The European Super League Fiasco and Why it’s a Lesson for Everyone

Anyone who keeps tabs on daily news or even if they’re regular users of social media platforms, like Twitter and Facebook, should be well aware of the European Super League disaster that happened recently, but if you’re not, let us brief you on it. Starting in the evening of 19th April 2021, what’s now being called the most dramatic 72-hours in the history of football, came to being.

The rumors of a European Super League, that has been in the plans for years with its hints becoming more obvious ever since the pandemic hit in 2020, started emerging on Thursday, 15th of April. By Sunday, these rumors became solid news articles which were then confirmed by the 12 clubs that were the “founding members” of the Super League i.e. the leading clubs in Europe. These included the Premier League “Big 6”, Chelsea, Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal, Liverpool, and Tottenham Hotspur, partnered by the Spanish giants Real Madrid, FC Barcelona, and Atlético Madrid, and Italian giants Inter Milan, AC Milan, and Juventus.

As details of the ESL started emerging – 20 clubs that will participate in 2 groups of 10 teams followed by play-offs – people became more and more alert on how far the entire project had already gotten and, more importantly, how absurd it was in terms of competitiveness given that the 15 founding members (3 more were yet to be confirmed) will always automatically qualify for the competition, and just invite 5 different teams every year to compete with them.

The Response

Football fans had already begun criticizing the plan, and the Premier League was the first official football body to condemn it. This was followed by the UEFA, FIFA, and every other domestic league including Spanish, Italian, and German, etc. Soon, politicians got involved in criticizing the project including Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister of England. What made this project even more offensive in the eyes of official football governing bodies were the resignations of the founding club presidents from official EFA and UEFA positions following their announcement of the Super League.

Experts and fans from around the world started calling this a capitalistic move and the “end of football as we know it”. Rumors started to emerge that FIFA and UEFA will ban any team and players from their competitions if they were to participate in the Super League. UEFA saw this project as a threat to the popularity of the Champions League, and they immediately responded with a new UCL format that will be applied from 2024, which we will discuss later.

The most genuine reaction, though, came from the fans of the game whose only concern was that football is now becoming increasingly capitalized to serve the corporate bodies present in the game. Furthermore, UEFA and FIFA’s involvement has left a lot of questions in the minds of the audience, including the silence of the football bodies when it came to the recent concerns of racism and online abuse.

The New UCL Format

Following the announcements of the ESL, UEFA came with an announcement of a new Champions League format from 2024/25 which will include 4 more teams, i.e. a total of 36 teams. Moreover, the competition will no longer have 8 groups of 4 teams each rather each team will be drawn against 10 opponents, with 5 games played at home and 5 away, without any second leg matches. The top 8 teams will qualify for the next round while the remaining 9-24 teams will participate in two-legged matches to determine who qualifies to join the top 8 and play further in the competition.

The trickiest part of this entirely new format, however, is the selection process, which will be based on the UEFA coefficient of where the clubs rank in Europe in regard to their last 5 CL performances, rather than the current rule of qualifying the domestic table’s top teams at the end of each competition. Meaning if West Ham is in 4th place in the Premier League (as it stands currently) and Liverpool is fifth, Liverpool will still qualify for the UCL rather than West Ham, given the former’s UEFA coefficient ranking which is higher than that of West Ham.

And guess which clubs are higher up in the coefficient? The leading European clubs that have records of playing well in the CL year after year. So in the end, this format doesn’t stand to be inclusive to the weaker teams as much as it promises more benefits to the already powerful corporations that are heads of the leading clubs – an initiative similar to the European Super League, except its revenues will be reaped by UEFA unlike in the ESL format that won’t give UEFA this much power to capitalize.

What’s Happening Now?

2 days after the announcement of the 12 founding clubs, the Premier League Big 6 announced their departure from the ESL, with most of them issuing statements of apology to their fans. This was followed by Atlético Madrid, AC Milan, Juventus, and Inter Milan also signing off from their participation in the ESL. Now, only Real Madrid and Barcelona remain in the project. The former’s president, Florentino Perez, is running the wheels behind ESL, while the latter has signed a clause to leave the league if their socios vote against it.

The bigger problem to discuss now is that how much in debt would the resigning clubs be in, given that they were part of a legally binding contract. The only club that won’t have to pay is Barcelona, whose clause also includes that if they’re voted out of the league based on their members’ disagreement over it, they won’t have to pay any sum to cover for it. And that may be the only reason why they’re still in the ESL because their members are yet to have a vote.

There are also reports suggesting that UEFA paid the Premier League Big 6 to pull out of the Super League project, a rumor that Perez is more than happy to agree with.

What caused it all, and why are UEFA and FIFA equally to blame?

