The European Super League is back, or so its champions would like us to think.
Was there a football story which received more mainstream coverage in the last twelve months than the birth and death of the Super League? Even huge transfer news, such as Messi to PSG or Ronaldo back to Manchester United, didn’t quite have the same impact as the extent to which the Super League riled up everyone who knew even a little bit about football.
SPORTBible last week published an article which claimed the clubs that had spearheaded the breakaway earlier this year were at it again —– but with plans to expand the competition and a greater sense of equality, which the competition’s critics felt had been severely lacking.
To give some brief context, the Super League came into being on 18 April 2021, when ten teams from Spain, England and Italy joined forces to create a new breakaway competition. They cited their opposition to the upcoming changes to the Champions League and the financial issues brought about by the pandemic as key reasons for its creation. It lasted a grand total of about 48 hours before the withdrawal of the English clubs, one by one, precipitated its collapse.
The premise of the competition was simple. Twelve teams with guaranteed places each season, in and out, no threat of elimination or failure to qualify; any other places would be decided via knockouts. To many it resembled the franchises of the American NFL, where the clubs’ owners can really only profit from their investments —– maybe not a coincidence given the nationalities of a few of the involved clubs’ owners.
From the outset, it was clear how much the new plans were structured around financial benefit for the teams involved. The combination of sponsorship, prize money, and broadcast rights and deals would generate hundreds of millions of pounds for clubs already facing severe debt, or in need of cash after the absence of fans in stadiums due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Since its demise, the president of Real Madrid, Florentino Perez, has continued to fight his corner and sing the competition’s praises. But the fundamental problem with the Super League was the fact that it was a closed shop. Manchester City’s manager Pep Guardiola phrased it well when he said that a sport is not a sport when one’s success is a guarantee.
The appeal of football, throughout the ages, for all the generations of fans who have flocked through the gates year after year to support their teams, has been the unpredictability, the rises and the falls.
We only need to cast our minds back five years to recall one of the biggest recent upsets in the guise of Leicester City’s Premier League victory.
Could that have happened within a league that coexisted alongside something like the Super League? If six teams —– chosen almost arbitrarily based upon prestige, past success, and owner wealth —– receive an extortionately more income than their league rivals? The answer is simple – no. This is why the Super League was such a fundamental threat to the pyramidal nature of football itself.
Why the Super League received the amount of mainstream coverage —– and even why we are still talking about it to this day —– is a complex issue; the BBC had to defend the amount of airtime it gave its sports journalists covering the issue. The conversation took different forms in the UK than in Spain or Italy.
Football, as the national sport, is a defining aspect of British culture, something present at all levels of society, across the UK. This can breed negative repercussions —– we only need look to the Euros this summer past to see football hooliganism exhibited in the abhorrent racist abuse directed at England players, perhaps a product of the association between nationalism and sport in recent years.
But ultimately, football unites, pulls together communities, and provides opportunity. From the pitch to the commentary booth to social media, it presents role models who strive for social justice and an end to mass inequalities.
Players such as Marcus Rashford and Raheem Sterling have spoken of their working-class families and the opportunities football gave them when other routes were shut off. To simply dismiss football as a sport is to overlook its cultural impact. Now, compare stories like these against the lucrative numbers of the Super League.
The new and revamped plans apparently involve an expansion of the number of teams —– and a drastic one at that. Fourteen-odd teams would become 140 teams, from a wider range of countries and leagues, with equal shares of participatory money. Excessive? The reaction has been just so.
So, could the plans come back? Instinctively —– and how I hope things will turn out this way —– no. Iinflating the numbers of teams involved to 140 seems simultaneously placatory and excessive. Please, on behalf of football and the beautiful game, – rest in peace, Super League.