The Dangers Of A European Super League

By on Jul 28, 2011 in English League Football, European Club Football, Latest | 16 comments

The news that the biggest club sides in Europe may be looking to cast UEFA and FIFA aside and form their own breakaway league will come as no great surprise to anybody with even the most cursory knowledge of the modus operandum of those that run said clubs. At height of the FIFA corruption hysteria at the end of May, we noted on this site that, “Who is to say that the coup d’etat won’t come from a cabal of the biggest clubs and television companies that these clubs already work so harmoniously with? And who is to say that a post-FIFA carve up of the world game wouldn’t be tailor-made to suit them and them alone?”, and it now seems as if this is what may well play out over the fullness of time.

So, we have to get a few things straight before we can begin to examine what all of this might mean. It may well end up being spun that this story is somehow related to alleged corruption within FIFA. This, after all, would fall in line with what has increasingly become the narrative that runs parallel to the game’s governing body. Should this line come to be put out in some piece of PR guff, though, it should be treated with the derision that it deserves. This is all about two things: money and, to paraphrase Karl Marx, of all people, the ownership of the means of production. The biggest club sides in Europe look on with bewilderment at the fact that FIFA can turn a $1bn profit on the World Cup finals, while a large number of them are millions of pounds in debt, and they want a bigger slice of that pie. It seems unlikely that they would be opposed to strangling the international game, either.

Why, though, should we be concerned with the floating of such ideas? After all, they are still very much at the nascent stage and may just be a form of (as subtle as a crowbar) brinkmanship. Well, the obvious thing to say would be that such a league would almost certainly be, if not very nearly a closed shop, then very actually a closed shop. It is likely that a completely closed league of, say twenty clubs would be deeply unpopular with fans (or, if you prefer, consumers), so they may allow access to clubs in a very limited way, perhaps through play-offs. Overall, though, any new league would be all about keeping the invited – and, whilst we have no concrete idea of who they would consist of at present, we could probably guess at the approximate make-up of this vainglorious pack – in a position of perpetual wealth and status.

The common consensus seems likely to be that these clubs would be begged to keep second elevens playing in their domestic competitions, but the fact of the matter is that all domestic tournaments would be fundamentally debased by their biggest clubs acting in such a way, and it seems likely that there will be a vocal minority that will argue that, should they choose to break away, this should act as a formal act of a severance, and that these clubs should be summarily expelled from all competitions other than the one that they choose to break away in favour of. Much will depend on what the reaction of UEFA and FIFA is to such threats, but the possibility of the sort of split that has bedevilled other sports such as boxing and darts in recent years can only now be regarded as a very real one.

It is important, perhaps, to make a couple of points regarding the timbre that any future debate on this subject may take. First of all, a loathing of FIFA and/or UEFA doesn’t mean that one has to support plans for a break-away. It is perfectly possible to believe that both groupings in this argument may be as bad as each other, but that there is a chance that FIFA and/or UEFA can be reformed to be more egalitarian. It should go without saying that the biggest club competition in the world being directly managed by the likes of, say, Silvio Berlusconi or Florentino Perez would be beyond any notion of football other than a supplier/consumer relationship. It is not contradictory, for example, to believe that FIFA’s decision to schedule a round of international friendly matches at the start of August is a stupid decision, but still to believe that any big club-led break-away might be more damaging still to football in a general sense.

It should also be pointed out that the matter of objecting to the current batch of football club owners that will be agitating for such divisive action is nothing to do with nationality, rather it is about plutocracy. From an English perspective, for example, it seems inconceivable that, say, Ken Bates would not jump at the chance at such avarice if he were in a position to do so. It is, on balance, plausible to argue that foreign owners may be less concerns by ideas of history and tradition than others, but this is, in the overall scheme of things, probably irrelevant, because nationality is really not the point, here. Plutocrats go wherever the money is, and their loyalty is only to themselves. Which country they are from, how their name is spelt or what accent they speak with matters not a jot.

