Oh Well, European Football Is Dead
Can you imagine a scenario where the Lakers, Bulls, and Celtics ditched the NBA and formed their own breakaway league in the pursuit of making more money? That's the bombshell football is currently digesting after the announcement of a European Super League last night. It is the most significant moment in modern football history. It is scandalous.
Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur, AC Milan, Inter Milan, Juventus, Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, and Real Madrid are the big hitters that have signed up to the new midweek competition, which will replace the current UEFA Champions League. The league will be bankrolled by JP Morgan and talks of its formation have reportedly been taking place since October.
With no pyramid system in place, it's symbolic of the Americanization of the sport. How appropriate then that founding members announced their decision early this morning: US hours for clubs with US owners for a league funded by a US bank. Those in charge have no care about history or the working-class fans that created it. They would quite happily preside over soulless, cash-generating franchises akin to the MLS. It's a closed shop without meritocracy that all but kills the mystique and novelty of European football. If you care, here's how the format would work.
The clubs say they will continue to compete in their domestic competitions, but that is a non-starter. The leagues have already confirmed they will not be allowed, and with good reason: If the top six clubs earn far more money than the rest, the playing field would be even more uneven than it is currently. It would mean no more fairytales like Leicester's 2015-2016 season, nor would we see West Ham mount an unlikely top-four challenge as is unfolding currently. The reverberations would be felt at every level. Already, it's rumored players at the clubs involved would be banned from competing in the Euros and World Cup.
A further three teams are expected to join the new Super League, which is reported to begin in the 2023-24 season. The founding lineup comes down to commercial potential more than anything else. For context, Arsenal is scraping to finish in the top half of the Premier Division and haven't been involved in the Champions League for four seasons; their North London rivals Spurs' honor list in the last 20 years consists of one League Cup. It remains to be seen how the likes of Ajax, Benfica, Marseille, Rangers, and Celtic — storied clubs with a proud European pedigree — are affected long-term.
The news has been greeted with widespread condemnation by fans and pundits alike. Man Utd legend Gary Neville has called for the clubs involved to be relegated, calling it a "criminal act," while Jamie Carragher labeled Liverpool "embarrassing." UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has labeled the plans "very damaging" and French President Emmanuel Macron has also expressed strong disapproval. Fans have been even more vociferous in their criticism.
The Super League shock comes amid talk of a Champions League reform (for what it's worth, this is hardly an exciting prospect, either), which has led to some questioning whether it could be a high-stakes bargaining chip. It now appears to be a case of who will break first between UEFA and the clubs, but it's hard to see a situation in which the latter backs down. Where the English Premier League is concerned, it's hard to feel too much sympathy, given how they willingly let these billionaires infiltrate football in the first place. An independent regulatory body to safeguard the competition from capitalistic, foreign owners with no meaningful ties to the cities and fans their clubs represent has been overdue for years.
It's often said that sport mirrors society. The Super League is yet another example of economic inequality and how wealth is being concentrated by an elite few. When there's money to be made, integrity goes out the window. What we have here is a clash between sport and business — fans versus customers. As Neville said, that these clubs have been plotting this while their smaller peers struggle for survival during a pandemic sums up the ethics of the capitalists driving it. Let them have their empty competition; as Twitter shows, the people who make the game what it is will want nothing to do with it.