Breaking news shook the European football world on Sunday, April 18 when the boards of 12 prestigious clubs — Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur, Atlético Madrid, Barcelona, Real Madrid, AC Milan, Inter Milan and Juventus — announced that they were forming a breakaway European Super League (ESL).
The new league, led by Real Madrid President Florentino Pérez, was meant to be an alternative to the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) Champions League (UCL) that would generate nearly three times as much money for the clubs as the UCL. Participating clubs were set to receive an initial €3.5 billion, with the winner of the league earning approximately €400 million. This is between three and four times as much as the current UCL winner prize money.
The competition was planned to center around 20 clubs. The 12 founding clubs (plus three more founding clubs) would have unrestricted entry into the competition every year, regardless of poor performances in their respective domestic leagues. An additional five clubs would be invited to join the competition each year, selected based on their domestic achievements of the prior season.
Why it’s a bad idea
The announcement immediately sparked outrage across Europe and the world, with fans, commentators, government leaders, domestic leagues, players and managers (including those of the 12 clubs) all speaking out against the project. UEFA and FIFA threatened to ban ESL players from participating in the upcoming European Championship and World Cup.
Criticism was especially prevalent in England, football’s home country, which maintains extremely competitive leagues across its robust football pyramid. Both the royal family and the British prime minister condemned the project. Fans of the six English Premier League participant teams, as well as fans of other English clubs, protested and marched through the streets of their cities and in front of their football clubs.
Their aim was to show their disdain for a Super League that is anything but super.
The proposed system goes against everything that football is meant to stand for: meritocracy, mobility and humility. The emotions and passion that come from qualification, promotion, regelation and the like cannot be bought, but the proposed ESL is a system that does away with all of this. The basis of qualification for 75% of the teams is simply money.
There is no hope for smaller clubs that aim to become giants or play with giants. The proposed league eliminates the very essence of feats like non-favorites winning the Premier League (like Leicester City in 2016) or legitimately vying for a top-four UCL spot (like West Ham United this year).
Additionally, the announcement of a multi-billion dollar project amid a global pandemic in which most people are struggling financially is truly insensitive. However, the timing was strategic, as the ESL wanted to get ahead of the curve and announce the league ahead of UEFA’s changes to the UCL model.
The project was motivated by greed and a thirst for power. The UCL, and UEFA more broadly, certainly have problems of their own — and large ones at that — but an elitist and exclusive Super League that eliminates the fundamental football principle of merit does not eliminate problems; rather, it amplifies them.
What’s to come
As of April 21, all six English Premier League clubs, as well as Atlético Madrid, AC Milan and Inter Milan, have begun procedures to withdraw from the ESL. With only Real Madrid, Barcelona and Juventus left, the Super League has been suspended less than 72 hours after its conception. The halt demonstrates the power of football fans’ voices, as well as their commitment to a system that rewards effort and results rather than just wealth — one that inspires grassroots football around the world and fuels mobility across leagues and divisions.
Whether the 12 aforementioned clubs will be punished for their actions remains to be seen, but surely the ESL will have to permanently disband, even if the remaining three clubs refuse to withdraw. In the eyes of football fans across the world, this would be viewed as a win.