The proposed creation of an erupting European Super League of 12 major football clubs on Monday provoked a ray of outrage from the football and political worlds – as well as questions in England about how “super” four of these teams have turned out to be this season, disappearing outside the Champions League League zones.
For many football fans, the European Super League is the ugly apotheosis of the commercialization of the game – which has been snowballing since broadcaster Sky paid a then shocking £ 191 million in 1992 for the rights to watch English Premier League matches in the UK for five years. .
“The Super League has always been inevitable,” tweeted Guardian football writer Barney Ronay. “It turns out that these very rich, ruthless people did not buy your club because they love heritage, ancient stories and social sports.”
The 12 clubs – England’s Chelsea, Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham; Spain’s Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid; and Italy’s Juventus, Inter Milan and AC Milan – stand to reap colossal financial gains. Each club will receive a one-time drop of 3.5 billion euros just to sign up. As listed companies, Manchester United and Juventus’ share prices jumped on Monday. JP Morgan confirmed that it is financing the deal.
Most of the clubs have accumulated high debts and salary bills while the lack of spectators during the Covid-19 pandemic has affected the income from the match day.
“I think there are two things at stake here: one is greed and the other is desperation,” ex-FA and Manchester City chairman David Bernstein told the BBC. “One of the things they have not done during the pandemic is to introduce some form of wage control. They have ended up in a difficult situation. ”
Ronay had a different interpretation of the impact of empty stadiums, claiming that the “last press” for a Super League had been last year – with the owners thinking: “Are we still looking at the people who keep turning up on the ground and maybe complaining? Actually not really no! ”
Cue apoplectic reactions from both the football world and political leaders. Gary Neville – former Manchester United captain and a giant of English football commentator – paralyzed the Super League plans as “pure greed” on Sky Sports. “It’s an absolute shame,” he continued. “We have to break back the power in this country from the clubs at the top of this league – and that includes my club.”
The plan is a “war on football”, added Neville’s former Red Devils teammate Rio Ferdinand on BT Sport, which contributed to the driving of excoriation from former gaming giants.
The Super League plans would “strike at the heart of the domestic game”, tweeted Boris Johnson. The British government will “support the football authorities to take action” against it, the Prime Minister continued. Emmanuel Macron sees the Super League as a “threat to the principles of solidarity and sporting merit”, the French presidential office told Agence France-Presse.
Four “big sex” disappointments
In fact, a perceived lack of sporting merit is what many English critics think is so crazy about the Super League – given how the current Premier League season has developed. With one month left, Leicester and West Ham are third and fourth respectively. As it now stands, the two clubs are set to break the monopoly on the “big six” – who all signed up for the Super League – in the four Champions League places for the first time since Leicester’s surprise run to win the Premiership title in 2015-16.
Liverpool this season have been far from the unchanging power stations that stormed to the title 2019-20 with a huge 18-point lead over Manchester City. Jurgen Klopp’s side have shown lightning of that skill, for example their 7-0 demolition of Crystal Palace in December. But all too often, mistakes and mishaps have marked their achievements this season, as their formidable attacking machine has worked – despite the undoubted genius of the talismanic striker Mohamed Salah. Their astonishing 7-2 defeat in the middle of the table Aston Villa in October exemplified this fall from grace. The Reds are currently sixth in the league.
Arsenal in the European Super League play an absolute blind here
– Jonathan Liew (@jonathanliew) April 18, 2021
Liverpool are not alone in this season’s Premier League disappointments. After spending more than £ 200m in the transfer window, Chelsea started in sparkling form – topping the table in December. The new year saw only two wins in eight league games; the Blues dropped to ninth place. Legendary former player Frank Lampard was sacked on January 25 – replaced by former PSG boss Thomas Tuchel the next day. Chelsea are now in fifth place, one point behind West Ham, after returning to form. But an embarrassing 5-2 defeat to West Brom in early April revealed their inconsistent quality at the moment.
Chelsea’s London team-mates Tottenham are in seventh place – placing them for a place next season in the play-offs for UEFA’s new tertiary competition Europa Conference League; hardly a prestigious praise. Consequently, their manager Jose Mourinho was fired on Monday after losing ten league games in a season for the first time in his once glittering career. But it was a European defeat that gave the longest cry from the big phrase “Super League”: In March, Spurs threw a 2-0 advantage in the Europa League last 16s and lost 3-0 in the second round to Croatia’s Dinamo Zagreb .
Arsenal’s claim to “Super League” status looks even tougher. The sometimes majestic performances of the early Arsène Wenger era – which saw a top record in English with 49 unbeaten matches between 2003 and 2004 – departed along with legendary striker Thierry Henry in 2007. The longtime manager’s distinctive tactics – focused on midfield passing – degenerated into a parody of themselves. Wenger’s retirement in 2018 did not return Arsenal to form; they have still not qualified for the Champions League since 2016-17 and finished eighth last season.
The Gunners are currently ninth in the league – qualifying them for nothing. “Arsenal in the European Super League are playing an absolute blind here,” Guardian sportswriter Jonathan Liew tweeted about their drowsy 1-1 draw at home to relegation-threatened Fulham on Sunday.
This party believes they can sweep up £ 300 million more each season than the other teams and then walk back on a Saturday and play with that advantage in the PL. Deduction points, large fines and embargo transfers. I hope they have not bought any of the other 14 clubs. #stopthesuperleague
– Gary Neville (@ GNev2) April 19, 2021
Hence the commentators’ anger over the prospect of the Super League tipping the pitch against rebels like Leicester and West Ham by pumping even more money into the big six – who are already benefiting from lucrative international fan bases. “This party thinks they can sweep up 300 million pounds more each season than the other teams and then walk back on a Saturday and play with that advantage in the PL,” Neville tweeted. “Deduction points, heavy fines and embargo transfers,” he urged.
To some extent, it is a similar story in Italy – as Atalanta’s 1-0 victory against Juventus on Sunday shows. The Bergamo-based promotions are in third place, two points ahead of the fourth-placed Torinese giants – who have played as a bad shadow of the hegemonic Juventus who drove to nine consecutive titles last season.
Atlanta failed to make an impression on the international stage for most of its 114-year history – until they finished third in the 2018-19 Serie A season, ahead of the big interests Inter Milan and AC Milan. Atalanta noted the same position in 2019-2020 – reached their apotheosis in their 5-0 trashing of AC Milan.
As is the case with Leicester and West Ham, Atalanta’s performances on the pitch have surpassed their commercial position thanks to skilful tactics, wise transfer market movements and the cultivation of emerging talent. It was a similar story with Napoli – the terrifying club from the Mezzogiorno that first became prominent in their Diego Maradona-driven 1980s heyday, spent two decades in hiding before their 2010 rebirth as a powerhouse for Italian football and came in second place in 2015 – 16 and 2017-18.
If the European Super League comes into being, it remains to be seen whether that approach will enable the emergence of the next parvenus in English, Italian or Spanish football. As Neville noted, with huge inflows of cash to football’s big clubs – including underperformers such as Tottenham and Arsenal – the Super League would tip the playing field against those such as Leicester and Atalanta, for whom smart management has so far compensated for the lack of colossal budgets.