Six self-proclaimed 'leading football clubs' in England, joined three clubs from Italy and three from Spain to create a ‘Super League’. The response from the European football community has been almost unanimous in calling in to question the integrity of this decision.
Describing elite level football as entertainment is unlikely to raise any eyebrows, partly because the game still has the ability to inspire. We think of plucky Leicester beating all the odds to become English Premier League champions in 2016. Or Borussia Dortmund gate crashing the Bayern Munich dynasty by winning the Bundesliga, the German league title, in 2011 (Bayern are on course for their ninth title in a row since 2013!). And, the countless promotions and relegations across all European leagues which genuinely change the lives of the people and communities connected to those clubs.
Make no mistake, football is a business. Next years' world cup is planned to be held in Qatar, a country with little football heritage, questionable human rights records and vast sums of oil money. Billionaire owners make millionaires of young men every single year. And, it was only last week one of the game's most in demand talents, Erling Haaland, is reported to be be in a position to negotiate through his agent, a weekly payslip of +€500,000 when he joins a top European team.
The industry of elite-level football rolls on. From the players, coaches, club management, media outlets, sponsorship by multinational corporates and sportswear companies. Even the Premier League when it was announced in 1992 caused an uproar as the top clubs wanted to break away from the Football League so they could take advantage of lucrative television deals. By why does today feel different? All fans across the world want their teams to have the best players, the best facilities and to have opportunities to compete for success.
But there was something about yesterday’s ESL statement that felt different. Maybe it was the crystal clear announcement that the founding members of this project will receive billions? Is it any wonder the army of pundits and ex-players are apoplectic.
"In exchange for their commitment, Founding Clubs will receive an amount of €3.5 billion solely to support their infrastructure investment plans and to offset the impact of the COVID pandemic." - ESL Statement.
To read the full statement, here’s a link to Liverpool FC. Call me a cynic, but it may not be up for too long!
A war on football! A disgrace! Clubs don’t care about the fans!
These are just some of the headlines and soundbites offered by the "morally courageous" football pundits and sports writers. While it is not for me to comment on why these highly paid pundits, journalists, and even Prime Ministers are whipping up a frenzy of public opinion against this idea, do they really care about the fans and the grassroots elements of the sport?
Let’s not forget racist, homophobic, and misogynistic abuse is reported virtually every single match day in the UK. A trend that has become worryingly common, with much less outrage and vitriol vented by those in positions to change things. Yes, I am looking at you Boris Johnson!
For years the mismanagement of smaller clubs and the chasm between them and the richest clubs has been allowed to grow at an exponential rate.
So, is the fundamental idea of this European Super League project flawed? Yes!
Is the timing of this announcement, while we are all in a pandemic, somewhat abysmal? Yes!
Does this have all the hallmarks of European football’s very own Enron scandal? Absolutely.
And, has the trust between the fans and custodians of their beloved teams been broken beyond repair? Well only time will tell, but if I were a betting man...
Power and money grabs at the highest echelons of football and sport, in general, are not new.
Remember Sepp Blather and Michael Platini being banned from World football as a result of facing criminal charges for bribery in their roles in the World governing body FIFA.
Or the Russian doping scandal which uncovered state sponsored levels of doping in athletics and other sports.
The fallout from this monumentally bad attempt to change the course of European football will rumble on. The memes are already being sent and this will be a case study for years to come.
Let’s see what comeuppance the “snakes and liars”, as Aleksander Čeferin, the president of UEFA, the Union of European Football Associations, calls the team owners and board members get as a result of this debacle.
And what of those unwitting actors, the players at these 12 clubs, who are likely to be banned from domestic and international tournaments as a result of this desperately un-funny tragedy.
NB: The 12 founding member clubs are:
AC Milan, Arsenal FC, Atlético de Madrid, Chelsea FC, FC Barcelona, FC Internazionale Milano, Juventus FC, Liverpool FC, Manchester City, Manchester United, Real Madrid CF and Tottenham Hotspur.
Updated 21 April 2021: All six English clubs have now withdrawn from the league and the remaining six clubs are likely to follow.