The proposed European Super League would render domestic football leagues pointless and might have a negative domino effect around the world.
In the years to come, perhaps football fans around the world will see April 18, 2021 as a black letter day. Perhaps they won’t. What cannot be denied, however, is the seismic shift that currently threatens the world’s most popular game in its most profitable market. The driving factor behind this change? Ironically, money. For what other reasons do the powers-that-be have to dismantle a system that serves them so well? A system which is around for so long, in part, because it works. And no one is denying that football could use some degree of change. The European Super League, however, is not an innovation that will make the sport any better. But it will most definitely make the rich even richer.
That a European Super League is being established is surprising but not shocking. After all, the idea has been mooted for almost a decade now. Yet it was always seen as the ultimate bluff; the method the rich used to ensure they controlled the lion’s share of the market.
However, the cat is now out of the bag. And guess what? As it turns out, it wasn’t really a bluff after all. They even have a website and everything! Granted, that isn’t much in today’s world where everything is online. But it does show that this event isn’t standalone and, in fact, has been in the works for a while.
That the intent of the so-called “big clubs” exists to push this through has never been in doubt. The real question is – what happens if they succeed?
The allure of the Champions League is such that clubs are nowadays happy to even qualify for the event. Being part of the event – even if that means not progressing to the knockout stages – is in itself worth a lot.
And as of now, there are 32 spots up for grabs in the tournament, with all clubs needing to qualify for the tournament. The ESL format, however, states that 15 clubs will be permanently part of the league and the remaining 5 will qualify annually.
Of those 15, 12 will be the founding members – AC Milan, Arsenal FC, Atlético de Madrid, Chelsea FC, FC Barcelona, FC Internazionale Milano, Juventus FC, Liverpool FC, Manchester City, Manchester United, Real Madrid CF and Tottenham Hotspur. Three more clubs are yet to be decided.
Understandably, the money that this product generates will be significant. But the distribution of the revenue will be even more concentrated in the hands of a few.
There’s also the fact that the Super League clubs will be barred from taking part in their domestic leagues. And while this makes sense from a morality standpoint, it doesn’t from a business one. A La Liga without El Clasico? A Premier League with no Manchester derby, no Merseyside derby and without the biggest of London derbies? A Serie A without the Milan derby or Derby d’Italia? All it does is leave the domestic leagues a lot less sellable to TV companies.
Football around the world is based on promotion and relegation across divisions. This isn’t due to the goodness of anyone’s heart; it is a FIFA mandate that has to be followed. The strictness of the mandate, of course, can be questioned.
America’s Major League Soccer (MLS) continues to operate unabated despite being a closed league. This is commomplace in American sports leagues – see the MLS, NFL and NBA as prime examples – but is not a part of football the world over.
There’s also the matter of the Indian Super League. The league, owned and promoted by Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries, is also a closed league.
Only FIFA interference ensured the league has slowly made a move towards promotion and relegation, although that will not officially happen till the 2024-25 season.
Yet the fact that the MLS continues in the same vein raises an interesting question – was it easier for FIFA to intervene in the ISL only due to India’s smaller stature in the game?
Which raises another doubt: what happens if the stakeholders of the European Super League decide they want 20 members who will compete only against one another? Better yet, what if teams around the world decide to start operating in the exact same way?
More closed leagues, more wealth concentrated in the hands of a few. More collapses of the footballing eco-systems around the world?
And if you think such an event is outside the realms of possibility, it’s also worth noting that many felt the same way about the existence of the European Super League to begin with.
The battle is not yet over. UEFA and FIFA have both condemned the formation of the league. The European body have even threatened clubs and players with the strongest action possible.
Yet if history has taught us anything, it is that money talks. That is why, when push has come to shove, the game’s elite had no problems slaying the goose that laid the golden eggs. Because they wanted all the eggs for themselves.