The announcement of the formation of the European Super League by some of the world’s greatest clubs appeared to come out of nowhere. Yet behind the scenes, it was brewing for a while now. Where does that leave football right now and what could the sport look like in five years.
Manchester United. Real Madrid. Arsenal. Juventus. Chelsea. Barcelona. AC Milan. These are just some of the clubs that as of a few days ago have decided to part ways with UEFA and the Champions League in order to create their own, independent European competition dubbed “The Super League.” But what lead them to this point and what’s on the horizon for the world’s most popular sport?
Europe’s wealthiest clubs have been at odds for a while now with the European Football Federation (UEFA) in regards to the amounts of money paid out to each of them for participation in the Champions League. To put it short, they felt it wasn’t enough and that there were still untapped markets in the US, Middle East and Asia that could be taken advantage of for TV rights in order for the competition to become more profitable. This has been an ongoing issue with some of the major clubs in the English Premier League as well, with some of the board members of Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur — all founding members of the ESL — voicing their opinion during a meeting. Ever since then, those clubs have been dubbed as England’s “big six.”
Yet UEFA were unshakeable in their opinion that each club deserves an equal share of the pie from the market pool and TV rights, something that the bigger clubs were openly opposed with. Additionally, they were also against the current tournament format for the Champions League, which made the more commercially attractive games (f.e. Real Madrid vs Liverpool) more difficult to occur, allowing for the inclusion of many smaller teams from around Europe.
All this, combined with the huge financial losses incurred during the pandemic, lead the 12 to the decision to form the ESL, a tournament that will have the financial backing of US colossus J.P. Morgan. The firm will invest the amount of $3.5 billion into the new tournament in order to keep it going and keep all participating clubs not only sustainable, but highly profitable, at least for the first few years of the competition.
Of course, the announcement of this new league left many feeling disappointed or even betrayed. Chief among them was the UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin who in a press conference openly attacked the board members of these clubs. Most notably, his words against — now former — European Club Association President and chairperson of Juventus FC Andrea Agnelli seemed to cut the deepest: “I’ve never seen a person lie so much in my life! I spoke with him on Saturday, he reassured me that everything I was seeing was nothing more than rumors, then he said he would call me back while he turned his phone off. He is the greatest disappointment of all.”
Ceferin went on to state that the clubs taking place in this new competition will be immediately disqualified from all domestic and European competitions, while all of their players will be deemed ineligible to play with their national teams. The UEFA boss appeared determined to make good on his threats, as rumors state that as early as Friday, there will be an official announcement in regards to who will take the place of Real Madrid, Manchester City and Chelsea in the Champions League semifinals.
At the same time, fans and professional football players around the world are voicing their opposition to the creation of the ESL, with former Manchester United legend Gary Neville pointing out that this tournament is based on nothing else but “…pure greed”, while former Liverpool star and current sports journalist Jamie Carragher saying he is “…sickened by Liverpool backing” of the new tournament. Leeds United fans made their own opinions heard during their club’s game against Liverpool for the Premier League, while fans of the “Reds” removed their flags from the Anfield stands, as a way of pointing out their opposition to the direction the club has chosen to follow.
Yet despite the public outcry and threats of elimination, the creators of this new tournament aren’t shifting from their position. As stated on Sky Sports, the board members of the clubs expected this backlash but their job is to sustain and ensure the financial health of their clubs, not make people happy. From a clearly financial perspective, this move is the right one for them, no matter what people say.
If they indeed decide to move on with this Super League, then UEFA will eventually be faced with two choices: either give in to the will of the financially superior clubs and accept this new competition or cut off all ties with them and their players and move on.
The first option is pretty obvious: the clubs now have total control of their financial and marketing and UEFA is reduced to a simple spectator who oversees all domestic tournaments and national team competitions in Europe.
The latter however, will mean that the European Federation goes all the way against this new tournament while at the same time attempting to maintain public interest in its own. Thankfully there are many other teams from all around Europe to choose from and with those twelve out of the picture, it’ll be easier for Europe’s financially less fortunate to rise up the ranks and make appearances in the later stages of European competitions.
It may seem like an odd way to go about it, but this could lead to a whole different type of Champions League in which no one match has a clear favorite and outsider and the differences between clubs from other nations is reduced or even extinguished! In their attempt to make things better for themselves, the 12 founders of the ESL might unintentionally create a better tournament for UEFA. I know I for one, would be interested to see that!
Whatever the case may be, without the participation of its star teams and players, it’ll be a far less fancy Champions League, which may lead sponsors to reduce or even remove their financial backing completely. Gone will be the days when simply by making it into the group stage, a club had netted a minimum of 25 million euros.
But however things turn out, the next few days/weeks/months will definitely be interesting in the world of football. If it’ll be for the good of the fans or not, remains to be seen…