Football fans, pundits, politicians and governing bodies are united in fury after 12 of the sport’s biggest clubs announced plans to break away from European football competitions and form their own ‘Super League’ – a move that poses an existential threat to the world’s favourite sport.
The new competition would see these elite teams from across Europe start their own tournament, with no relegation or promotion, which they ultimately expect to expand to 20 clubs. Five teams would be allowed to qualify to join the competition each year.
So far, there are six teams from England signed up; Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur. They are joined by Italy’s AC Milan, Inter Milan and Juventus; and Spain’s Atlético Madrid, Barcelona and Real Madrid
The league is intended to ‘commence as soon as is practicable’, according to the announcement posted on the 12 clubs’ websites, and would likely see the teams quit or be banned from their current leagues. Some sources believe this could be as soon as August.
American investment bank JP Morgan will be financing the proposed tournament.
While still a seismic shock to the footballing world, this has not come as a bolt from the blue. Owners of the world’s biggest clubs have long agitated for a bigger share of football’s TV revenues and other financial rewards, while the increasingly undeniable importance of money in the game has grated with more traditional supporters.
In recent decades, multi-billion dollar takeovers of several teams like Manchester City, Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain have widened the gap between football’s haves and have-nots, and it’s extremely rare for a team outside the small group of elites to win a major league trophy.
That disparity has led to rumours of a European ‘super league’ for years, and some have suggested the clubs involved could be convinced to shelve the plans in favour of a financial compromise. But Sunday’s announcement is by far the closest football has ever come to such a drastic breakaway.
So, why the mass disgust and outrage? After all, football is now undeniably a global behemoth and clubs, especially the so-called ‘bigger’ ones, don’t belong to the fans within a 10-mile radius of the stadium anymore. Fans around the world want to see the games between the biggest teams, and watching the superstars go toe-to-toe every week seems an enticing prospect.
According to Fawaz AlShaikh, a board member of the Chelsea Supporters Club Bahrain, this is due to a key principle of football being broken.
“Trophies and success are based on competition, and that no team is assured its place among the football elite or protected from relegation,” he said. “The Super League model shatters this centuries-old structure, introducing a closed tournament that only some of the world’s richest, most recognisable clubs are invited to.
“Upset victories, competitions that see big teams take on lowly opponents, and fairy-tale stories such as Leicester City’s remarkable Premier League title success in 2016, would be ended if the world’s biggest teams left the established footballing universe in order to only play against each other.
“It’s clear this is a very money-oriented move. It’s a revolution similar to how the European Cup was invented in the 1950s and the Premier League broke away from the Football League in the early 1990s. However, this is far more removed from the fabric of the game.”
Another major concern is the financial impact of the move on existing leagues and teams could be catastrophic; the Premier League, for example, would be devalued without its biggest names and could lose huge sums of money from TV deals. Even fans of lower league clubs fear the trickle down impact of the shift, especially after a pandemic that has left many teams in financial turmoil.
And, for many fans, the idea is inherently opposed to the essence of football. As a result, the plans have achieved something rarely seen in sport – uniting fans of all teams, along with the sport’s governing bodies, in angry opposition.
Ryan Conway, the co-founder of Bahrain amateur football team Janabiyah Juggernauts, turned his back on his local club Manchester United a decade ago after the Glazer family took over and now supports FC United of Manchester, a club founded by supporters opposed to the deal. The latest move has done nothing to endear his old club back to him.
He said: “I’m absolutely disgusted with Man United. I’ve not bought a shirt or any merchandise for 10 years now due to the corruption that the Glazers brought. Wearing green and yellow scarfs won’t help fans now. It’s time to boycott and show them that football is nothing without fans.”
Another passionate fan, David Lord, says that he is ‘gutted’ that his club Tottenham Hotspur is involved.
“I think it’s a disgrace and honestly I’m gutted that Spurs are part of it. Yes, I’m a fan of the club but more importantly I’ve been a football fan all my life. The beauty of the game is that anyone can win the league or progress up to join the elite if they get the right team together.
“I don’t want it to get through and hope it gets called off. I think it’s a blatant ploy by all these American owners who want to make a closed league with the circus that comes with it, knowing they can make huge profits from sponsorship deals and a closed league with no threat of relegation.”
The Juventus Academy Bahrain, affiliated with the Italian giants, remained tight-lipped and declined to comment when approached by the GDN.
However, not all fans are opposed to the move. Bahrain-based Liverpool fan Hadi Galal said: “I think it’s a good idea to have another tournament. The current system has been running for so long and needs freshening up.
“We’re football fans and we want to watch more big games. If you want to see Barcelona vs. PSG or Liverpool vs. Juventus you have to wait almost a whole year and hope they get drawn together in the knockout stages of the Champions League.
“Now it’ll be a weekly occasion and we don’t have to go through the formalities of the big clubs hammering the Belarusian champions in the group stage.
“One thing I don’t agree with is that there are too many teams from England in there. For example, I don’t know why Tottenham Hotspur are included but teams like Napoli and Roma aren’t. And what about traditional European giants like Ajax … were they asked to join?”
The fallout of the announcement will rumble on, perhaps for months, but the governing bodies that run football have pulled no punches and wasted no time in response to the plans, releasing statements that condemn and threaten consequences.
Fifa, the global governing body for football, denounced the formation of the Super League, saying it goes against Fifa’s core principles of solidarity, inclusivity, integrity and equitable financial redistribution. It has threatened to ban players from Super League clubs from playing in the World Cup.
Uefa – which oversees all European football – along with the English, Spanish, and Italian governing bodies co-signed an angry statement promising to “stop this cynical project ... a project that is founded on the self-interest of a few clubs at a time when society needs solidarity more than ever.”
Its president, Aleksander Ceferin, called it a “spit in the face of all football lovers.”
Even politicians from outside the political spectrum are getting involved. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the league “would strike at the heart of the domestic game” and has urged the FA and Premier League to do all in their power to stop it.
This columnist believes the competition will go ahead because money talks … but the game will suffer and the fans will be disregarded. What an own goal.