Culture and Lifestyle

Soccer War: European Super League Vs UEFA

World football is in a limbo following the recent announcement of a breakaway Super League which will feature Europe’s biggest clubs. The biggest teams are to break off and form their own separate “Super League” in a move that has received widespread backlash.

Renowned football platform, Goal, noted that the Super League would involve twenty clubs, with fifteen permanent teams, called the “founding clubs”, and five guest teams who will be selected for involvement each season based on the results of their previous domestic seasons. Unlike the local leagues, the 15 permanent clubs would be immune to relegation and therefore guaranteed spots in the Super League permanently. Founding clubs are being enticed with a share of a £3.5bn grant provided by the investment bank JP Morgan.

Premier League top guns, Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, and Tottenham agreed to join the new league. The move was however criticised by football authorities and government ministers in the UK. The UK government said it was prepared “to put everything on the table to prevent this from happening”. According to the UK Prime Minister, Borris Johnson, a super league would be “very damaging for football and we support football authorities in taking action.”

France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, said the country would support “all the steps” taken by football’s governing bodies to defend the existing competitions. As for Liverpool’s manager, Jurgen Klopp, he said he didn’t agree with the move and that the club’s players were not consulted.

The European Clubs Association (ECA), issued a statement which said they will keep on working with UEFA for a revamped Champions League as opposed to a Super League.

Real Madrid is one of the 12 European clubs who signed up to the breakaway league and intend to establish a new midweek competition. Others are Barcelona; and Serie A giants, Inter Milan, Juventus, and AC Milan. Paris Saint-Germain, Bayern, and Borussia Dortmund were approached to complement the fifteen founding teams, but all turned down the offer.

Although Real Madrid President Florentino Perez said the move had been made because young people were “no longer interested in football” because of “a lot of poor quality games”, he didn’t fail to acknowledge that the top teams were losing money and that big-name matches would help increase their revenue. He noted that Real Madrid like other clubs had lost huge amount of money because of the impact of the pandemic.

In his words, “When you don’t have any income other than from television, you have to find a solution to make more attractive matches that fans all over the world can watch with all of the big clubs.” Perez added that “We could get back some of the money we lost because of the pandemic”, which can be achieved by “organising more competitive games.”

However, critics opposed to the move say the breakaway Super League is driven purely by money. Most people believe it would destroy domestic leagues, and would undermine the integrity of the sport. UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin who vehemently opposed the league labeled it a “disgraceful, self-serving” plan and a “spit in the face of football lovers”.

Ceferin had warned that players involved with the ESL could be banned from all UEFA competitions. The Real Madrid president however offered a sharp rebuttal, maintaining that “It will not happen, the law will protects us. It is impossible. The players should remain calm because the threats won’t happen.“

Sports analyst opine that the European Super League could have legal issues as it poses an end to the Champions League. However, with the biggest clubs in Europe moving to the proposed super league, it is likely the Champions League would fall by the wayside.

The Champions League’s only alternative would be to find a way to co-exist and potentially run alongside the new competition. But, players will have to play more matches than usual. Going by how the competition will go, clubs will play a minimum of 18 matches (and a maximum of 25 matches). If one were to add this figure to 38 matches of domestic leagues including FA and Carabo competition (for English teams), one would understand how much of an impact it will have on the players.

Some sports analysts have also expressed worries that national domestic competitions in England, Germany, Spain, France, and Italy, would as a result of the European Super League, exist but in a downgraded form. It would be a hard hit for the Premier League that is potentially losing a handful of teams to the European Super League. This is why a handful of Chelsea fans took to Stamford Brdige to protest against the Super League.

Another issue that comes up is the question of labeling some teams as big, and calling others small. That is, creating a dichotomous football system that reduces the place of the purported small teams.

Football is a game of chance, and small teams have edged out big teams in domestic and international leagues, which adds to the excitement in soccer. For instance, in the 2019/2020 edition of the Champions League, Atalanta made it to the quarterfinals, while teams such as RB Leipzig and Lyon eliminated two of the biggest teams in Europe – Atletico Madrid and Manchester City, respectively.

In the Premier League, Leicester City that was nowhere near the “big six” is now a force to reckon with ever since they won the league in 2016. While the European Super League may be unpredictable, some believe it may shut out this alluring aspect of football.

Meanwhile, one of the major outcries against the Super League is the fact that the Champions League would lose its essence as Europe’s most prestigious competition. What has made the Champions League so great to watch is clubs earning entry into the competition. The nature of the local leagues encourages competition for a Champions League spot, but with the Super League, that becomes irrelevant.

The Super League would effectively sideline the Champions League as the UEFA’s premier club competition will be forced to be without their biggest sides should the breakaway tournament formally begin. This also extends to the local leagues as clubs would focus on the breakaway competition due to the amount of money at stake.

Cynics opine that this could severely diminish the appeal of the Champions League as it is the most watched sporting competition in the world. A European Super League pitting the biggest teams on the continent against each other on a regular basis therefore would overtake the current competition in popularity.

This is why critics opine that the whole imbroglio casts the UEFA Champions League and its co-partners in the light of one that is scared of competition. This is coupled with the fact that Al Jazeera reports that UEFA is currently in talks with Centricus Asset Management over a £6 billion financing package to overhaul its flagship soccer tournament and stop plans for a new breakaway Super League.

As one public commentator noted, “Whipping up sentiments with threats and talks that it is money-driven obfuscates the reality. They are only scared of competition. Besides, freedom of association is essential to the enjoyment of fundamental rights in sport.”

On a second thought, every elite club needs more money to stay competitive. Big clubs like Barcelona, are in deep financial challenges. They cannot buy new players and cannot continue to pay hefty wages. In the Premier league, Man City, Man United, Chelsea, Liverpool and other top teams are affected. The heavy spenders are the ones at the top of the table.

Read Also: UEFA Champions League Highlights

This is why some opine that if you cannot guarantee them improved revenue why not leave them to get it elsewhere. Others however are of the opinion that while the European Super League is good for business, it is not a value-driven model of sport based on competitiveness, universality, diversity and inclusion. There is indeed no reason for reserving it permanently for the few rich and powerful clubs under the guise of “founding member” for any reason whatsoever.

Meanwhile, Arsene Wenger envisaged this five years ago, while warning big spenders of creating an unsustainable future with their high levels of spending. The former Arsenal coach noted that a time will come when the issues of money will destroy the beautiful game of football.

The situation has however taken a new twist as all six premier league teams are said to have withdrawn from the Super League Competition. Manchester City confirmed they have “formally enacted the procedures to withdraw” from the Super League. Liverpool also said their involvement in the proposed breakaway league “has been discontinued”.

While Arsenal tendered an open letter to their fans, acknowledging they “made a mistake”, Manchester United said they had listened carefully to the reaction from the fans, the UK government and other key stakeholders, and are following suit with the discontinuation.

Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy also said the club regretted the “anxiety and upset” caused by the proposal. As for Chelsea, they confirmed they have “begun the formal procedures for withdrawal from the group”. Italian side, Inter Milan, and Spanish side, Barcelona, are equally set to withdraw.

The management of the European Super League, however, maintained that, “Despite the announced departure of the English clubs, we are convinced our proposal is fully aligned with European law and regulations.”

Although Juventus chairman, Andrea Agnelli, said the remaining clubs will “press ahead” and the project still had “a 100% chance of being a success”, one wonders where the Super League would stand as a master league without Premier League’s “big six” and other top clubs like Barcelona and Inter Milan, which are set to withdraw.