IT’S BACK again, the threat of a European Super League involving 15 fixed clubs and five lucky qualifiers. We can easily name the likely 15: there’s six from the Premier League; three from La Liga; three from Serie A; two from the Bundesliga and one from Ligue 1. It’s almost certainly the usual suspects, the first 14 in the latest Deloitte Football Money League and stray giants AC Milan.
The strategically-leaked document, which has turned up all over the place, shows no sign of accountability. Normally, one might expect a logo or two to indicate who has put the paper together. But there’s nothing to suggest where the proposal is coming from, no real mention of the universal benefits of such a structure and no attempt to convince. In other words, nobody is asking for approval. And nobody has yet to claim responsibility.
We can make a good guess where the idea originates from because without the involvement of some of Europe’s blue riband clubs, there would be no mileage in the project. But everyone is hiding and even some clubs that have been named as driving forces are distancing themselves from the controversial concept. If this is such a great idea, then why doesn’t anyone confidentally step forward?
It’s pure cowardice, because the clubs know that such a proposal would attract a mountain of negativity, mostly around the self-interest of the behemoth football houses and the damage it might do to the football eco-system. Social media will destroy anyone supporting the league.
This just doesn’t make sense and will effectively kill it before it can gather momentum. Why? Because without providing credible discussion points around the rationale and pluses of a super league, the governing bodies, media, supporter groups and vast body of opposition clubs will prevent it happening. If those that produced the paper want to gain backing for their league, then they have to canvas, cajole and compromise. Throwing it out there, running away and waiting to see what will happen is foolhardy. OK, it makes good copy, but actually, it is getting a little tedious.
A super league might actually be the natural evolution of the UEFA Champions League, but not in the way influential clubs are trying to create. This should be UEFA’s idea, devised by them, proposed by them and fully-aligned to domestic football across the continent.
The timing couldn’t be worse or more cunning. Football clubs across Europe have suffered from a loss of revenue due to the pandemic, as noted by Deloitte in their latest Football Money League. All the top clubs saw their overall revenues decline, Barcelona, the number one club by income (€ 715m) experienced a 15% fall, but the downturn varied at Real Madrid (-6%), Bayern Munich (-4%), Manchester United (-19%), Liverpool (-8%), Manchester City (-11%) and Paris Saint-Germain (-15%).
While matchday income and broadcasting income fell right across the board, 12 of Deloitte’s top 20 were boosted by increased commercial revenues. It is difficult to see the proposal of a super league anything other than a commercial enterprise. It’s curious that the involvement of bank financing from JPMorgan Chase was mentioned in much of the coverage, but no confirmation of the clubs that will undoubtedly be involved.
UEFA, FIFA and the European Union are all against the plan and FIFA have said anyone who plays in any super league would be banned from their competitions. This could prove a major stumbling block as it could start a player drought. But it is not just players that might be in short supply, what about managers and coaches, will they not be impacted?
Admittedly, the 15 clubs already have most of the world’s best players – 77% of the Guardian’s top 100 and 94% of the top 50 in KPMG Football Benchmark’s player valuation database. The clubs already trade heavily among themselves – Real Madrid, over the past five years, have dealt with 14, Manchester City 11, Barcelona and Chelsea nine.
But there’s also mention of the super league sending 12 teams to the annual revamped FIFA Club World Cup. How could they possibly even factor that into the equation unless there was reasonable hope that FIFA would buy into their scheme? Shouldn’t they be invited rather than assume they can even consider sending a dozen to China, Qatar, Morocco or wherever FIFA decide to host their new competition?
While the 20 involved clubs (the permanent 15 and five qualifiers) will play their 18 group games (two groups of 10) in midweek, they will also participate in their domestic leagues. How important will the Premier League be to the half dozen clubs who will appear in the super league, given their involvement is guaranteed in the latter? And surely, the FIFA Club World Cup will then become more important than the Premier?
This all could, of course, just be a tactic to push the governing bodies into a corner and for Europe’s giants to squeeze them for more cash, just as they have in the past. The tail is certainly wagging the dog, but the dog has got significantly weaker over the past few years. The clubs are so strong and they know that if they take their ball away, UEFA would struggle to produce a compelling Champions League that appeals to broadcasters and sponsors around the globe. This is a game of poker and at the moment, with the world suffering from covid-19 and lockdown fatigue, people are tired and bored of repeated attempts to bully the game into submission and introduce more elitism.
It would help if we knew who is really behind this attempt to challenge the status quo. If their paper is so marvellous, then stand behind it, explain it, try to change hearts and minds and, above all, present something that benefits the broader football world, not just 20 privileged clubs. The future of football is at stake, after all. Isn’t that worth a little more than USD 3 billion?
Photo: PA Images