Prior to Sunday evening, talks of a breakaway league in European football were nothing more than inconclusive gossip which circulated vaguely throughout sporting media for a few years. However, late on Sunday, every football fan’s nightmare materialised upon the official announcement of a European Super League (ESL) that will commence for the 2021/22 season. The league will be assembled, and governed by 12 of Europe’s largest football clubs, including: AC Milan, Arsenal, Atletico Madrid, Chelsea, Barcelona, Inter Milan, Juventus, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Real Madrid and Tottenham Hotspur. These so called 12 ‘Founding Clubs’ will be followed by three more clubs, with five more remaining spaces in the league to be determined annually, based on domestic performance. Clubs participating in the league are set to receive an initial €3.5 billion payment, making them considerably wealthier than others not involved.
With teenagers earning weekly salaries in excess of hundreds of thousands of pounds, football couldn’t be further from the values of the working-class people’s game which it was established on. Football clubs have become multi-million-pound businesses motivated by profits, operating within one of the world’s most popular industries. The lucrative ESL bonuses that has attracted these business orientated clubs to buy into the concept has been funded primarily by the world leading American investment bank, J.P. Morgan. The ESL and club owners are taking on this debt in the belief that the league will yield revenues large enough for the project to be profitable for all clubs involved. However, what the clubs may have failed to anticipate is just how much backlash they would experience from fans, as the widespread calls for boycotts on clubs and games could threaten the viability of the project.
The timing of this announcement could not have been be more inconsiderate. In September 2020, stakeholders in English football were forced to write to Oliver Dowden MP, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), pleading for immediate government financial aid, in fear that English Football League and National League clubs would go bankrupt without it. The Premier League and more importantly the ‘Big Six’ clubs, namely; Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur, play an integral role in supporting English football. The English league pyramid system is a concept in place to facilitate the redistribution of wealth from the largest clubs to many smaller clubs in the form of financial support. Without the ‘Big Six’ clubs being a part of the English football League, the infiltration of revenue streams throughout lower leagues and grassroots football would diminish substantially. And even after Covid-19, which has proved to be one of the most testing periods of time this country has ever faced, clubs will experience even greater financial pressure, all for the sake of making the world’s wealthiest clubs even richer. Beyond football, this will affect people’s lives and livelihoods as for some, playing and supporting sports such as football means absolutely everything to them.
English football and all its leagues are grounded on the accumulation of over one hundred years’ worth of history and tradition, and its success is a testament to the fans who unfailingly support their clubs, week in week out. Clubs throughout the country compete in a league system that rewards meritocracy, it’s a system which breeds competitiveness and allows clubs to dream of competing in the highest divisions, and those that do get there are rewarded heavily. It ensures clubs must earn their success, rather than being gifted it.
Football fairy tales that have blessed fans with unforgettable moments would not have been born if it weren’t for such a system. Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest team of 1977 won the top flight English football division the year they were promoted from division two. This was before they went on to dominate Europe, winning two consecutive European cups in the following two years. Leicester is another example, winning the Premier League in the 2015/16 season, after being initially quoted as relegation candidates, with 5000-1 odds to win the title. However, UEFA, Europe’s leading football administrative body, have claimed that any participants in the ESL will not be able to play in any other domestic or international competitions. The Premier League, Champions League, World Cup and Euro’s will all be missing all players and teams involved in the ESL. This would completely erode the value that these competitions hold, and undermine the emotion behind previous, and potential future achievements that teams such as Leicester and Nottingham Forest have accomplished. Everyone loves an underdog, but this would strip Europe’s leagues of their competition and shatter the dreams of clubs and fans who live for one day being able to see their team go on to achieve the unachievable.
The rationale behind the decisions of the select few at the top of these leading clubs is baffling. Imagine what could be achieved if the sorts of efforts these billionaires concentrate into making themselves wealthier was put into clamping down on racism within football or giving the women’s game the investment it needs and deserves. That is the change we need in football. Instead, these individuals are doing all they can to channel more money into their own pockets and a select few around them. It’s nothing short of a cartel run by individuals who do not have the sport’s best interest at heart. Call it the Super League all you like, there’s absolutely nothing super about it.