Politics

What Is The European Super League And Why Is Everyone So Angry About It?

Monday’s headlines have been dominated by the decision of 12 top European football clubs to launch a breakaway “Super League” – including six British sides.

Sounds like a fun idea, right? Not exactly: it has ignited a bitter battle for control of the game and its lucrative revenue and sparking outrage and disgust among fans.

The move sets up a rival to UEFA’s established Champions League competition, currently the top European league, and was condemned by football authorities and political leaders.

Manchester United, Real Madrid and Juventus are among the leading members of the new competition but UEFA has threatened to ban them from its own domestic and international competitions in retaliation.

How on earth could something as seemingly anodyne as a new football competition spark such widespread fury? Read on.

How big a deal is this?

Pretty huge. It’s already reached the highest levels of the UK government.

The plans will be discussed in the Commons on Monday after Boris Johnson warned against the “very damaging” change.

What’s the actual plan?

The Super League said it would eventually aim to secure 15 founding members, with five other clubs qualifying each season to make the number up to 20.

Premier League clubs Manchester United, Liverpool, Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur have signed up to the plans.

Barcelona and Atletico Madrid from Spain join Real. AC Milan and Inter Milan make up the trio from Italy along with Juventus.

The clubs would share a fund of €3.5bn (£3.03bn) to spend on infrastructure projects and to deal with the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. The money would not be available to spend on players.

The League said it would make “solidarity payments” to the rest of European football that would exceed those currently offered by UEFA and which “are expected to be in excess of €10bn [£8.66bn]” over the 23-year commitment period the clubs have entered into.

“We will help football at every level and take it to its rightful place in the world. Football is the only global sport in the world with more than four billion fans and our responsibility as big clubs is to respond to their desires,” said Real Madrid president Florentino Perez, the first chair of the Super League.

No German or French clubs have so far been associated with the breakaway.

Why is this so divisive? 

While the organisers claim it will generate more money than the Champions League that will result in a greater distribution of revenue throughout the game, critics argue it will create a “closed franchise” of “elite clubs”.

In short, the new setup will guarantee clubs a place in the League regardless of their performance, while making it harder for other clubs to break through. That means removing the peril and uncertainty that currently makes it so exciting to watch the world’s biggest clubs, as well keeping smaller teams down, none of which sounds very sportsmanlike.

Damian Collins MP, the former chair of the digital, culture, media and sport select committee, said: “The idea of creating a closed franchise league of elite football clubs must be stopped.

“This is a self-serving proposal by a small number of clubs seeking to maximise their revenues from the global audience of football, and to the detriment of everyone else.”

The controversial plans have sparked criticism from fan groups, too, who are united in their opposition and feel the move is based on financial gain and “represents the death of everything that football should be about”.

The timing of the statement is incendiary, too, coming ahead of an anticipated announcement from UEFA confirming changes to the Champions League format on Monday.

What’s behind the decision?

A love and respect for the fans and spirit of the greatest game on earth? Only joking – it’s all about money, apparently. 

Former Football Association and Manchester City chair David Bernstein said he believes there are two driving factors attracting clubs to the Super League, adding: “I think there are two things in play here: one is greed and the other is desperation.

“And it’s because some of these clubs have incurred enormous debt. I believe certainly Barcelona and Real Madrid, and I think at least one of the English clubs, are approaching £1bn of debt.

“I think they’re in a desperate situation. One of the things they haven’t done during the pandemic is to impose some sort of wages control. They’ve got themselves into a bit of a predicament.”

What do the fans think?

Fan groups from all the clubs involved have expressed disgust at the move.

The Tottenham Hotspur Supporters’ Trust said it was “deeply concerned” at their club’s involvement while Arsenal’s Supporters’ Trust described it on Twitter as “the death of the club as a sporting institution”.

“Along with fan groups at Liverpool, Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal and Chelsea, we wholeheartedly oppose the move to create a closed shop for Europe’s elite.”

The Supporters’ Trust said a poll of its members in 2019 found that 81% were against Tottenham joining a Super League with only 3% agreeing.

In statement the Chelsea Supporters’ Trust (CST) said: “Our members and football supporters across the world have experienced the ultimate betrayal.

“This is a decision of greed to line the pockets of those at the top and it has been made with no consideration for the loyal supporters, our history, our future and the future of football in this country.

“This is unforgivable. Enough is enough.”

Former players have expressed similar sentiments, with Ian Wright describing it as “absolutely shameful”.

World soccer’s governing body FIFA expressed its “disapproval to a ‘closed European breakaway league’ outside of the international football structures”.

What about the Champions League?

The announcement came just hours before UEFA is due to sign off on its own plans for an expanded and restructured 36-team Champions League on Monday.

UEFA issued a strong statement jointly with English, Spanish and Italian leagues and football federations, saying they were ready to use “all measures” to confront any breakaway and saying any participating clubs would be banned from domestic leagues, such as the Premier League.

“The clubs concerned will be banned from playing in any other competition at domestic, European or world level, and their players could be denied the opportunity to represent their national teams,” UEFA said.

“We thank those clubs in other countries, especially the French and German clubs, who have refused to sign up to this. We call on all lovers of football, supporters and politicians, to join us in fighting against such a project if it were to be announced.

“This persistent self-interest of a few has been going on for too long. Enough is enough.”

Will it work?

Former Football Association chair Greg Dyke doesn’t expect the project to get off the ground because of the widespread opposition.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme: “I don’t think it will happen. I think it’s a game that’s going on. But I don’t think it’s good for football in any way at all. Without the approval of UEFA, but particularly without the approval of FIFA, I think this is very difficult to make this happen.

“I think it’s a big mistake. And I think the opposition to it – which has come from almost everywhere, I haven’t heard anybody in favour yet – will probably stop it.”

What happens next?

The new European Super League Company revealed it has already launched legal action to try to prevent retaliatory moves amid widespread condemnation of the plans.

The PA news agency understands that Manchester United executive vice chairman Ed Woodward has stepped down from his UEFA role, where he was on the Professional Football Strategy Council, while the club have also quit the European Club Association.




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