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Friday, June 18, 2021

The rapid rise and fall of the European Super League

The announcement of the Super League led to a critical period of European soccer

In the span of a week, European soccer’s proposed Super League came and went. The proposed new league caused an uproar from both the fans and former players, as this move was threatening to European soccer as a whole. While the saga is not completely over yet, trying to unravel the timeline and what would have happened if it went through requires a deep dive into the finances and politics of European soccer. 

On April 18, 12 of European soccer’s biggest teams issued a statement that announced their plans to begin the Super League. After feeling unsatisfied with the Union of European Football Associations’ (UEFA) expansion of the Champions League tournament, the 12 teams—Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Tottenham, AC Milan, Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Inter Milan, Juventus and Real Madrid—decided to go their own route and make a new annual men’s and women’s 20-team tournament that would rival it. 

“The formation of the Super League comes at a time when the global pandemic has accelerated the instability in the existing European football economic model,” the statement said. “Further, for a number of years, the Founding Clubs have had the objective of improving the quality and intensity of existing European competitions throughout each season, and of creating a format for top clubs and players to compete on a regular basis.”

Not only was this league a response to European soccer’s shaky financial state, but by playing a yearly tournament with other elite teams, the clubs would be able to recover from the losses brought by this pandemic. Although high-level matches would look great on paper, this announcement was met with backlash from the leagues and the governing body of soccer due to its exclusion and disregard for the sport’s history. UEFA and its leagues issued a joint statement following the announcement and stood together in opposition of the new proposed league. 

“If this were to happen, we wish to reiterate that we—UEFA, the English FA, RFEF, FIGC, the Premier League, LaLiga, Lega Serie A but also FIFA and all our member associations—will remain united in our efforts to stop this cynical project, a project that is founded on the self-interest of a few clubs at a time when society needs solidarity more than ever,” the statement said. “We will consider all measures available to us, at all levels, both judicial and sporting, in order to prevent this happening. Football is based on open competitions and sporting merit; it cannot be any other way.” 

It’s a difficult topic to unwind due to the nature of European football. In its current form, all teams get a slice of the yearly earnings, with the winner receiving the most. Although the more successful clubs do earn more, they have felt unsatisfied with the cut that they have been getting. The rising costs of transfers coupled with COVID-19 has put many of these elite clubs in a tough financial situation. In this new closed competition setup, the teams would be backed by investment bank JP Morgan—which would fund €4.3 billion in debt financing to set everything up—and be able to share the large revenue sums among themselves rather than with all the other teams. Although this would give these 20 teams a road to financial stability, the problem with the proposed idea is that it leaves out hundreds of other teams across Europe that are already struggling and eliminates the infrastructure that the sport has had for its entire history.

The way soccer is set up in most of the world allows teams to build themselves up over time and work their way towards the top. All honors and ability to participate in continent-wide tournaments is based on performance. The Super League would effectively eliminate that, strip the Champions League of its aura and give European soccer a more corporate and business approach—which is why UEFA decided to take drastic measures.

“[The teams involved] will not be able to represent their national teams at any matches,” UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin said the day after. “UEFA and the footballing world stand united against the disgraceful self-serving proposal we have seen in the last 24 hours from a select few clubs in Europe that are fueled purely by greed above all else.”

The original plan was for the Super League to be a mid-week tournament that would replace the usual Champions League. The leaders of the new league planned to meet with UEFA and FIFA to discuss how they would set it up together, but they were having none of it. In addition to banning players involved from representing their respective national teams in events like the World Cup, those teams would also be barred from competing in their domestic leagues, leaving them with nowhere to go. 

“This so-called ‘Super League’ is anything but ‘super,’” tweeted retired Portugal star Luis Figo. “This greedy and callous move would spell disaster for our grassroots, for women’s football and the wider football community only to serve self-interested owners, who stopped caring about their fans long ago, and complete disregard for sporting merit. Tragic.”

The vast majority of the criticism was directed towards those in charge, as they were being accused of being greedy. In a matter of days following the criticism, the original 12 teams began to withdraw from the tournament. Strictly from a financial standpoint, this proposed league would make sense for Europe’s top clubs. But the longstanding tradition of the sport, the disregard for all other teams and the way the clubs looked greedy caused the rapid fall. The 12 clubs were met with uproar and protests as a result, and the relationship between them and their fans may take some time to recover. This European Super League drama is not over according to some of those in charge, but for the moment, the governing bodies will continue to look for ways to help the financial situation.

While it is expected that these teams will receive punishment for joining the league, the loss of respect is something that they will have to battle to get back. There is a bit of irony when it comes to FIFA’s response to the matter, as their history of corruption and neglect has led them to this point. Conversations will continue to try and find a resolution for the current economy of European soccer. Those in charge have now seen how serious it could get if they stand put and do close to nothing like they’ve been doing so far. Although the European Super League did not succeed this time, there is much work left to be done by UEFA to prevent something like this from happening again.
Written by: Omar Navarro — sports@theaggie.org

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