24 May 2021
In April of 2021, the world of European football was set aflame. When elite owners tried to sell out their clubs ‒ the very best in the world ‒ for the ‘Super League,’ fans revolted. When they tried to go against UEFA, entire governments got involved. And while the dust has settled and they were ultimately unsuccessful, resentment still lingers.
The Super League was an idea which had been floating around for a while before it was attempted. The idea was to take the best clubs from UEFA, otherwise known as The Union of European Football Associations, and create a new league. A ‘Super League,’ for the creme of the crop. It was an ambitious project, one which had taken quite a while to get off the ground, but owners saw their chance with COVID-19. Had all things gone according to plan, the clubs we know would have participated were as follows: Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Tottenham, AC Milan, Inter, Juventus, Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, and Real Madrid.
The idea was that there would be twenty teams in total: the twelve founding clubs, which would make it regardless of performance, three clubs to be named in later, and five clubs to play their way in. The Super League would have overshadowed the Champions and Europa Leagues, which are old and historic leagues in European football, and severely undercut them by taking out their traditional powerhourses.
While many think, rightfully, that the Super League was doomed from the start, there are differing opinions. Real Madrid owner Florentino Pérez claimed that the Super League was going to breathe fresh life back into football.
“There are lots of games of little quality; we have to change this sport to make it more attractive at all levels,” he explained. “Real Madrid v Manchester United is more attractive than Manchester [United] against a more modest team.”
If the Super League had taken off, it would have flipped the world of European football on its head, and not for the better. To begin with, there is no guarantee that it would have been successful. And even if it was, it would have significantly damaged the leagues these clubs left behind. Although many of these clubs claimed they would have cooperated with their domestic leagues, the Super League would have still damaged them. For one thing, knowing that certain clubs would get in automatically would have taken the risk factor out of many things. During the football season, fans watch the ranking table anxiously, not just for relegation but to see if their clubs will get into the biggest European competitions. Getting rid of that edge takes a lot of revenue away with a lack of watchtime, ticket sales, etc.
In addition, every once in a while, there’s always the Cinderella Story where a small or less successful club makes it to Europa, or, sometimes, even the Champions League. This gives them more exposure, a bigger fanbase, and more. In the Super League, there would be less opportunity for this because of favoritism towards the twelve founding clubs, and these smaller clubs would have suffered.
Luckily, the Super League failed. But now that fans know what the big bosses are willing to do for the sake of greed, trust between the two groups are at an all time low. To rectify this, some clubs are allowing fan representatives. Chelsea is one of them. Three fans are to be selected through a careful process. Once they’re chosen, they will be allowed to attend Chelsea Board meetings and give their thoughts to ensure that supporters are content with the decisions being made. While they won’t have actual voting power, the chances of a catastrophe on par with the attempted Super League occurring are lower than they would have been before.
“The club will now consult with the Fans’ Forum and several non-official supporter groups to discuss the club’s proposed process for picking the three supporter advisors,” Chelsea said in a statement which was announced on May 4th on their official website.
The fact of the matter is that the heart of football clubs have always been with the fans. The billionaire owners have never had that. When owners try to take that away, when they try to interfere, things never end well. JP Morgan Chase was prepared to invest $4.8 billion into the would be Super League. They are now facing bitter backlash for it.
“I’m not an expert of European sports,” said CEO Jamie Dimon, “but obviously it is a lot of fandom… We kind of missed it a little bit.”
To this, I say: yes, yes you did. European football fans already don’t have high opinions of American fans, and this newest move with the Super League, where several American owners tried to do something which undoubtedly ended in catastrophe, has not improved us in their eyes. Now, criticism towards Americans has only increased, further dividing the football world.
This entire ordeal isn’t just a moral dilemma, however, it has the potential to be a legal one. According to Joel Leigh, a London-based law firm with extensive experience working in sports litigation, there are “certainly very harsh penalties” and that everything from suspension, deduction of points, and even expulsion was fair game.
The Super League had been proposed before this, but it had never gained much traction. The big investments this time around, as well as clubs actually preparing to leave, sparked outrage across not just Europe, but the world. Never had something of this magnitude been attempted before.
Looking towards the future, some good has come out of all of this. In their desperate attempts to backpedal, clubs have given fans more of a voice. They have more influence over the way things go now, and something like this will (hopefully) never happen again. With the heart of the clubs having a say, new breath will be breathed back into football.
In fact, this might be the thing that “brings football back” (as if it was ever gone ‒ I’m looking at you Florentino) and connects the sport with its audience. Things are far from perfect and wounds are still fresh, but this could be what changes the landscape of the sport forever.