So, it’s not about nationalism or otherwise and, in spite of what you may hear and it’s not really about allegation of FIFA corruption (which will, in all likelihood, be masked in public discourse as “fitness for purpose”). This is about power, control and money. The formation of the Premier League, which is understood to be the break-away model that is being followed the most closely by those agitating for change, in 1992 created a hegemony that is unlikely to be seriously challenged in the forseeable future. The possibility  of a severance of tradition and heritage in the pursuit of raw, naked wealth should alarm all football supporters. This may prove to be a long battle indeed.

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    16 Comments

  1. A super league will never happen, here’s why:

    Big clubs like Man Utd, Arsenal, PSV, Milan…whoever…owe their status to their success and dominance of their domestic leagues.

    If they join a Super League and consistently come in the bottom half, they slowly start to lose that status. If Arsenal are bumping along the bottom of the league, how many people are going to pay £60/£70 a ticket to see them lose week after week?

    It’s a gamble, and one that they won’t take.

    Alex

    July 28, 2011

  2. Try as I might, I can’t see any reason for lower-league fans to shed any tears at the departure of half a dozen bloated sogenannte big clubs to a European Super League. Let a them go – and let football return to a slightly more egalitarian atmosphere, without shedloads of TV money, ridiculous wages and derisory celeb-focussed reporting in the juvenile press. Most football fans (as opposed to casual watchers or overseas couch potatoes) don’t give a flying one about the Big Four/Five/Six. They can go to the devil in their own way – if he happens to be in Europe, so much the better.

    We are in the mess we are currently in largely because the FL’s nerve failed it when SkyPrem was first invented. Had the League called the clubs’ bluff, SkyPrem would have been a failed experiment that died a noisy death a season or two after its inception. This time, the FA have to have the cojones to hold their nerve, let them go and expel them from *all* domestic competitions and let the rest of the League get on with it without them. Readjustment to the new financial reality without TV money will be a bit bumpy, for sure: but out of it all will come a saner League, and one that’s infinitely more fun to watch.

    Jim

    July 28, 2011

  3. Your only argument against this idea seems to be that the people who run the suspected clubs are not to be trusted. Well show me people who run and own clubs who are! Beyond this your position seems to amount to something along the lines of “it’s always been this way and it should always be so”. This is neither very persuasive nor particularly high-minded, the latter being something you seem to want to give the impression of being.

    Now as I look across the Atlantic Ocean I see a nation that runs it’s sports differently. Closed leagues are the norm. As I watch these sports, as I increasingly have in recent years, I have an appreciation that things can be done a different way without diluting the sporting aspect. It would do all people taking part in this discussion good to realise that things can be done in different ways and that, to put it bluntly, things do not always have to stay the same. If certain clubs were to form a super league so what? You have the choice to support it or ignore it. I doubt that the apparent greedy guts who run these clubs would back a loser. It is said by some that the league would attract no support or lose it quickly. Such comments are mere speculation. Again, the proof of the pudding is in the eating.

    But more than this, is anyone here really naive enough not to accept that things have moved on since people played in hob-nail boots and kicked a ball about with a shoelace in it? People said first the English Premier League and then the Champions League would kill football but neither has. In some top European Leagues they don’t even share the TV money out fairly but clubs don’t refuse to play those clubs who want a bigger share of the pie. No, the game carries on.

    I wish those who want to stop what amounts to a natural evolution of the organisation of the game would say what of substance is really wrong with such an idea. As a fan of football, and as someone who supports none of the clubs likely to be involved, I would rather welcome the development of a so-called super league and if some fat cats have to get rich because of it good for them. It’s not as if someone somewhere isn’t going to get rich off the back of football anyway (insert suitable name here) so why should the ordinary fan care which particular shyster it is?

    Andrew

    July 28, 2011

  4. “… it seems likely that there will be a vocal minority that will argue that, should they choose to break away, this should act as a formal act of a severance, and that these clubs should be summarily expelled from all competitions other than the one that they choose to break away in favour of.”

