The European Super League: Hoist By Its Own Petard

by | Apr 26, 2021

You would like to think that Jose Mourinho was sacked by Daniel Levy on Monday for telling the Tottenham Hotspur chairman to stick his European Super League up his arse. Diagonally. Because sacking a manager and his entire coaching staff six days before a Wembley cup final doesn’t tell me “planned transition of power.”

But the not-so-special-one-anymore’s departure was reportedly unlinked to the “failed Super League,” to give it its current title. Indeed, the putative competition, which defined Europe as England, Spain, Italy and…er…that’s it…, was such a big-money, vanity-driven affair that I half-expected Mourinho to be a director. So the idea that he and Levy swapped fcuk-offs over anything but Spurs being boring sh*te, was surely fanciful.

It may also be fanciful to claim that “fan power” forced the six Premier League (EPL) clubs to withdraw from the Super League (SL). This speedy reverse barely gave the “When Saturday Comes” magazine a chance to market their “Stuff your Super League” t-shirt re-issue, based on its original logo from…ulp…1986. But it seems unlikely that Chelsea chairman Bruce Buck saw the “Buck your Super League” placards outside Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge ground on Tuesday evening and thought “mmm…since you put it like that…”

Fans’ actions probably brought “reputational damage” into Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich’s thinking. Evidence suggests, however, that the Americans who have been driving for “closed league” since they arrived in EPL boardrooms had no fcuks to give about that. Uefa’s and Fifa’s insistence that SL protagonists would be barred from its competitions were surely a greater influence.

Because moral arguments have never and will never cut any ice with these charlatans, as starkly demonstrated by one of the most chilling paragraphs I’ve ever read in a football report (and I’ve written plenty myself, so the bar is NOT low). A Guardian newspaper piece labelled SL general secretary Anas Laghari, “a partner at the Madrid bank Key Capital,” as “the Spanish banker” (not thought to be rhyming slang) “who created the controversial new (league).”

And an interview Laghari gave Tuesday’s “Le Parisien” newspaper contained these soul-crushing sentiments: “Laghari said there was ‘real frustration’ among the billionaire owners of Europe’s biggest clubs over the unpredictability of the game’s current ‘unstable system’ based on a club’s results in the Champions League. ‘A manager makes a three-year plan but he can have a difference of several hundred million euros depending on his results,’ he added.” When someone so wilfully misunderstands, and cares nothing for, the concept of sport, what use is morality?

Independent newspaper political sketch writer Tom Peck knew this. “What power does the fan have? A bit, perhaps, but not much,” he asked and answered this week, forecasting the SL’s derailment “by the overarching greed and arrogance of those involved.” Peck analogised with Brexit too much, betraying his political writer status. And likening “Putin and Xi Jinping” to “Mike Ashley and the Glazers” could be actionable in other contexts, though I’m unsure who’d sue. But the piece is a realpolitik masterclass. And the (few) details of the SL plans show how “greed and arrogance” doomed it long before anyone rhymed B*ck with f*ck.

Surprisingly, the SL was NOT designed as a “breakaway.” It’s four guiding principles (below “making as much money as possible”) included a “commitment to domestic leagues.” An SL document the Guardian newspaper “discovered in the hidden code of its new website,” declared that the founding clubs (a phrase giving them unwarranted gravitas) would “continue to compete each weekend in our national competitions as we always have.”

And this specific overarching arrogance still matters, as calls grow for the six to be sanctioned. Because, again, morality isn’t relevant. Morally, they should be relegated. But they will surely need to have broken some rules, unless authorities’ decision-making mechanisms have discretion to satisfy the understandable metaphorical bloodlust. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s witless pledge to “drop a legislative bomb to stop it,” was equally dubious. If the six haven’t broken any rules, make some up? Populist trash from a trash populist.

The SL drivers had also – predictably, given their nature – assumed Uefa/Fifa co-operation once money talked. “We are talking about €400m,” Laghari told Le Parisien, “which is huge,” and, the unpublished SL document claimed, “more than three times higher than payments coming from the current European Championship,” (presumably the Champions League). The document added that an ironically-entitled “solidarity committee” would “supervise the distribution of funds” for “re-investment into the football pyramid.”

But with Uefa president Aleksander Ceferin a ferocious SL opponent from the get-go, this was pipe-dreaming. Uefa revealed an implacable SL opposition on Sunday, in a joint statement with the three affected national leagues, declaring “all measures, both political and sporting” to be on the strangle-the-league-at-birth table. And Ceferin’s “snakes and liars” diatribe on Monday crushed all the hopes the founding clubs had of “discussions” around working “in partnership” with “Uefa and Fifa…to deliver the best outcomes” for themselves and “football as a whole.”

Ceferin declared universal unity against the “disgraceful, self-serving…nonsense of a project…fuelled by greed above all else.” He confirmed, having reportedly consulted Fifa president Gianni Infantino (whose patronage sealed Ceferin’s election as Uefa chief), that “players…in the closed league will be banned from the World Cup and Euros.” The liars were near-future-ex-Man Yoo executive vice-chair Ed Woodward and Juventus chair and SL vice-chair Andreas Agnelli (“I’ve never seen a person that would lie so persistently”). The “snakes” were un-named but “close to us.” Cross, he was.

And that did for this Super League, which, on Sunday, looked far beyond the breakaway threatened by Europe’s major clubs during financial talks with Uefa since 1998. These threats have one Wikipedia page between them. Sunday’s league has its own page. Its press release appeared to outline the upshot of financial talks with Uefa. If, as the release stated, the league was to have “an August start,” all legal and financial issues were surely resolved. Fatally, they were not.

So, yes, the unity and eloquence among fans, players, some managers and media was, and remains, magnificent. But when “A win for fans that changes the game” screamed out off the front page of Thursday’s ‘i’ paper, I screamed back. Because, anti-SL campaigners were pushing at a door opened by Uefa, Ceferin and the SL’s intrinsic flaws.

On Tuesday evening, BBC Five Live Sport’s presenter Steve Crossman wondered “how big a role” the 1,000 Chelsea fans protesting outside Stamford Bridge “has played in the decision” to pull the club from the SL, implying that the gathering might have influenced the decision, as “it was that big that there’s no way they could have failed to notice.” Yet Pat Nevin said moments later, he’d never “been particularly angry about this because I never thought it was going to happen.”

It needs acknowledging, then, that while every subsequent disavowal of the project, from financial backers JP Morgan Chase down, suggests that this SL might have collapsed without Uefa’s and Ceferin’s stance, it was certainly collapsed BY their stance. They had bigger hands on more purse strings than fans possibly ever will. And money will always trump morals when billionaire club owners have a “real frustration” over a club’s success being “based on a club’s results.”