This is the fans' world: the Super League
To say shockwaves were felt throughout the footballing world on Sunday night would be an understatement. After all, who among us has not spent hours, controller in hand, creating a “super league” on FIFA or Pro-Evolution Soccer, aiming to guide your own team to glory in the face of top-class opposition week-in, week-out.
As news filtered through that twelve of Europe’s footballing giants would be breaking away to form the Super League – a closed, midweek competition to rival the UEFA Champions League – fans and pundits alike were, somehow, left amazed that the unscrupulous, money-grabbing owners of the world’s biggest, most powerful clubs had made a decision that will further line their pockets and ensure their seat at European club football’s top table.
It was a decision that has shown even the most devout – or perhaps naive – football fan the truth about the game we love so dear: that it is, at the end of the day, a business. A business with one important difference: the fans.
Not unlike European citizens, it is high time these fans realised they are the ones with the true power.
This particular development can hardly be labelled a surprise since it has been used as a bargaining chip by these same powerful clubs for the last three decades. In many ways, it is a surprise it took so long, considering the continuous threats from club presidents, such as Real Madrid’s Florentino Perez who will also take on the role of the Super League’s first president.
Many who follow football in Europe will agree that the continental competitions needed some sort of a reboot. UEFA have, indeed, just announced a reshaping of the Champions League, but it stinks of elitism perhaps now more than ever, given that 2 of the 4 new places in the group stages will be reserved for teams who rank highly in UEFA’s club coefficient: the mechanism by which the powerful stay powerful and the weak are destined to remain so.
The leader nobody deserves
It was Perez who, just yesterday, had the audacity to say this was a move that would “save football”. In the same interview, Perez cited loss of revenue at the big clubs as another reason for the schism. Thirteen months into a worldwide pandemic and the President of a club that raked in €692 million in the last year (down 9% from 2019/20) laments his lost income. If this does not show how out of touch these billionaire owners are from the people who make their lives possible – again, the fans – then nothing will.
Perez’s autocratic attitude (in office 2000-2006, 2009-present) is not all that different from some of the leaders we see holding office across Europe. His timing on this matter, after all, could not have been more sinister. Having just last week consolidated his power as the top boss at the world’s most famous football club, he chooses now as the time to announce the breakaway league, safe from a stadium full of fans who could protest or, god forbid, boycott!
Perez and his counterparts at the other eleven clubs involved (Milan, Internazionale, Juventus, Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester United, Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur, Atletico Madrid and Barcelona) represent the worst of the worst when it comes to leadership. Their interests are motivated purely by profit and this has become embarrassingly clear to everyone.
The view from the PM’s office boardroom
The lack of accountability mirrors that of a political leader. Ordinary citizens cannot just walk into a prime minister’s office and demand some answers, nor can the regular football fan stroll into the boardroom and look for an audience with the boss. But in a democracy citizens become valuable to political leaders at the ballot box. In recent days that has been made perfectly clear as Boris Johnson has found time amidst the ongoing public health crisis to meet with the governing bodies of football in England, promising to stop nothing short of launching a ‘legislative bomb’ to save grassroots football on behalf of the tens of millions of UK voters that count themselves as football fans.
The footballing world does not operate on the democratic principle of one fan, one vote. However, it is no coincidence that the footballing powerhouses that did have the strength of character to oppose the new league are those which guarantee their fans political control through ownership. Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, arguably the two best teams in Germany, declined the invitation. The German clubs remain tied to the 50+1 rule, ensuring control is held by the club and their fans, as opposed to would-be investors. We are happy to interpret this as evidence that only real democracy, underpinned by ownership by the people, can guarantee that powerful organisations act in the interests of ordinary citizens.
Paris-Saint Germain, winners of the last three French titles, also refused the invite, much to the surprise of many in the footballing world. PSG’s owners, Qatar Sports Investment, are not seen as champions of ethics and fair play. A cynic would suggest that PSG are just waiting to finish this year’s Champions League, where they find themselves in the semi-finals, but this would be mere hearsay.
Better late than never
On Tuesday night, news began filtering through that the six English clubs had pulled out of the proposal, with further rumours that the two Milan clubs will follow suit later today. But don’t congratulate these clubs just yet, the Premier League is ludicrously lucrative itself. Furthermore, their decisions came only after widespread condemnation and, importantly, fan-led protests outside the clubs’ stadia. This underlines the truth of all truths about football: without the fans, it is nothing.
UEFA had earlier threatened to ban the “dirty dozen” from its competitions as punishment for the breakaway move, with similar disciplinary threats being predicted at the domestic level. The problem is that, much like punishing the likes of Victor Orban for his seemingly never-ending assault on core European values, those who suffer are the ordinary people. Successfully kick Hungary out of the EU and who loses most? Hungarians. Successfully boot Real Madrid and the likes out of domestic football, banning their players from international competition and who suffers most? The fans.
The temptation may be there to show a lack of sympathy to fans of these majors clubs, but let us not forget that we are all fans. Whether you follow Barcelona, Panathinaikos or the mighty Leeds United, we are all bound by our love of the game. Similarly, it does not matter if you are born in Helsinki or Rome or Porto, we are all European.
A false start or dead in the water?
Trying to fix a broken system is admirable. Attempting to create a new system that might benefit everyone more evenly is nothing short of brave. Creating a new system that is guaranteed to deepen inequalities and consolidate your already deathlike stranglehold on power is deplorable.
These billionaire owners know the TV stations will pay to broadcast the games. They know the sponsors aren’t going to dry up. What they may not know, but what they will hopefully never be allowed to forget, is that football belongs to the fans. We are happy that fans have succeeded in making their voice heard.
But if, in the future, this long-floated idea should come back to rear its ugly head?
Boycott the Super League.