The Super League bombshell on European football

The Super League

In a development that has sent shudders down the spine of the European footballing community, twelve clubs have signed in to form what is to be called the European Super League (ESL).

Six Premier League clubs viz. Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham would join other European clubs, namely AC Milan, Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Inter Milan, Juventus and Real Madrid to constitute the twelve core founding members of this new body.

While the protagonists of ESL say this move could benefit the sport as a whole, critics say that it’s driven purely by greed. Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden opined that the pyramid structure of English football, where funds from the richest Premier League clubs percolated down the leagues and into local communities, would simply be threatened.

Moreover, there will always be the danger that ESL would lure global TV audiences away from popular domestic leagues like the EPL, Liga and Serie A.

The formation of the ESL according to its members has been prompted by the huge drop in revenues major clubs have had to suffer owing to the Covid-19 pandemic and the resultant disruption of fixtures and absence of spectators at venues.

Why do these clubs want this new super league?

Saddled with multi-million-pound salaries to star players, the EFL founders argue that the new tournament “will provide significantly greater economic growth and support for European football”.

A persona no less than Real Madrid president Florentino Pérez has said that the breakaway competition will “save football” and felt there were higher ideals at play than mere greed. While stating that Real Madrid alone had lost £350m over the last two seasons, Perez said that major clubs of England, Italy and Spain have found a solution to the very difficult situation that football has been experiencing in those countries in the last one year.

What may be actually motivating the clubs further is the enticement of a share of the colossal $5billion (£3.6bn) grant forwarded by bankers JP Morgan which could translate into a welcome bonus of £200 million per club at least.

Which clubs are in the European Super League?

  • Tottenham Hotspur: £591m
  • Manchester United: £453m
  • Juventus: £336m
  • Inter Milan: £279m
  • Barcelona: £274m
  • Real Madrid: £147m
  • Atletico Madrid: £96m
  • AC Milan: £89m
  • Arsenal: £66m
  • Manchester City: £45m

Above numbers are the net debt figures staring at the clubs as of June 2020

Three European majors Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund and Paris St Germain are yet to give their nod for participation in the breakaway league.

The structure of the European Super League

The ultimate goal of the EFL is eventually to have 20 teams in its fold. Of these, the 12 founding members (plus three yet to join) would be permanent members and never face relegation. The League would be split into two Groups of 10 teams, playing each other at home and away. The top three in each group would qualify for the quarter finals, with the teams in fourth and fifth playing a two-legged play-off for the two remaining spots.

The stages after that would involve the same two-leg knockout format prevalent in the Champions League, with the final to be held in May at a neutral venue.

National leagues reactions on the ESL plans

But reactions against the Super League have been strident with FIFA expressing its disapproval of the league and appealing “all parties involved in heated discussions to engage in calm, constructive and balanced dialogue for the good of the game”

The England Football Association are saying that this move could prove to be damaging to English football at all levels and is an open assault on the spirit of sporting merit and open competition which are so fundamental to competitive sport.

Fans of the English Premier League say that the very idea behind the dream that their team could climb to the top and play against the best in Europe will be destroyed.
The German Football Association is very clear in its opposition to the ESL. They say that the promotion, relegation as well as qualification for the various competitions is guided by the performance of clubs and the monetary interests of a handful of clubs should not come in the way of such a selection process.

The President of the Italian Football Association, Gabriele Gravina, has made it clear that her organization has been against the idea of the ESL from the very onset. “The only viable project is the Champions League reform promoted by UEFA.” she said.

The French Football Federation (FFF) is also opposed to the ESL project and claims it a direct threat to the carefully built local football pyramid.
Even heads of the state have not held themselves back while getting their opinions across. To quote French president Emmanuel Macron “”The president of the Republic welcomes the position of French clubs to refuse to participate to a European football Super League project that threatens the principle of solidarity and sporting merit.”
Not to be left behind by any means, UK premier Boris Johnson said “”Plans for a European Super League would be very damaging for football and we support football authorities in taking action.”

Fans reactions on European Super League plans

Fans and supporters of the participating ESL clubs are also up in arms against the breakaway move. Hundreds of dissenting supporters of Liverpool and Chelsea were seen gathering outside stadiums where their midweek Premier League games being staged. Here are some of the key reactions:

Liverpool Supporters Group: “Embarrassing. As fan representatives we are appalled and completely oppose this decision.”

Manchester United Supporters’ Trust: “A “Super League” based on a closed shop of self-selected wealthy clubs goes against everything football and Manchester United should stand for.”
Arsenal Supporters Trust: “The AST deplores the announcement by Arsenal that they are breaking away to form a European Super League. This represents the death of everything that football should be about.”

Manchester City Official Supporters’ Club: “We are totally opposed to anything which creates a breakaway ‘European Super League’. This proposed new competition has no sporting merit and would seem to be motivated by greed.”

Chelsea Supporters’ Trust: “They say expect the unexpected, but today the Chelsea Supporters’ Trust (CST), our members and football supporters across the world have suffered the ultimate betrayal.”

What happens next?

Even as the ESL endeavors to block any sanctions the FIFA and the UEFA may enforce over its formation, the founding members say that “they are looking forward to holding discussions with both the bodies to work together in partnership to deliver the best outcomes for the new League and for football as a whole.”

Sunday’s developments came just twenty-four hours before UEFA were due to discuss proposed Champions League reforms that in fact were intended to work in favour of the major clubs comprising the EFL. Included in the changes, was a safety net of four qualification spots for clubs based on their past performance in European competitions.

But reforms matter little to cash hungry clubs and star players what with a $5billion carrot dangling in front. Meanwhile the UK government will take “whatever action necessary”, including legislative options, to stop plans for the ESL.

Following the PM’s meeting with the Premier League & Football Association (FA) officials and fans’ representatives, 10 Downing Street said: “No action is off the table.” But if the ESL were to become a reality, there’s little doubt that it will replace the Champions League.

The latest is that Chelsea have reportedly submitted a notice of withdrawal with Manchester City following suit. Other four sides are expected to join them in going ahead with their withdrawals with barely 72 hours of the breakaway proposals being made.

Meanwhile, let us keep our fingers crossed and watch what further drama unfolds.

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