The Football League, Which Could Never be: European Super League

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On 18th April, 2021, twelve of Europe’s biggest football clubs made an announcement that shook the footballing world to its core. That announcement was the unveiling of the format of the European Super League. A tournament meant only for the elite class of club football. However, things quickly turned sour as everyone in the football community, fans, managers, and ex-players alike united like never before to show their disapproval of this competition.

The concept of and proposals for a “Super League ” for Europe stretch as far back as 1968 when UEFA General Secretary Hans Bangerter replaced the European Champions Cup and the Cup Winners’ Cup to form a “European Football League Championship”. Then in 1993, UEFA President Lennart Johnson proposed to merge the Champions League, Cup Winners’ Cup and the UEFA Cup, the proposal was not successful. Three years later, in 1996, Ajax, Barcelona, Manchester United and Bayern planned a Super League with 36 prominent clubs that would be split into three groups with a play-off stage at the end of the season to secure the title. While the groundwork for the modern version of the European Super League was laid in 2018, when Florentino Perez, the President of Real Madrid, began discussions with clubs mostly from England, Spain and Italy about the formation of a breakaway competition which would provide them with substantial financial backing. The need for such a financially lucrative competition was further exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic which caused a lot of big clubs to suffer heavy financial losses. Perez’s Real Madrid was one of the clubs that was hit the hardest by the pandemic which led to him pushing for this competition even more than he already was. This new competition caught interest from JP Morgan Chase, American banking giants, who pledged $5 billion towards the formation of the Super League.

On 18th April, 2021, on the eve of a UEFA meeting which would’ve changed the format of the UEFA Champions League, Perez announced the formation of the European Super League via a press release by the twelve clubs who were signed up to be involved. The clubs were Arsenal, Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester United and Manchester City from England; Inter Milan, Juventus and AC Milan from Italy and Spanish clubs, Atletico Madrid, Barcelona and Real Madrid. All twelve clubs were in the top 16 of the 2021 Forbes’ list of most valuable football clubs. Perez had hoped that the competition would rejuvenate club football by providing “higher quality matches” and “additional financial resources to the footballing pyramid”.

However, this announcement was met with severe backlash from the football world. Fans came together to “mourn the death of football” as they felt that football was no longer about the game and more about the money. Ex-players, managers and high level executives also criticized this move calling it an elitist cash grab and were of the view that this breakaway league would lead to the diminishing of competition. The culmination of this backlash from people involved in the sport was seen when Tottenham sacked their head coach Jose Mourinho over some comments he made about the European Super League and the members involved. UEFA and FIFA, two of the largest footballing federations in the world, swiftly condemned this league, issuing fines to some of the clubs involved and threatening to ban players of the involved clubs from all further UEFA and FIFA competitions. Clubs that weren’t involved also reacted poorly to this competition as its creation would lead to their revenue drying up, this held especially true for smaller clubs.

All this backlash and legal sanctions by UEFA and FIFA ultimately led to the downfall of the European Super League. And within three days of its announcement, nine of the twelve clubs involved in the Super League had withdrawn with only Real Madrid, Barcelona and Juventus remaining. Though this venture was seen as a failure, it led to UEFA ramping up their revamp of the UEFA Champions League and announced the revised format which would be in effect from 2023-24.

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