In the end, the conclusion is that European Super League didn’t happen out of any coincidence, or because the club presidents got bored. The foundations of the league have been set in motion for 2 decades now, and the biggest enablers were the football governing bodies, FIFA and UEFA, who stand to derive maximum revenues from every competition the clubs and players participate in while distributing only a tiny sum of the revenues to said clubs and players. In such instances, the introduction of a new competition where only the participating members gain major profits was inevitable.

A huge problem everyone has with the ESL is that it isn’t inclusive; 15 founding members and only 5 other clubs to be included, with the founding members being never in doubt when it came to participating in the competition? That kills the entire purpose of the word ‘competition’ because that would make everything too predictable for it to be interesting.

One question that UEFA needs to be asked is this: where are their morals when these same clubs and their players face racist comments and online abuse? Why don’t the official bodies respond with such a powerful stand on those issues as they did in this one? Simply printing banners for “say no to racism” isn’t enough. When will a stance be taken to stop those racists from becoming part of the football world that these bodies promise to care so much about?

Furthermore, in the new UCL format, with the leading European clubs still dominant when it comes to qualifying for the competition, how is it more inclusive or different from what was being proposed through the ESL?

The Consequence

The biggest downside of these 72 hours was the skepticism under which the founding clubs are now finding themselves. UEFA also distributed “Football is for the fans” t-shirts among opponents that are to play against the 12 founding members of the European Super League, with Leeds and Brighton already having done so against Liverpool and Chelsea in this week’s fixtures. The shirt also says “earn it” in the front with the UCL logo, meaning you have to earn your place to compete in such tournaments instead of coming up with tournaments where you qualify without any rules.

Football - The European Super League Fiasco

Although the Big 6 and all the others who left the Super League are being met with a lot of criticism, the biggest question mark has fallen on the image of Real Madrid which is, ironically, the most successful European club in history, with 13 Champions League trophies and the UEFA club of the 20th-century title to its name.

It’s obvious that UEFA can’t exactly take direct action against any of the leading clubs, doing so will end up making UEFA’s own popularity suffer. But it’s also very evident that the official football bodies will make it quite difficult for the founding European Super League clubs to participate in UEFA’s European competitions, especially Real Madrid, at least as long as Perez remains the club’s president; which is a blow to the club’s members and the players who have worked hard despite 53 injuries this season and are in the run for the UCL and La Liga titles with only a month remaining in the 2020/2021 season.

Apart from Madrid, other clubs have also started to face the consequences of this participation, with the Manchester United president Ed Woodward resigning from his position, followed by Andreas Agnelli resigning from Juventus. Manchester United, Arsenal, and Liverpool are in the rumors of being sold to other owners, whereas Juventus’ ownership position is a little stronger given the club’s been part of the Agnelli family for 100 years now. Barcelona just changed their president only 2 months ago, going from Bartomeu to Laporta, the latter of whom is being deemed innocent in all of this, given his relatively new position.

All in all, it’s safe to say that this entire project was a disaster from the moment it was announced. Florentino Perez still denies that it’s a failure, insisting the project will come back again in a few years even if the founding members change. But what fans need to remember is to not get too distracted by these corporates and forget the other culprits that are making this game capitalistic day-by-day.

There isn’t any doubt that this competition has its own levels of classist capitalism in the workings, but fans also need to see the real culprits that made this occur instead of praising them to be the heroes for condemning this proposal and putting an end to it.

If you’re making a promise that football is for the fans, why not make fans a part of your decision-making process instead of coming up with projects and proposals that stand to ruin the game for those very fans?

Real Madrid - No Fans No Club

The European Super League deserves the backlash it has received, but so do UEFA and FIFA for their self-serving stance taken at a time when they stand to gain something from it, and being quiet when the players and teams that make these competitions possible, suffer either personally or financially.

The most that the founding members can hope for, especially Perez’s Real Madrid, is that they make a strong comeback in the world of football without being too punished for the actions of their presidential bodies. Fans don’t need a new league, or a new format for the UCL, what fans need is for the game to be less capitalized and more inclusive of every player and every club that works hard to reach the top.

Hopefully, the past 72 hours were a lesson for not just football but every organization that wants to become successful in the long run. You can’t run your brand without catering to the needs of your audience, may that be a football club with regard to its fan base or a popular company with regard to its customers. What makes any brand successful is their willingness to listen to what their audience wants from them, instead of coming up with ideas that only cater to the brand’s own personal interests without adding value to the audience’s life – because the result of that is too obvious in what has happened with the European Super League fiasco.

Maha Abdul Rehman

A content writer and a psychology major, I procrastinate for 6 months or write consecutively. And I occasionally watch (see: obsess about) Football.

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