In 2009, then-Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger warned us all about a “European Super League” coming in the next decade; nobody knew how incredibly accurate his prediction would be. Over the past few years, there has been scattered talk about a Super League, in which the biggest clubs in Europe would just create their own “elite-only” league. Most of it seemed like just talk at the time—nothing more than a doomsday prophecy in the footballing world.
Last Sunday, that prophecy almost became a reality, with the administrations behind 12 of Europe’s biggest clubs all signing off to join the newly-formed official European Super League. In a sport that is, admittedly, becoming more and more diluted with greed by the year, the Super League was simply a step too far, and the world of football made their voices heard.
The negative backlash against this new proposition was astronomical. Never before had football players, fans, managers, owners, background staff and all others been so united in opposition. While this situation is still unfolding and far from over, it looks as if the European Super League is dead on arrival as of this article’s writing. But what exactly was the European Super League, and what would it mean for football if it goes through?
Overall, the European Super League would operate as a footballing competition in a tournament format consisting of 20 teams, with 15 permanent teams and five to be relegated. There would be two groups of 10 teams, with each team playing each home and away. Then, the top-ranked teams would advance to a knockout stage. This new competition would be scheduled on midweek nights, in between domestic league matches and other competitions like the Champions League and the Europa League.
On Sunday, 12 teams signed off as founding members. Six were from England: Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur. Three were from Spain: Atletico Madrid, Barcelona and Real Madrid. Three were from Italy: AC Milan, Inter Milan and Juventus. The remaining three spots were reserved for the French club Paris Saint-Germain and German clubs Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, but all three teams rejected the invite. Porto of Portugal and RB Leipzig, also of Germany, have been said to have declined invitations to participate shortly after. As the promotion for this competition described itself: “The best clubs. The best players. Every week.”
With the infamous Real Madrid president, Florentino Perez, as the Chairman of this new Super League and Juventus’ head executive, Andrea Agnelli, as the Vice-Chairman, this is a complete split from FIFA and UEFA, (the world football and European governing bodies respectively).
Suppose one were to compare sport and economics. In that case, the European Super League is nothing more than a monopoly, a permanent class of elite teams, destroying any semblance of a free market. This is no different than a few corporations consolidating their power and crushing all small businesses. If football can be seen as a free market, sure, there is a hierarchy. There will always be teams better than others; that is the nature of the sport. But that hierarchy changes.
For example, Atletico Madrid was an average mid-table to bottom table team in Spain during the late 1990s into the 2000s. However, by the mid-2010s, they were one of the best teams in the entire world. Or conversely, Ajax went from being one of the greatest teams of all time in the 1970s to being just a regional power in the Netherlands by the current day. A European Super League would remove all of that change and keep 15 powerful teams in power, especially since the 15 initial clubs would not be able to get relegated.
Like any sport, football is based on merit; it’s fair. For example, the Champions League–the most prestigious club competition in Europe since the 1950s and the same tournament that would effectively become obsolete if the Super League comes to fruition–is completely based on merit. To qualify for the Champions League, you either have to win your domestic league or finish in a high spot. Yes, it is often populated with familiar faces, but all those big teams earned their spots. Even still, because it is an open competition, it is never a perpetual pyramid. Look at AC Milan for example. Only Real Madrid has won more Champions Leagues than Milan, yet due to mismanagement, poor managers and an aging squad, Milan heavily regressed in quality and has not played Champions League football since 2013-14. On the other hand, a small club like Atalanta handled their business expertly, going from a team struggling to stay in the Italian top-flight, to one challenging for the title, qualifying for the Champions League for the first time in their history and making it as far as the quarterfinals last year.
None of this would be possible in a European Super League. Arsene Wenger shared the sentiment of the majority of football fans when he said back in 2009, “I believe only in sporting merit.”
If it isn’t apparent already, the motivating factor behind the European Super League is money. The bank, JPMorgan Chase & Co., reportedly invested $4.2 billion into this project, and the winner of the league would receive 400 million euros. In comparison, the prize money for winning the Champions League is 120 million euros, just over a quarter of the Super League’s promised prize. In fact, each of the clubs who agreed to join would be given 300 million euros just for accepting their invitation.
Now, it goes without saying that the whole world runs on money and transaction of goods, so money involved in football is not a bad thing by any means. What is bad is when money becomes the sole focus, and the quality of football and fans’ enjoyment deeply depreciates. That is what the European Super League would do.
