We all knew about it, many suspected it would happen sooner. It was even in the news earlier this year. This January, UEFA and FIFA published a statement saying that they'd ban any football club or player associated with any exclusionary European football league from participating in UEFA and FIFA's existing competitions. That had to put a stop to this farce, right? Apparently not.
On April 18, 2021, a group of 11 European football giants and Tottenham Hotspur announced a letter of intent to establish a "European Super League".
WHAT IS THE EUROPEAN SUPER LEAGUE (ESL)?
The European Super League is supposed to be an elite football competition where the best clubs in the world play each week in week out, year after year, without the hassle of qualification or relegation. What a joke!
The league will be owned and run by the founding clubs, 12 of which have been confirmed (AC Milan, Arsenal, Atletico Madrid, Chelsea, FC Barcelona, Inter Milan, Juventus, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Real Madrid, and Tottenham Hotspur) and three more clubs are expected to sign on soon. Five other teams will be allowed to participate every year and those teams will be the only ones subject to domestic qualification requirements. The league expects the founding clubs to still participate in the domestic leagues, but their participation in existing European competitions is unclear at this time.
The ESL offers massive financial benefits, and that is where the problem begins. As a closed off league that excludes all but the most established teams in world football, the benefits will not reach those who actually need it, the mid and lower tier clubs across Europe. The extra revenue will directly go to the owners of the ESL – the clubs. On their website and in published statements, the ESL has made vague allusions to "solidarity" payments and support to the existing football pyramid, but without any legal obligation, it's hard to imagine these greedy clubs giving away any amount of money that they don't have to.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR OUR FAVOURITE LEAGUE AND CUP COMPETITIONS?
UEFA and FIFA have already stated they intend to ban clubs and players participating in the ESL. If they follow through, it's clear that some of the biggest competitions in the world will lose their appeal, not to mention the hit on their financial might. It's hard to imagine a UEFA Champions League without any of those 12 clubs, and it's even harder to imagine a FIFA World Cup where players from these storied clubs don't participate.
Domestic leagues face a tough choice. The Premier League has issued a statement vehemently opposing the ESL, but banishing all six clubs might not be possible, even if desired. Football runs on broadcasting money, and getting rid of the clubs with the highest number of supporters in the league will have a tremendously negative impact on broadcasting revenue that the other clubs, the less fortunate ones, rely on to survive. Think of the Leicesters and the Southamptons, clubs who have made massive investments in long term infrastructure, who depend on the money generated by the Premier League's global appeal, what's going to happen to them? Will La Liga be able to generate enough money for clubs like Athletic Bilbao and Villarreal if the big three are banished? In Italy, what'll happen to Napoli, Sampdoria, or even Lazio?
If the ESL ends up becoming reality, it becomes a moral obligation for leagues and cup competitions in Europe to ban these clubs. Yet, the financial ripple effect that'll be caused by such a ban may cripple these leagues permanently.
AS A FAN THOUSANDS OF MILES AWAY, SHOULD I EVEN BE MAD?
First of all, yes. But it's understandable why someone would question this. If there's a Liverpool fan who would rather watch his team play Real Madrid one week and AC Milan the other instead of back-to-back matches against Burnley and Aston Villa, it's a fair choice. While there may be football fans who just want the instant gratification to be had from regular big games, there's a lot more to football than just that.
Football fans support clubs across oceans not simply because of the big matches and the trophies, we are invested in the stories, their success is valuable because it has context. Manchester United, as a football club, developed an ethos that was born out of tragedy in the 1950s, and their success even 50 years after that tragedy reflected that. Real Madrid and Barcelona are two of the few clubs around the world who have never been relegated. Imagine if relegation was never a thing, what would their domination even mean then? If there were no downs to be had in football, what significance would there be to the ups?
In reality, a Liverpool vs Real Madrid match wouldn't be fun to watch if it happened every year, in dead rubber situations at the bottom of a league full of giants. When Burnley face Liverpool, however, they are usually playing for survival, fighting relegation. There's a story in that, and that is also why the ESL is being looked at as a blight on the sport, because it robs top level football of context.
WHY IS THIS HAPPENING TO US? WHY NOW?
Many have called this a negotiation tactic on the part of the big clubs, taking into consideration that UEFA plans to revamp the format of its main club competitions in the coming weeks. But the speed at which the ESL is progressing tells a different story.
The real answer: money. The financial potential of football is tremendous, and the suits running the biggest clubs in the world have realised that by being tied into a system of inclusion and (somewhat) fair competition, they are not being allowed to fully capitalise on that potential. The pandemic has presented the perfect excuse for these mega clubs to finally put their evil, capitalist plans into action. At a time when the smaller clubs are in need of help, these big clubs have decided to bubble wrap themselves in money. Like all other walks of life, this pandemic has exposed the differences between those who have money in football and those who don't. The rich, the ones with the capital, have without fail, chosen money over compassion yet again.
For us fans, this is the definition of a lose-lose situation. To have to side with UEFA and FIFA, who are horribly corrupt and inept in their own ways, to have to fight to maintain an imperfect status quo because the alternative is so, so bad, it's just unfair to the billions who love this game. The fact that we may have to let go of decades of allegiance and find new clubs to support is just the cherry on top.
Azmin Azran is a sub-editor at SHOUT. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org