Never have worldwide football fans been as united as they were last week, when the fundamentals of the game they love had come under threat. News broke that 12 ‘super’ clubs had signed an agreement to form the European Super League, leaving the English pyramid, decades of tradition, and millions of fans behind.
As news outlets gained momentum on the mega-story last Sunday that the much talked about European Super League was *actually* being formed, I’m sure I wasn’t alone in thinking: ‘Woah. It’s finally happening’.
Because for as long as I can remember, the biggest clubs in Europe have been threatening the formation of this league for a multitude of reasons. Most notably, they were incentivised by the prospect of gaining additional hundreds of millions of pounds from broadcasters and governing bodies alike – yes, it is always about the cold hard cash…
So why did this happen now? ‘Project Big Picture’, an attempted power-grab from England’s top clubs, was foiled last year, which should have given us a clue that something similar might reappear on the horizon. However, the economic implications of Coronavirus left stadiums empty and heightened the steaks.
The longer fans were kept away from stadium, the more money the clubs were losing. And the more money that was lost, the more likely that the owners (the majority of whom have often shown a complete disregard for the game in the past and whose only concern the bottom line) were going to turn their threats into action.
The 12 owners want the guaranteed income that the ESL would bring. They do not want their teams having bad years and missing out on Champions League qualification through the small matter of competition (Heaven forbid). They want guaranteed year on year revenue streams to maximise the value of their assets and income. Essentially, they want to ‘American-ise’ Football.
The outpouring of rage from the rest of the world was unprecedented. With fans, media, players, managers, governing bodies, and politicians all condemning the formation of the ESL, the league was over before it even started. Having announced its inception on Sunday, 72 hours later with the withdrawals of the English Clubs, it was game over, for now.
So, what now? Will the twelve teams be punished for attempting to fly the coup? And will football change? I personally do not think they can fine the clubs, as the punishment must be levelled at the owners, but what is a suitable punishment? And will it stand up in court? After all, the owners of these football clubs are some of the richest men in the world, with the best lawyers in the world and UEFA have already had their hands burnt going up against them with the FFP fiasco.
There has been lots of talk of the 50+1 model in England being implemented but to do so you naturally need the owners of the clubs to be willing to sell. Why would they sell now? Most of them have not implied they would be willing to do so.
If the TV deals and the sponsorship deals start to level off, now might be the best time to maximise their profit but if they don’t want to sell, then these mostly absentee owners (certainly in England) could just continue to reap their dividends and football will just move onto the next talking point. With the fans being taken for granted, players injuries pilling up and careers being shortened as the seasons become longer and longer.
Next year sees the World Cup go to Qatar…which should tell you all you need to know about the state of the beautiful game. I hope I am wrong, and that last week sees a real catalyst for change, but I for one am not hopeful. Already social media has moved onto an overblown argument about the first two players being inducted into the Premier League Hall of Fame, with tribal lines being drawn and last week’s news becoming tomorrow’s fish and chip paper.
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