THE concept of a European Super League refuses to go away; as expected, the advocates are regrouping and formulating what they believe will be a more palatable solution for the good of the game. Of course, it still smacks of elitism and will undoubtedly look like a group of big clubs with self-interest at heart. They’ve also tried to make statistics work for them, claiming that young people don’t really like watching the game so much, that their supposed low attention span has made the game too demanding to meet their requirements. This data was taken from the US, which is not the prime audience of European football. Javier Tebas, president of La Liga, has rightly called this research as “fake news”.
Many people believe the very idea of a super league is a product of entitlement, arrogance and presumption. So it is quite comical that when you look at this season’s European competitions, so many of the original 12 clubs are hardly living up to their status. Barcelona, Atletico Madrid and Juventus have all tumbled out of the UEFA Champions League, Arsenal and Manchester United are playing UEFA Europa League football and Tottenham Hotspur and AC Milan have yet to secure their place in the last 16 of the Champions League.
Over the five seasons prior to 2022-23, only four clubs from the 12 have made it through to the last 16 in every Champions League campaign: Liverpool, Manchester City, Real Madrid and Juventus. The average number of the rebel 12 that have successfully negotiated the group phase is around eight. This season, it could reach a low of five or six, but most likely, it will be seven. Barcelona, as cash-strapped as they are, have just missed out on the EUR 9.6 million awarded to teams that make the last 16.
While the English clubs have gone quiet on the subject, perhaps realising that any attempt to introduce a super league may be the biggest public relations disaster they have ever experienced, the persistent trio of Barcelona, Real Madrid and Juventus are still hoping their dream project comes to fruition. If it does happen, they may struggle to find willing partners. It would seem unlikely that the likes of Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool will be involved, so that would leave the ESL with the task of finding other clubs that will not damage the viability of such a scheme.
There is a strong feeling the ESL will by-pass English clubs and looking at big names like Celtic and Rangers. Maybe a revamped league with these Scottish giants and Ajax, Benfica and Porto would fill the gaps? The narrative also seems to have shifted and, supposedly, the ESL is primarily about combating the growing menace of English clubs, who are increasingly dominating European football.
Nothing lasts forever, though, and clubs invariably go through cycles that change their status. Manchester United and Arsenal, for example, have fallen from their pedestals in recent years, and Tottenham’s position among the elite is quite tenuous and Chelsea are a shadow of their Abramovich peak time. Now Liverpool are having a tough period as they suffer the consequences of lack lustre rebuilding. The Italian clubs have all experienced a fall from grace and suddenly, Barcelona look a very vulnerable club. Only Manchester City and Real Madrid of the 12 seem in truly robust shape at the moment, although Arsenal’s start to 2022-23 suggests the trajectory has turned positive for the north London club.
Barcelona, Juventus and Real Madrid remain dogged, however, and they have taken UEFA to court, claiming they have abused their power in blocking rival events. The decision won’t be revealed until mid-December, by which time, the ESL story may have taken another twist or two. Meanwhile, the company that is handling the ESL, A22 Sports Management, have appointed a new CEO, Bernd Reichert, who is confident that his clients will get their way.
In reality, will they get what they want? How will these clubs look their peers in the eye if the creation of a self-serving model inclicts mortal damage on domestic football right across the continent? How can they remain members of their local association and their confederation? And most of all, can they honestly tell their stakeholders they are acting in the best interests of the world’s most popular sport?