecedented season, the events of this week have been some of the most turbulent in the long history of the sport. However, the news that all English clubs involved have pulled out of the breakaway group has shown that the plan’s days are numbered.
The initial announcement came on Sunday afternoon – twelve clubs were to form a new mid-week ‘Super League’ that was to begin ‘as soon as practicable.’ Six English teams (Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool, Tottenham and Arsenal), three Italian teams (AC Milan, Inter Milan and Juventus) and three Spanish teams (Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid and Barcelona) were to make up the founding group.
These clubs would be permanent members of the ESL, eliminating the traditional promotion-relegation system that has defined football for the past century. This would secure their revenues for years to come. Five new clubs would join each season, based on success from the previous season. The deal, financed by bank JP Morgan, was said to be worth £3.5 billion.
French and German clubs Paris Saint-Germain, Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund rejected the proposal from the start.
The announcement was met with immediate outrage from all parts of the football world. Fans online expressed their discontent, stating that football had been ‘stolen by the rich.’ This condemnation was mirrored by all of the major football federations, including UEFA and FIFA. UEFA announced on Sunday that it would use ‘all measures’ available to fight back against the idea – unsurprising given the league was intended to replace their current Champions League model. Both bodies acknowledged the possibility of banning Super League players and clubs from their competitions, including this summer’s delayed Euro 2020.
Much of the resentment surrounding the idea is based around the near-exclusion of the rest of Europe’s club teams from the competition. Qualification for the Champions League, Europe’s current premier club tournament, is based entirely on performance from the previous season, rather than historical success or perceived ‘elite-ness.’ For example, Arsenal, one of the clubs included, are currently ninth in the Premier League, behind teams such as Leicester, West Ham and Everton. With the proposal, these other teams who are currently performing well wouldn’t have a chance to play against the best teams in Spain or Italy.
Former Manchester United captain and Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville voiced his indignation on Sunday evening, saying that the participating teams should all be docked points immediately. ‘You have to stamp on this’ he said.
Notably, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and French President Emmanuel Macron both expressed their unhappiness with the breakaway plan. Johnson also held a meeting with the FA, Premier League and fan groups to confirm his ‘unwavering support’ for their efforts to thwart the ESL.
Monday saw continued opposition. By the evening, all eyes had shifted to the build-up for the Leeds vs Liverpool match at Elland Road. With protests taking place outside, including a plane carrying an anti-ESL banner flying overhead, the Leeds players warmed up in shirts proclaiming ‘Earn it’ and ‘Football is for the fans.’ Liverpool’s manager Jurgen Klopp also made clear that both the players and him were not involved in the decision to join.
Chelsea’s match at 8pm on Tuesday evening was delayed when protestors outside the stadium blocked the teams’ buses from entering. However, Chelsea and Manchester City’s plans to drop out from the competition were soon revealed – news that was met by cheers from the protestors.
Then, just as quickly as the plan came about, its fate was sealed. By 10:45pm on Tuesday, all six English teams announced their withdrawal. Atletico Madrid and Inter Milan quickly followed. Manchester United’s Executive Vice-Chairman, Ed Woodward, has since promised his resignation by the end of the year. While the competition is technically still alive with three teams remaining, its future looks bleak. Juventus Chairman Andrea Agnelli said that ‘evidently it is not the case’ that the ESL could still go ahead.
Undoubtedly, the league’s failure was down to the impressive response from fans. You would be hard pressed to find an example of a more united and widespread response from fans of all clubs in recent sports memory.
Time will tell how the footballing world looks back on this week, and whether the clubs and their management will be forgiven. Clearly, it has been a triumph of the people against a move to boost the finances of a small group of elite clubs.
However, it does beg the question as to how in touch the people in charge are with the fans? In response to all the opposition, Florentino Perez, the Real Madrid President who was made the first ESL Chairman, stated ‘we’re doing this to save football,’ citing how ‘young people are no longer interested in football.’
At the end of the day, money rules everything – clear to see with the playing of next year’s World Cup in Qatar. Even UEFA, the organisation agreeing with the masses this week, recently released their proposed new Champions League format to increase revenue. 2021 will surely not be the final time we see money driving change in the sport.
For now, though, football as we know it is saved.