The bombshell news of the confirmation of a European Super League has sent shockwaves through football.
Following a day of intense speculation, 12 leading clubs in European football confirmed that they had become founding members of a new competition.
It came amid the backdrop of a deluge of criticism from fans, leagues, football federations and governments.
Uefa have called it “a cynical project founded on the self-interest of a few clubs” while La Liga has claimed it is “nothing more than a selfish, egotistical proposal designed to further enrich the already super rich.”
The Super League statement therefore had two primary objectives; to explain the format and purpose of the competition, whilst also attempting to garner support by explaining why the new league was not just an act of greed and self-interest but would benefit European football.
This was evident by the third paragraph of the statement, when the clubs referenced their intention to “deliver the best outcomes for the new League and for football as a whole.”
The statement then referenced the destabilising impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and the need to introduce fundamental changes to the “benefit of the entire European football pyramid.”
These claims are based on the premise that only a new competition – run by the clubs, rather than UEFA – can fully unlock the potential of football’s money-making ability via improved TV contracts, investment, and marketing opportunities.
The statement talks of “the need to provide higher-quality matches” whilst also providing “additional financial resources for the overall football pyramid”, although there is little indication on how the first statement will correspond with the latter.
Detail is provided on the format and style of the competition: emphasis is placed on the fixtures being midweek, with 20 participating clubs divided into two groups to play home and away games, with the top three in each group qualifying for the quarter-finals and the remaining two spots at that stage being determined by playoff games between those teams finishing fourth and fifth.
These plans are balanced by the intention of “preserving the traditional domestic match calendar which remains at the heart of the club game”, but this compatibility seems highly improbable.
The plans guarantee that every participating club will play a minimum of 18 matches in the tournament, with the possibility of 25 matches should a side reach the final.
The current Champions League format – which this competition intends to de facto replace – currently guarantees a minimum of six matches for clubs entering at the group stage with the possibility of 13 should a team go all the way in the competition.
Whilst the new competition claims of “preserving the traditional domestic match calendar”, the numbers simply do not add up – all clubs will play an additional 12 matches compared to their current schedule, depending on their progress in the tournament.
This enhanced workload will push an already bloated football calendar over the edge and mean that serious compromises are required, with domestic cup competitions unlikely to fit into a calendar of clubs who are already committed to upwards of 60 matches in league and European football.
These same questions are posed by Uefa’s reforms of the Champions League – which were confirmed on Monday – which will kick-in in 2024, with the group stages revamped into a league table which guarantees a minimum of 10 matches for all participants.
However, the Super League poses even more serious questions that are not compatible with “preserving the traditional domestic match calendar”, this time relating to the Premier League itself.
The Super League will be participated by 20 clubs – with the 15 “founder clubs” (three of whom are yet to be confirmed) being joined by five additional clubs who will qualify “annually based on achievements in the prior season”.
Whilst this is not explicitly stated, this wording suggests that any “founder clubs” will be participants in the Super League in future seasons regardless of their on-pitch performances, with relegation apparently off the table.
Such a scenario will fundamentally change the Premier League and its equivalents across Europe: the founding clubs will qualify for the continent’s premier club competition regardless of success in the league.
Whilst the Premier League title would still be in play, the European race would become obsolete – the six English “founder clubs” would constantly qualify for the Super League and all the rest would be competing for a limited number of spots which would likely be unattainable.
If this framework were applied to this season, all remaining league matches for Chelsea, Liverpool, Tottenham and Arsenal would be academic, while Leicester, West Ham or any other club could secure a top four finish but not be rewarded.
European Super League announcement fallout
The incentives and rewards of high performance and results would be removed, inevitably compromising the integrity of the competition alongside sustained interest and intrigue.
This scenario has similarities to Uefa’s Champions League reform (whereby co-efficient accumulated in recent seasons can save ‘elite’ clubs who fail to qualify on the pitch in a one-off season) but turbo charges the removal of meritocracy.
The Super League would have a profound impact on domestic football both in terms of cup and league football – even if those clubs were able to fulfil their domestic matches, the significance of those outcomes would be notably reduced.
The confirmation statement spoke of providing “significantly greater economic growth and support for European football” and “a long-term commitment to uncapped solidarity payments” which would theoretically benefit all football rather than merely its participating clubs.
However, no definitive figures or structure are given to this intention although the Super League clubs would be guaranteed to receive “€3.5billion (£3billion) solely to support their infrastructure investment plans and to offset the impact of the COVID pandemic.”
Andrea Agnelli, Chairman of Juventus and Vice-Chairman of the Super League indulges in similar themes of “substantially increasing solidarity” and providing a “sustainable footing for the long-term future” of the game, but these words are not backed up by any substance.
Joel Glazer, Co-Chairman of Manchester United and Vice-Chairman of the Super League added that there will be “increased financial support for the wider football pyramid”, but details are scarce and based on projections.
The Super League is being condemned as an “elitist” competition which will remove meritocracy and further widen the financial gaps within football, and even though the founding members are arguing that it will benefit the game of a whole – that appears to be a fanciful suggestion, with a trickle-down economic theory based on larger profits for those at the top benefitting the sport as a whole.
The fundamental problem with this idea is that elite football will become privatised and ringfenced for those with the largest profit margins – business and profitability will officially be more significant than on-pitch achievements.
The very spirit of the game will be lost.
The proposed competition claims it will generate more money than the existing European competitions and will result in a greater distribution of revenue throughout the game.
Real Madrid president Florentino Perez – the competition’s chairman and driving force – spoke of its potential to "help football at every level" but the projections and consequences of it appear to be overwhelmingly negative in terms of both the spirit of the game and the financial gap.
The Super League is being marketed as a replacement for the Champions League but its scope and ambition brings with it inevitable ramifications that will profoundly change domestic competitions and officialis a group of elite clubs who are systematically rewarded above everyone else.
No amount of PR bluster and carefully-worded statements from the new proposals can detract from the reality that a self-serving power grab has been launched to change the dynamics of football forever.
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