    Yep – count me in. Let the 20 clubs piss off – what they will no doubt choose to ignore is that no matter how “glamorous” the opposition in such a league might be, someone’s still going to finish last, and there’ll almost certainly be a group of teams every year engaged in mid-table mediocrity. Although no doubt every effort will be made to come up with a convoluted league structure to try and prevent this.

    To anyone who thinks this might actually be a good thing, two words: Peter Kenyon

    Dermot O'Dreary

    July 28, 2011

  5. As a Yank I can tell you that a closed league system with perennial cellar dwellers (and no promo/demo process) will quickly resort to the tried & true US playoff system with maybe 14 of 20 teams qualifying at season’s end. Best in league won’t really be a big deal; home field advantage is the meager benefit of season-long excellence.
    But, at least then the guys & gals at ESPN will understand the drill.

    Buckyball

    July 29, 2011

  6. “People said first the English Premier League and then the Champions League would kill football but neither has.”

    That may be your opinion Andrew but it certainly isn’t mine.

    Steve

    July 29, 2011

  7. @ Steve

    I appreciate that my view will not be universal. However, the millions who watch and attend both the EPL and UCL can hardly be ignored and neither can you deny such millions exist. There is no category called “true football fan” whose opinions matter more than so-called casual viewers.

    Esoteric arguments about the spirit of the game are all well and good but if that is your bag no one is stopping anyone supporting their local parks side.

    Perhaps Steve you should tell us just exactly what you think football should be all about and how any prospectve new competition infringes on this.

    Andrew

    July 29, 2011

  8. “It’s not as if someone somewhere isn’t going to get rich off the back of football anyway (insert suitable name here) so why should the ordinary fan care which particular shyster it is?”

    Well, if that’s not an argument for ‘that’s the way it’s always been so why shouldn’t it stay that way’ I don’t know what is.

    The shysters take the profits/assets/kudos/launder the money at will and at the expense of the clubs – sending them to their extinction if necessary. Fans at Pompey, Wrexham, Chester, Plymouth etc, etc. etc. will tell you what that feels like.

    It has nothing to do with a community coming together to support a club and all to do with pecuniary advantage and that’s OK?

    Hardly a high minded argument nor one without its own peculiar naivety.

    SjMaskell

    July 29, 2011

  9. @ sjmaskell

    You are right that the argument quoted could be taken to support the status quo. You are right that certain shysters have sent clubs to the wall (or very nearly so). But when you talk about “a community coming together to support a club and all to do with pecuniary advantage” you simply revert to the traditional living in the past argument that is common with folks who don’t seem able to accept that things change.

    I have no intention of being high-minded here. People who run football clubs aren’t saints nor are they ever likely to be. But I have yet to hear a coherent argument that explains how things like the EPL, the UCL or a new super league damage football as a whole. Indeed, it’s my belief that whatever the big boys do there will always be other teams and leagues we will be able to watch. Major League Baseball doesn’t stop there being minor leagues does it?

    Andrew

    July 29, 2011

  10. Football is about competition Andrew, not a breathless, no questions asked worship of money. We already have the wretched spectacle of players cavorting on the pitch for the achievement of finishing 4th as if it were something worth celebrating.

    You introduce the possibility of closed leagues for any new competition. Interesting use of the word “competition”.
    Consolidating which clubs will be able to call themselves “big” in perpetuity. An idea introduced some years ago by Berlusconi to save AC Milan the trouble of achieving Champions League qualification on the pitch.

    Chelsea wouldn’t have been within a million miles of being asked to take part in this competition even 10 years ago, let alone Manchester City. Nor would the current Liverpool team if it were based on merit. So where is this “natural evolution”?

    If the EPL and the CL are the successes you claim why are the clubs, even at the very top end with multi millions pouring in from every direction every year, making massive losses? They’ve already been presented with every advantage possible and still haven’t been able to make it pay but yes, let’s give them even more because things change.

