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The Battle of The (European) Super League is only just beginning

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Who will save football’s soul, assuming there’s anything actually left of it?

Celebrities Attend Heath Ledger Tribute Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images

It was a bit of a dramatic and emotional day Sunday in the world of football as the Dirty Dozen dropped a bombshell by announcing plans for a breakaway (European) Super League. The idea of a Super League has been around for a while, but this is the closest we’ve come to one yet, with power concentrated in the hands of an elite few — clubs, instead of organizations this time around.

The Dirty Dozen:
SPAIN: Real Madrid, Barcelona, Atlético Madrid
ITALY: Juventus, AC Milan, Internazionale
ENGLAND: Manchester United, Liverpool, Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal, Spurs

Three more “Founding Members” sought for 15 ever-presents (Bayern, Leipzig, Porto?), with 5 teams rotating in based on “merit”.

The Super League

But once all the emotion, overreaction, posturing, and grandstanding dies down — give it 24-48 hours — what are we left with? The battle for what the future of professional football in Europe will look like is only beginning. By extension, that also affects what domestic football might look like, though at the end of the day, that probably won’t change much. The various FAs will fall in line with whoever sits on the football Iron Throne at the end of this. It’s the only way they survive.

And just to get one thing out of the way, your football club does not care about you. They might at grassroots level, or lower down the pyramid. At Chelsea’s level, “they” do not care. They might say they do, but they do not. Not in a meaningful way. Not in the way you do. They don’t care if you’re match-going or stream-watching, local or global, young or old, die-hard or casual. This is true across the upper echelons of all professional football (and sports in general); football’s just a bit better at selling the idea that they do care than most.

What do football clubs actually care about? I hope you guessed money, because it’s money. Greed is good, as Gordon Gecko once said, and that unchecked brand of capitalism has ruled the professional football landscape pretty much since its inception. You might think it’s new, but it’s not. Gus Mears wanted to use Stamford Bridge to store coal before being sold on the idea of a football club as a cash-generating enterprise in 1905. Premier Leagues (born: 1992) don’t happen because of fans’ needs. Champions Leagues (born: 1955) aren’t created to serve supporters. Football doesn’t take untold millions from betting companies to improve society. Transfer markets don’t operate to make your life better. Billionaires and nation-states aren’t in this not to serve their self-interests first and foremost.

It’s telling that UEFA could barely be bothered to lift a finger to combat racism, but once we’re talking Super League, they suddenly threaten bans and brimstone.

It’s all about the money. Money gets you wins, fans, more money. You personally might not like that, but your club doesn’t care about that. There are plenty fish out there in the proverbial sea of humanity for them to hook and replace you.

It’s always been about the money. It’s not about some olympic ideal of “competition” on a level playing field. This move just make that more clear than ever before. The twelve clubs involved are mostly the same clubs who founded the G-14 in 2000, the same who then evolved that into the European Club Association (ECA) in 2008, the same who created Financial “Fair” Play (FFP) a couple years after that — all intended to secure their positions at the top of the game, and thus secure their financial well-being as well.

It’s not at all surprising that this big push now for The Super League comes in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic that burst football’s economic bubble. Those who poured their money into these clubs want to secure their investment with guaranteed income more than ever before, such as the €200-300m initial benefit gained from The Super League thanks to €3.5B financial backing given by institutions like JP Morgan, for example. If the “founding” clubs can collect and generate that sort of income themselves, what do they need UEFA for? Vertical integration is the name of the game in any business, including the business of professional sports.

UEFA are obviously bricking it at the thought of the biggest and most successful European clubs throughout UEFA competition history suddenly thinking that they don’t need UEFA to make money on the international stage. Their hardline response threatening bans and expulsions is to be expected, but whether they win this fight will depend on who sides with whom. FIFA, who have just launched something very similar in Africa, notably, have not chosen a side in their response, they just want peace (i.e. whoever kowtows to their demands better). Domestic leagues like the Premier League have, but they don’t really have a choice other than to bow to whoever’s actually in power. It’s UEFA now, when it comes to European competitions, but that’s clearly not set in stone.

Battle lines are being drawn. On one side, you have the 12 Super League clubs, representing most of the richest, most famous, best clubs (and thus players, who will tend to choose the richest, most famous, best clubs). On the other side, you have UEFA and its vassals, the various Football Associations. But who holds the ultimate power? Everybody thinks it’s them — even fans.

Who needs who more? Do clubs need UEFA’s blessing more than UEFA need these clubs’ involvement? Whom will our television and broadcast gods choose?

Once the dust clears in all the boardrooms of all the football world, what will be left? Will we actually get “The Super League”? Will just get a “soft” Super League with an expanded Champions League that basically guarantees 10 games for these same 12-15 clubs (the proposed “Swiss Model”). Will we get some sort of compromise or will be actually get a revolution — or ruination (depending on your viewpoint)?

Over to you, money.