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Here comes the European Super League, again!

FIFA’s turn at the post-pandemic power grab wheel

TOPSHOT-FBL-ESP-LIGA-REAL MADRID Photo by PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU/AFP via Getty Images

The idea of a European Super League is hardly new, but in the wake of a landscape-redefining coronavirus pandemic, it might just find new fertile ground.

We’ve seen Project Big Picture attempt to cultivate the freshly upturned fields just the other week in England, with the top end of the Premier League looking to expand their power and control in return for bailout money for lower league teams trying to survive lockdowns. Now it’s FIFA’s turn to attempt a power grab, an even more transparent one in fact.

According to Sky Sports, a FIFA-backed “European Premier League” is gathering pace in backrooms around Europe, with Liverpool and Manchester United already involved and three more of the Premier League’s Big Six also “candidates” for joining a new pan-European competition that FIFA’s targeting to “usurp” UEFA’s Champions League. FIFA have recently grown their presence in the club game with the expansion of the Club World Cup, but this would be an unprecedented power move for them indeed.

And it could certainly happen if they win the support of the clubs themselves. It sounds like they have plenty of financing already, with $6 billion on tap from various banks and other financiers. (In a way, the conditions remind of the Premier League’s inception, which was helped along greatly by a power conflict between the English FA and the Football League, with the former thus backing a breakaway proto-Super League at the latter’s expense.)

But back to the new Super League. FIFA are apparently targeting a 16- or 18-team competition that would run concurrently with domestic leagues. It might not have the cachet of the “Champions League”, at least not initially, but guaranteed participation (and thus guaranteed prize money) ever year would be an easy sell to all the top clubs. It would add plenty of games to the schedule, but top teams already play upwards of 60 matches a year. FIFA could take away and international break or two as well; it would be in their own interest.

It’s not at all hard to imagine the top clubs around Europe choosing FIFA’s Super League over UEFA’s Champions League, which is potentially getting diluted even more in a few years, with more teams and one-legged knockout ties. Meanwhile, a Super League would guarantee massive games every week, presumably with plenty of global interest and plenty of global income, assuming we all make it out intact from the pandemic.

As with Project Big Picture, which was quickly shot down but whose legacy will remain and be a factor in future discussions about the shape and structure of the English game, FIFA’s Super League is not guaranteed to become reality. Such ideas and rumors have been floating around for a long time, but it seems inevitable that we will eventually arrive at such a solution (it’s been suggested before even for the Champions League itself).

And if teams choose FIFA over UEFA, the latter would be fairly powerless. Sure, there would be legal challenges and plenty of courtroom drama, but at the end of the day, teams would vote with their wallets, as always.

The Super League (or a super league) would be the natural evolution of the Champions League concept. People want to see the best play the best. And the teams will want to reap the rewards.

P.S.: Picking your own Super League used to be a fun exercise when I was younger and creating custom competitions in Football Manager. Here’s whom I’d currently select for an 18-team league:

ENG: Chelsea, Liverpool, City, United
SPA: Barcelona, Real, Atlético, Sevilla
ITA: Juventus, Napoli, Inter, Milan
GER: Bayern, BVB, Leipzig
FRA: PSG
NED: Ajax
POR: Benfica

I know I’d watch.

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