    Steve

    July 29, 2011

  11. There is already a tight timetable that even Euro qualifications schedules are under question mark. Not to mention that South American players had no proper rest as often happens with African and European players when the have summer obligations. Uefa C. League is still on strong feet and I don not think there will be any kind of Super League in near future.

    Neos Marmaras

    July 29, 2011

  12. @ Steve

    You conflate an economic argument with a sporting one. Everyone would love a proper sporting competition where anyone can win. I support the last team to be promoted to the 1st Division and win it at the first time of asking (Nottingham Forest, 1978) so I know something about sporting competitions being about more than a few having a chance. What Forest did could not happen now. Does this mean that football as it is currently organised is no longer a competition? I say no. A competition remains a competiton just as long as the winner is not guaranteed. Now you can take two views on this: you could actually say that the Champions League is no longer a competition because who can compete with Barcalona? Or you could say that football remains a competition because the winner is never guaranteed from the start. And it isn’t. Competitions come in many shapes and sizes and I have quoted American sports as examples of a different way of doing things. As I watch these sports they still seem like a competition to me. In fact, in many ways they are much more sporting than football has ever been (draft picks anyone?) So, in short, I am saying there is more than one way of doing things whereas people like yourself are offering nothing positive and merely complaining.

    Things have already moved on ever since players started getting better paid in the 1960s. Some people, it seems, are still stuck in the past. When will these people have positive ideas rather than moans which seem largely based on jealousy?

    As to the debts, in some cases they aren’t debts (Chelsea and Man City, as two examples, don’t have debts – they are merely being bankrolled as the owners will never ask for the cash back). What has happened is that the financial model for footballing success has changed from what a club could afford based on income from it’s fanbase to a model of rich ownership and TV rights. Now that is a legitimate subject of discussion but in such a context don’t be surprised if the clubs fortunate to be at the top of the tree at this moment in time want the pie for themselves. You wouldn’t accept less wages from your boss so why should the clubs expect less than they think they can get?

    Andrew

    July 29, 2011

  13. while a large number of them are millions of pounds in debt, and they want a bigger slice of that pie.
    ————-

    Yes because its others fault some idiots pay what they do for the Andy Carolls of the world.

    We laugh at Arsenal but self restraint is hard to find in professional football. But it IS possible.

    ned flanders

    July 29, 2011

  14. Viewing professional sport as a business, the constant tendency of all owners is to reduce financial risk for their business and maximize revenue.

    Americans do it by creating closed franchising systems. If you’re in the system, you can never be kicked out except for breaking franchise rules or being endlessly inept at operating your business. And if you, the owner, are forced out, the franchise likely goes on forever – maybe in a new city.

    The EPL and many European leagues do it by allowing team investment/loans and tv money to flow disproportionately to clubs who are most celebrated. Once you are perceived by media, investors and casual fans as a big club, the odds are VERY long that you’ll ever leave the top tier. In short, the rich get richer. So, things stratify.

    To combine franchising with unbridled financing and we’re just one logical step from moving Superleague football franchises around the planet. Hello, Rollerball!! (1975 version)

    American franchises might seem more sporting to some but all the level playing field features are designed to contain costs and reduce business risk. Salary caps, player drafts, malleable game rules and team territories are not “pour le sport”.

    Buckyball

    July 30, 2011

  15. leaving this the way they are right now is onse side of the extreme, but making a break away euro league is at the othe side of said extreme, do something in the middle of that, like a euro league with relegation.

    joe

    August 10, 2011

  16. JE SUIS POUR UN SUPERLEAGUE AVEC 4 DIVISIONS A 80 CLUBS ET LES 4 PREMIERS QUALIFIES EN 1/8 FINALE 1/4 FINALE 1/2 FINALE AVEC ALLER-RETOUR ET LA FINALE MATCH UNIQUE SI PROLONGATION LE BUT EN OR SUPRIMER TIR AU BUT

    NUGUET

    June 10, 2012

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