The European Super League: How Professional Soccer Almost Died
by Rory Grant
It all started on April 18, 2021. Florentino Perez, chairman of one of the biggest soccer clubs in the world, Real Madrid, had announced the formation of the European Super League— a soccer competition with the best teams in the world. Along with Real Madrid, he announced that clubs Arsenal, Atletico Madrid, FC Barcelona, Chelsea, Juventus, Manchester City, Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur, Inter Milan, AC Milan, and Liverpool would all be joining, along with five clubs that would have to “earn their way up” to join the Super League for that season.
The Super League would split the teams into two groups of ten with the top three clubs from each group advancing to the quarterfinals. Those finishing fourth and fifth in their respective groups would be involved in a playoff to complete the quarterfinal slate. Each of the fifteen founding clubs would get a share of at least 3.5 billion euros ($4.2 billion).
However, the twelve (Perez had hoped to have fifteen founders so that the five clubs per season that had “earned their way up” would make twenty teams) clubs that founded the league would not face relegation. Relegation is where the three worst teams in a soccer league would be dismissed to the league below.
Perez’s idea was based on the idea of money. Perez said in an interview on El Chiringuito: “When you have no income other than TV money, the best way to increase revenue is to have more attractive games that fans from all over the world can see. So we came to a conclusion that instead of doing the Champions League we would do a Super League and we would be able to alleviate what was lost… At Real Madrid we had a budget of 800m and we finished with 700m. This year instead of 900m, let's see if we get 600m. In two seasons Real Madrid have lost 400m.”
To summarize what Perez is saying, with all of the spending a big club does along with the wages and other requirements to maintain the club and the stadium, Real Madrid spends a lot of money. However with the pandemic, they aren’t making as much money and in fact they are losing money because they aren’t getting the cash from the ticket sales for their games. They are stuck relying on money from TV sponsorships.
Soon after the Super League was announced, fan backlash started almost immediately. They felt betrayed by the club owners who signed up for the Super League without them knowing. Not even the players and the managers of the teams competing knew about this. Jurgen Klopp, manager of Liverpool said during a postgame interview for Sky Sports, “I heard for the first time about it yesterday. I was trying to prepare for a difficult game.” UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin, along with FIFA had threatened that players on these Super League teams would be banned from international competitions such as the Euros and the World Cup.
The fans protested and they did it in numbers. They protested outside Chelsea’s stadium Stamford Bridge for hours and outside Chelsea’s team hotel where they were currently staying due to coronavirus rules. They forced Chelsea’s match against Brighton and Hove Albion to be postponed. A few days later another protest happened at Old Trafford, home of Manchester United.
About an hour or two after the Chelsea protests began, Chelsea announced they had begun the legal work to leave the Super League. Right after that, Manchester City announced that they had left the league too and within the coming days, nine out of the twelve teams had left the league. Only three teams have not resigned (as of May 27, 2021): Juventus, FC Barcelona, and Real Madrid.
The repercussions for this have been large. The clubs that left the Super League have been forced to sign a “Club Commitment Declaration” which would fine them 100 million pounds if they tried to do something like that again. They also were allowed to rejoin the European Club Association, but would face a 50 million pound penalty if they attempted to leave again while also making a 15 million pound donation towards developing football. The Manchester United owners have, according to The Athletic, agreed to pay the entirety of that sum.
However, the league has left a bigger stain on the owners. Club owners, especially the English Big 6, have been pressured by fans to sell the teams. Manchester United fans had protested in their own stadium to try to get their owners, The Glazer Family, to sell the team. Spotify Founder Daniel Ek reportedly tried to buy Arsenal from The Kroenkes but has said his bid was turned down.
People are also pushing for the 50+1 rule which is already in place in the Bundesliga, the top German soccer league. The 50+1 rule states that in order to obtain a license to compete in the league, a club must hold a majority of its own voting rights. The rule is designed to ensure that the club's members retain overall control, by way of owning 50% of shares, +1 share, protecting clubs from the influence of external investors. A petition led by Mark Goldbridge and The United Stand has reached 50,000 signatures requiring parliament to vote on this bill in England.
My Take On This
After 48 hours of madness, football has started to calm down. But this saga has released something not seen in soccer in a long time — anger.
We’ve seen the anger reveal the ownership's true greed. The biggest and best clubs, so desperate for more money, went against their fanbase entirely without any consent. What makes this even worse is the fact that some of the clubs didn’t need the money at all. Manchester City is owned by Sheik Mansor, who has a family fortune of over $1 trillion dollars!
Secondly, there is no competition. The league would play in an MLS style tournament where there are two conferences. The teams would only really be playing the teams in their own conference. Then, the top three or four teams from each conference would then go into a playoff round to decide who the champion is. This means that in your conference, you could go undefeated, win every game and place top of your conference, go to the playoffs and have one bad game and bam, you’ve won NOTHING. The whole season was a waste of time. And what did you get for your effort, maybe an extra few tens of millions of dollars for the owners?
Adding on to this, you can’t lose. A team can lose every game it plays but who cares, you still are in the league—you can’t be relegated. One of the biggest reasons to win is not just the glory of victory, but the relief of escaping defeat. Take away defeat, and victory has less meaning. And finally, the clubs. Big matches are exciting and that’s part of what this league would be, big matches every single match. However, when it happens every day, it loses its specialty. It would be cool and all but after about five or six times, it becomes average and the matches become less exciting.