A group of Liverpool supporters summed it up best when they held a banner that read: ‘Love for the working class game, ruined by greed and corruption!’
Those scenes took place outside Anfield almost three years ago when football fans solidified as one to protest the proposed idea of the European Super League (ESL).
Within days, the ESL was emphatically shut down as people power officially took over, demonstrating that football is nothing without supporters.
The banner remains true – never has football been so dependent on money to splash the cash in the transfer market and earn revenue through TV rights.
Clubs such as Liverpool and Manchester United were established through working-class industrial communities in a world where greed did not exist in the overall sporting landscape.
This idea came to light as a result of three of the biggest clubs in world football drowning in debt after the catastrophe of the pandemic.
What did Real Madrid, Barcelona, and Juventus all have in common? They all had outstanding payments of hundreds and millions of dollars, hence why they are the main initiators.
Take Barcelona as an example. The Catalan club released a financial report for 2020 showing a debt of €1.2 billion and is still trying to balance the books with the help of new president Joan Laporta.
Struggling so much so that the six-time European champions failed to register some of their new signings before the first game of the season last year.
The single biggest mistake that the project made was insisting that membership be permanent, with top clubs unable to fall away from the theoretical European spotlight.
Add in the idea of taking clubs away from their domestic competitions, damaging the relationship with local leagues realistically wasn’t the wisest path to take.
The traditionalists and working-class fans were disgusted at the thought of miracles such as FC Porto’s Champions League triumph never having the opportunity to occur again in their lifetimes.
Although Real Madrid president Florentino Pérez and former Juventus chairman Andrea Agnelli have been key driving forces, a German businessman remains the glue to keep the ESL hanging onto its relevance.
CEO of sports management company A22, Bernd Reichart is the investor who is vigorously persisting with the ESL concept and will not back down without a fight.
According to Barcelona-based newspaper El Mundo Deportivo, the Super League will reportedly be working with a net worth of €100 billion with the help of investors forking out as much as €15 billion.
Around 85% of funds would go into the pockets of the clubs taking part.
A mini-knockout victory was claimed by the ESL camp as the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) ruled that UEFA and FIFA acted “unlawfully” by halting the ESL from progressing any further.
Reichart claims this as favourable news for his cause.
“There is big news today: Football is free. Free from the monopoly of UEFA, free to pursue the best ideas without fear of sanctions and under our proposal, free viewing of all live matches,” he said.
The outline of the format will consist of 64 teams in the men’s competition and 32 in the women’s.
Regarding the men, 64 clubs will be split into three separate leagues (star, gold, and blue) where the bottom tier (blue) will see 20 teams leave the competition and be replaced by the 20 best performers in domestic leagues around Europe.
This piece of information is important because the main backlash two years ago was the notion that the elite clubs would never face the possibility of being relegated which goes completely against the classic football pyramid scheme.
It all ties back to the morals and values that stem from the traditionalists and working-class generations, ultimately making this scenario fascinating.
In a way, it’s ironic how people have jumped so quickly on the anti-Super League train, not realising that football currently has its own Super League in the form of the English Premier League (EPL).
Hands down the most popular domestic league and extremely marketable on a global scale, the amount of money invested into England’s ‘big six’ thanks to ownership takeovers and record TV deals has the ability to help a relegation-threatened side like Nottingham Forest to sign 30 players in a single transfer window last season.
This ridiculous influx of endless cash flow is surely nothing other than an indictment on the future of European football to the point where countries from other nations will slip further away as time (and money) grows.
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Speaking of morals and values, the UEFA Champions League format before the 1998/99 campaign involved participants of one club per country, also known as the champions of their respective leagues.
The term ‘champions’ is now diluted with as many as five clubs now able to represent one nation in the tournament.
Why did the format change? One word – money. More clubs and more matches equals more money.
On top of that, the threat of a Super League caused panic to kick in.
Yet, we have learned to embrace it to the point where it’s completely normalised, just like it’s normal for clubs such as Chelsea to spend over £1 billion in the last three transfer windows.
That’s one of the main reasons why the ESL is being put forward to balance the economic power, and UEFA is largely to blame.
Financial Fair Play (FFP) was introduced in 2011 to restrict clubs from spending more than they earn and establish an even balance across the board. Instead, the FFP system has been nothing short of a complete and utter embarrassment when you look at the money that is being spent in today’s inflated market.
UEFA president Aleksander Čeferin has had ample time to fix the issues surrounding FFP but has failed miserably. The ESL argues that all clubs will receive a fair share of the pie, unlike what is currently transpiring before our eyes.
However, the ESL’s proposal has its own flaws.
Although there will be no permanent participation which is much welcomed, El Mundo Deportivo also added that it’s expected that Barcelona and Real Madrid will receive an added bonus for never leaving the project. If true, that would point to the opposite of what the ESL is trying to promote which factors in a more even playing field.
Another big question revolves around the clubs that will be able to gain promotion because the last thing that football fans want is to see the middle and low-ranked nations be shut out completely.
The reason why so many football fanatics are against the ESL project is that it’s rooted around the focus on money and not the focus on the people that matter most – the traditionalists and working-class supporters.
The football pyramid that we have been accustomed to throughout our livelihoods is at risk of getting lost as domestic competition will become less relevant. Whether it be the low-division sides of Accrington Stanley, 1860 Munich, Catania, or Sporting Gijón – fairytale stories will only be made possible by playing Football Manager or EAFC.
Europe’s biggest clubs would be battling against each other every week, but on the contrary, the argument can easily be made that it could lead to the magic and suspense dwindling down, just as if the FIFA World Cup was held every year.
Whilst the ball is still firmly in UEFA’s court despite the unfavourable ruling by the CJEU, clubs such as Barca, Madrid, and Juve have a new form of power to compromise with UEFA’s governing body and hand over their wish list now that there is no longer any threat.
Statements from the likes of Premier League clubs, Bayern Munich, Paris Saint-Germain, and Atlético Madrid voicing their disapproval of the ESL proposal will make it extremely difficult for plans to get off the ground and running.
A ‘Swiss style’ format commencing from next season in the Champions League is the first indication that UEFA realise that they have no other alternative but to adapt with the times.
Like any sport, football requires change from time to time and the appropriate adjustments need to be executed to meet demands in an economic and competitive sense.
The imbalance of financial power cannot continue at this rate, meaning that change is undoubtedly overdue to ensure the scales are as even as possible for all parties concerned, including the lower clubs.
The European Super League idea has been thrown out there as a possibility, but is it the right answer considering football’s morals and values have already been broken?