If you have a football fan in your life, they’ve probably been a complete raving mess over the last few days, bleeding on about something called a ‘European Super League’ and how it’s practically the end of the sport as we know it. If you’re not invested neck-deep in the goings on in European football and have had no idea what on Earth they’re talking about but want to know what all the fuss is about, don’t worry, we’re here to walk you through what has been a wild few days in the sports world.
He’s the rundown: twelve of Europe’s biggest clubs, six from England, and three each from Spain and Italy respectively, (note my use of biggest and not best, we’ll get to that in a moment) announced they were forming a brand new tournament, headed by billionaire President of Real Madrid, Florentino Perez. The tournament had been titled The Super League (not all that original, but gets the point across, I guess), was set to launch in the 2024–25 season and Perez claimed it had been created to rival the existing longtime European super tournament, the UEFA Champions League. Oh, and it’s probably worth mentioning, the teams involved were also going to receive a massive injection of cash (we’re talking a figure in the billions) up front for joining the league, which is particularly notable as many of the clubs have been hemorrhaging money in the last year (one report from March had estimated Super League member F.C. Barcelona’s total debt at an astonishing €1.173 billion).
So, what’s the big deal? Aren’t more competitions a good thing? Sure, on paper, a 12-team tournament with some of Europe’s biggest clubs does sound like a fun addition to the sports calendar. But there are a number of significant issues that were very, very, very loudly voiced and echoed by fans, media, politicians and even the players themselves. Firstly, FIFA (football’s international governing body which by the way, has more than a few of its own problems, but that a story for another day) weren’t on board. Not one bit. The schedule described by Perez indicated that the Super League teams would essentially be excusing themselves from existing FIFA competitions, the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League. This would be a massive loss for FIFA and UEFA, both to the legitimacy of its tournaments and to its bottom line, in losing most of its biggest draws. So, immediately following the announcements of the twelve clubs committing to the new league, UEFA and FIFA made their immense displeasure about as clear as one can, and began issuing some serious threats to the teams and players involved. This included potential expulsions from domestic leagues (which would have left the English Premier League without its six biggest names) and banning players on Super League teams from representing their national teams in international competitions, including the FIFA World Cup.
But while UEFA and FIFA’s public displays of resistance were significant and heard around the sports world, their reaction was nothing in comparison to the overwhelming disgust and vitriol that came from supporters of the clubs involved and former players now in sports media roles, who blasted the decision and those involved. Protests occurred outside of the stadiums of several of the clubs, and fans unified in calling for executives to be sacked and owners to sell the teams as punishment for this ‘betrayal’. It’s hard to believe that the clubs didn’t see this coming; surely they knew such a dramatic upheaval of a system that, despite its flaws, was steeped in history and tradition and is ultimately still a mostly popular way of determining the domestic and continental champions, would just be accepted by their audiences. One of the main contentions on a broader level was the rejection of the notion of there was anything “super” about a league which featured an exclusive list of only 12 teams, when several of those teams are not even among the competitive elite in their own domestic competitions (Super League team Arsenal currently sit at 9th in the Premier League, level on points with relative minnow Leeds United). The other main contention, of course, was that this was a decision made solely to protect the financial interests of ownership and investors, and a big ol’ middle finger to the fanbases of the club, who themselves invest so much of their own time, money and emotional capital into the teams, through their successes and their failures.
Well, after what can only be described as a public relations catastrophe, the English clubs involved cried ‘uncle’ on 20 April, withdrawing from the competition just two days after the original announcement of their participation. In a series of pithy walk-backs, one by one each of the six Premier League club released a press release apologising for the disastrous incident and acknowledging their mistake in involving themselves in the first place. With now half of the original twelve clubs now gone, it appears the Super League is DOA, just two days after it looked like it was set to change the football world forever. What happens next? Well, the walk-back might have saved the sport from the doomsday scenario for now, but the damage done in the relationship between fans and ownerships of all clubs involved could be irreparable. Trust me, European football fans care more about the teams than they do about anything in the world other than their own families (and even that is up for debate). But for now, we wait to watch the fallout unfold and wonder if we will look back on this as the week when football nearly changed forever.
Top image by Eric Salard