It makes sense that these clubs prioritized money over football and their fans when you consider the recent history of their budgets, though. Over the past decade, the amount of money in football has ballooned exponentially, and one only needs to look at the transfer market for evidence of that. Out of the Top 10 most expensive transfers in football history, nine have occurred between 2016 to now. As a result of all this cash, the biggest clubs massively overspent and gambled their profits, and not just in the transfer market either. The debts for these teams started growing larger, and when the pandemic hit and government-imposed lockdowns meant no fans in stadiums, the debt increase went into overdrive.
Real Madrid and Barcelona are historic rivals who compete over every single thing—Messi vs Ronaldo, whose team has more representatives in the Spain squad, who has the better stadium. Well, now they can add debt to that list, as Barcelona just edged their foes with 1.2 billion euros in gross debt, compared to Real Madrid’s 901 million. Ultimately, these poor business decisions, which span years back, were the spark that led to the European Super League’s commencement at this point in time.
So, how has the world of football responded? Not kindly, to put it lightly. UEFA and FIFA have dropped the hammer on the Super League, and understandably so, as these 12 clubs are effectively leaving UEFA and FIFA to start their own cartel.
Aleksander Ceferin, the president of UEFA, publicly stated the confederation’s position Tuesday. Ceferin reiterated that there would be massive punishments. Among them would be the complete removal of these 12 clubs from their domestic leagues and bans on them participating in international competitions like the Champions League or Europa League, which is an extremely bold statement. The idea of Real Madrid and Barcelona getting kicked out of La Liga, or Manchester United and Liverpool out of the Premier League, is ridiculous, but it’s a seemingly justifiable threat given the current situation.
On top of that, all the players who participate in the Super League would be barred from representing their national teams at the Euros and the World Cup, an equally audacious warning with potential effects so devastating, it would be nearly impossible to imagine some of these players choose money over their nation. The World Cup is the most prestigious sporting event in human history, so one would expect a player’s national pride to outweigh his salary. Not only that, think about how each nation’s team would look at the World Cup or Euros. 17 of England’s 23-man squad at the 2018 World Cup played for one of the English clubs that signed off for the Super League. Just imagine Italy’s squad without players from Juventus, Inter and Milan as well. Or simply, Argentina without Messi. From an American perspective, can you imagine our team without Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie and Zack Steffen, who are arguably our three most reliable players?
Some people looking for the bright side of this proposition may conclude that, while the Super League would uproot the current football landscape, it would equal the playing field in Europe’s top leagues and allow opportunities for many other teams to win silverware. And while it would be nice to see Napoli finally win another Scudetto, or for Real Betis to win La Liga for the first time since 1935, or see West Ham win their first-ever league title, these successes would come at such a high cost that it outweighs the positives.
The Super League monopoly would create a self-imposed circle where all the money would circulate without trickling down. These big clubs, which are already the wealthiest in the world, would permanently stay powerful. Do you think South America has turned into a player-farm for European clubs, given the wealth gap? Well, the entire world of football would become nothing more than a conveyor belt to the European Super League. Anytime a player in England, Spain, Germany and other countries shows a shred of potential talent, he would be immediately snapped up by a Super League team.
The TV broadcasters would also be massively affected too, as they already have deals with all these leagues to broadcast their games, which include these hugely popular teams. How could NBC’s streaming service, Peacock, be able to sell a Premier League package to fans of Manchester United, who can no longer watch their favorite team on the streaming service?
Speaking of the fans, they would, unfortunately, suffer the most in this predicament. Imagine being a lifelong Arsenal fan and season ticket-holder whose father was an Arsenal fan and his father before him. Forget traveling up and down England every weekend; now you have to travel to Madrid one week, Milan the next, then Turn afterward.
As was said before, the football world has been almost unanimous in its response to the Super League. Pep Guardiola, James Milner, Gary Neville and Ramon Calderon all have spoken out against it. All the backlash has worked; by Tuesday afternoon, Chelsea stated that they plan to leave the Super League. A few hours later, Manchester City joined them, and by the end of the day, the Premier League announced all six of their teams would not be participating, followed by Atletico Madrid and Inter Milan, who pulled out as well. The pipe dream seems to be falling apart as we speak, but that does not mean it’s done and dusted. On Wednesday, Chairman Florentino Perez stated that the Super League is simply on standby, and all the clubs have signed binding contracts, meaning they cannot completely sever ties. By the time you are reading this, there will probably be even more updates to this ongoing drama.
Overall, I think the idea of a Super League is terrible for football, as it attacks the foundation upon which all sport is built upon. That does not mean that supporters of the Super League should have their voices silenced, though. It is only fair to allow the fans and administrators who support this plan, however few there are, to express their opinions. There is credence to their arguments, namely the corruption and ineffectiveness of both UEFA and FIFA, which often goes without consequence. But in my opinion, a European Super League is not the solution.