European performance underlines how ludicrous a super league seems

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?

UEFA Champions League Preview: 11 places still up for grabs

ONLY FIVE teams have qualified so far for the last 16: Bayern, Bruges, Manchester City, Real Madrid and Napoli. So, there’s plenty to play for in matchday five and there could be a couple of high profile clubs finding their way to the Europa League.

Group A: Ajax – Liverpool; Napoli – Rangers.

Ajax, for all their European heritage, are almost out of the competition, although they will probably qualify for the Europa League. Liverpool, despite a stuttering start to the season in the Premier, thought they were finding their form when they beat Manchester City, but they had another setback and lost 1-0 against struggling Nottingham Forest. A draw for Liverpool in Amsterdam will send them through to the next stage. Napoli have already qualified, they are currently the most exciting team in Europe and their performances in Serie A and the Champions League have been impressive. Sadly, Rangers have looked out of their depth and their 7-1 humbling at home to Liverpool really summed up their experience this season.

Group B: Club Brugge – Porto; Atlético Madrid – Bayer Leverkusen

Bruges were one of the first teams to qualify for the knockout phase after winning three of their first four games. They are only the third Belgian team to reach the last 16 this century, Anderlecht (2000-01) and Gent (2015-16) were the others. Their opponents, Porto, need a win to keep some space between themselves and Atlético Madrid, but the second place in the group is likely to be decided by the meeting between these two teams on November 1 in Portugal. Leverkusen have been disappointing this season, both at home and in the Champions League, although they did beat Atlético in the last matchday.

Group C: Inter Milan – Viktoria Plzn; Barcelona – Bayern Munich

Barcelona went perilously close to elimination in the last group game against Inter, which ended 3-3. Inter know that a win against Plzn will put Barca out, regardless of how they face against group leaders Bayern. There has been much angst in Barcelona since the game with Inter, with concerns about their financial situation should they fail to qualify for the last 16. Barca have also lost ground in La Liga, despite the goals of Robert Lewandowski. Bayern, who have qualified, have been impressive in Europe, winning all four of their games and averaging three goals per game, while conceding just two goals.

Group D: Eintracht Frankfurt – Marseille; Tottenham – Sporting Lisbon

Anyone could still qualify from this group, but victories for Marseille and Tottenham could take both through. Frankfurt were unlucky to lose 3-2 at Tottenham, but they bounced back with a five-goal performance in the Bundesliga against Leverkusen. Marseille have been going well but were beaten by title rivals in France, Paris Saint-Germain. Spurs’ early season effervescence has lost a little of its fizz, with defeats against Arsenal and Manchester United, but they are still upbeat. They are particularly strong at home.

Group E: Red Bull Salzburg – Chelsea; Dinamo Zagreb – AC Milan.

This group remains quite open but the fifth matchday should start to sort things out. Chelsea, leaders of the group, are in good form under new boss Graham Potter, although their last two games have been disappointing with draws against Brentford and Manchester United. Salzburg, league leaders in Austria, faced second-placed Sturm Graz. They are still unbeaten in the Champions League group. AC Milan and Zagreb are still in the mix but a win for either will knock the loser out of contention. Milan are still chasing leaders Napoli at home and have lost just once in Serie A.

Group F: Celtic – Shakhtar Donetsk; RB Leipzig – Real Madrid.

Celtic are out of the competition, but still have feint hopes of finishing third and qualifying for the Europa League. Shakhtar, who should be too strong for them, would probably keep themselves in contention with a win in Glasgow. They recently beat big rivals Dynamo Kyiv in the Ukrainian Premier League, but everything is overshadowed by the war with Russia. RB Leipzig have turned their season around in recent weeks and have won five of their last six games. Their two wins against Celtic in the group have revitalised their Champions League campaign. Real Madrid will be a tough task as they are unbeaten in La Liga and recently beat Barcelona in El Clasico, followed by a 3-1 win against Sevilla.

Group G: Sevilla – FC Copenhagen; Borussia Dortmund – Manchester City

This round of matches will effectively be the group leadership decider and the Europa League qualifier. Dortmund host City with the top two places up for grabs. City were beaten for the first time this season when they went down 1-0 at Liverpool, but they returned to winning ways against Brighton. Liverpool prevented Erling Haaland from scoring, but the huge Norwegian will be keen to score against his old club. Dortmund, who came through two table-topping games with Bayern and Union with just one point to show for their efforts, know a win will secure their place in the last 16. Sevilla have picked up in the past few games and should be too good for a Copenhagen side who struggle to win games, although they did achieve a credible draw with City in their last Champions League fixture.

Group H: Benfica – Juventus; Paris Saint-Germain – Maccabi Haifa

Benfica have enjoyed their Champions League campaign so far and are within touching distance of the last 16. Juventus, by contrast, are almost out, although a win in Lisbon will delay the ignominy of an early exit. Juve were beaten 2-0 in their last group game in Haifa, but won the Turin derby afterwards and beat Emploi 4-0 at the weekend. Speculation is still rife about the future of coach Max Allegri. Benfica warmed up for this game with a big clash against Porto. PSG should win against Maccabi Haifa and followed up their 1-1 draw with Benfica with a 1-0 victory against old rivals Olympique Marseille. PSG may be distracted due to the continued talk of Kylian Mbappe moving in January and there are also rumours about Lionel Messi returning to Barcelona.