Has the European Super League really gone away?

Craig Humpage 3 weeks ago

Fans have quickly forgotten about the controversial project, but is it really dead or could we see it again soon?

By Craig Humpage
Editor-in-Chief, Sporticos
Published on Thursday 20 May 2021

Things move quickly in football and football fans have notoriously short memories. It was a little over a month ago that the entire news media was dominated by the story of a proposed break away competition dubbed “The Super League” and the effects it might have had on the beautiful game. 12 of the richest clubs in Europe joined together to make public their idea in what will go down as one of the biggest PR faux pas in history. A rushed, poorly thought out proposal was released to the world with clearly no consideration for the potential backlash it would go on to face.

We all know by now what the plan was. The 12 clubs would enter into a closed shop European competition with no qualification (but for a small window for a couple of extra clubs) and no relegation. This league would then be shopped to emerging markets around the world. Games would be played in midweek, putting it in direct competition with the UEFA Champions League. The execution of this plan would effectively nullify European football’s premier competition, and in turn make a mockery of most domestic leagues on the continent.

One particularly worrying part of the plan was that it would significantly reduce the prestige of some of Europe's most historic clubs, for their lack of involvement in the new competition. Teams like Bayern Munich, PSG, Ajax and Celtic were not invited to the party or declined the offer. With every passing year without their participation, the gulf between the "Big 12" and the others would grow even greater. 

Check out this fantastic article ranking the best teams in Europe in terms of their performance to remind yourself of some of the huge clubs who would be missing out on the revenue and exposure a "Super League" would provide.

The Super League was clearly the brainchild of the owners of said clubs, apparently led by Perez at Real Madrid, Agnelli at Juventus and the Glazers of Manchester United. Their unquenchable thirst for more cash left them unable to foresee the vitriolic response they were in for. As protests erupted at clubs across Europe, with fans of the six English clubs taking the lead, one by one their owners ran away from the project as fast as they possibly could. The exodus started with Chelsea and Manchester City, then the other four British clubs, then eventually Inter, AC Milan and Atletico followed suit, leaving only Barcelona, Real Madrid and Juventus left standing around the dumpster fire of their best laid plans.

The football world celebrated a great victory for the fans, and for the integrity of the game. But the question remains, are we safe now?

Is the Super League Officially Dead?

Earlier this month the nine clubs which have left the ESL accepted punishments handed down by UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin. They agreed to pay a collective fine of €15m which will be invested into youth and grassroots football across Europe. They also agreed to forfeit 5% of their revenue from European competitions next season. When you drill down into the numbers it’s not a lot of money but it is a symbolic punishment at least, and a recognition of guilt on the part of the clubs. Ceferin praised the clubs for coming forward and accepting blame: “It takes a strong organisation to admit making a mistake especially in these days of trial by social media. These clubs have done just that”

He is less laudatory of Barcelona, Juventus and Real Madrid who have not come to the table and are technically still in the league. He said: The same cannot be said for the clubs that remain involved in the so-called ‘Super League’ and UEFA will deal with those clubs subsequently.” How exactly they will be dealt with is unknown but sources speculate they could be barred from European competition for as much as two years for their involvement.

Despite such threats, the three clubs don’t seem to be budging. Real Madrid President Florentino Perez has said in the past month that not only are they not leaving, but that the other nine other clubs aren’t either. He said: "I don't need to explain what a binding contract is, but effectively the clubs cannot leave”. He’s been widely ridiculed for these comments but he seems steadfast in his belief that the project will move forward one way or another, and that’s scary. Another one of the key creators, Juventus Chairman Andrea Agnelli, has appeared more downcast in his estimation, accepting that the ESL project is dead as it stands: “I don't think that project is now still up and running."

Technically speaking, those three huge clubs are still in the European Super League. Perez claims the other nine are too whether they like it or not. As the football media turns its attention back to other matters, you have to wonder what they are plotting behind the scenes. All of these clubs, English included, hatched this secret plan behind our backs for months, possibly years and then dropped it on us like a bombshell. The rules which the nine leavers have signed up to, agreeing to pay a €100m fine if they ever try to do this again, are encouraging, but you have to think that these owners and chairmen aren’t going to take this lying down. What do they have up their sleeve? Perhaps we won’t know until it hits us.

What drove the 12 clubs to do this?

As much as it would be convenient to simply blame pure greed, it’s not so much a greed for money, more a greed for the domination and growth that the money would provide. As it stands though, many of the biggest clubs in Europe are saddled with insane debts and are facing up to the possibility of having to downsize dramatically.

Every one of the clubs involved is saddled with some amount of debt. They would argue this has been caused in part by the pandemic but the obvious truth is that many of them have spent recklessly for decades in pursuit of absolute domination and now their chickens are coming home to roost. Barcelona are over £1bn in debt, Atletico and Real Madrid are close behind. Inter, Juventus and Manchester United are in the same ball park. Tottenham Hotspur have an astronomical £1.1bn debt and are at the front of the pack.

The reason clubs like Manchester City and Chelsea were able to lead the charge in terms of backtracking away from the dumpster fire is because in comparison their debt is miniscule, around the £200m mark. The debt that the bigger clubs have taken on is crippling them, and this will affect their ability to buy all of the world’s best players and dominate their leagues and Europe going forward. The response of most neutral fans? Good, let them die.

Debt aside, there are the gripes many of these clubs have with UEFA and how it runs the Champions League. They feel that the format is hamstringing their ability to maximise profits from global markets. They argue that there aren’t enough marque matchups between the “elite” sides and they can only cash in on real interest towards the latter stages of the tournament. Of course any true football fan scoffs at this idea but the individuals at the top of these institutions are not targeting genuine lovers of the game - they are courting glory hunters in far flung areas of the world who’d sooner follow Neymar than a particular club.

If UEFA doesn’t do something to change the way it runs European competition, it is surely a matter of time before these owners get together again behind closed doors and start plotting their way out. They want to maximise broadcasting revenues so they can keep inflating transfer and wage prices and maintain their control over the game, leading to decades more boredom watching the likes of Real Madrid and Juventus win everything. The current model isn’t allowing them to do that to the absolute maximum and so they feel, it’s got to go.

Perez, Agnelli and co are on the back foot right now, but ahead of next season we can expect UEFA to cave and make changes kowtowing to the demands of the richest clubs, or another breakaway bombshell, perhaps this time for good.

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