The European Super League: How It Began, What Happened & How It Ended?

Image Courtesy: The Atheletic

The talk of the town is European Super League. 12 of the top European clubs have signed up to a breakaway Super League and plans were revealed on 18th April, Sunday for a self-governing tournament to rival the UEFA Champions League which was “to commence as soon as practicable”.

UEFA, along with other football associations and top-flight leagues of England, Spain and Italy released a statement condemning the plans. The announcement said: “If this were to happen, we wish to reiterate that we – UEFA, the English FA, RFEF, FIGC, the Premier League, La Liga, Lega Serie A, but also FIFA and all our member associations – will remain united in our efforts to stop this cynical project, a project that is founded on the self-interest of a few clubs at a time when society needs solidarity more than ever. We will consider all measures available to us, at all levels, both judicial and sports in order to prevent this from happening. Football is based on open competitions and sporting merit; it cannot be any other way.”

However, to discuss the current scenario of the given matter, let’s have an overview of the entire European Super League.

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What Is A European Super League?

Back in 2018, Germany’s Der Spiegel reported about a European Super League after uncovering documents from Football Leakes that had outlined the competition. The idea was for the top European football clubs to drift away from UEFA and start their own competition in 2021. This sent shockwaves through the entire football community with clubs being afraid that they wouldn’t be a part of the competition. Meanwhile, fans felt that this might destroy domestic football completely and demolish the heart of the game.

Plans outlined by Der Spiegel claimed a 16-team tournament that would begin in 2021. The competition would have many similarities with the Champions League except UEFA would have no part in the European Super League. Teams would play in a group stage followed by knockout rounds to claim the European Super League championship. The competition would favour some of the strongest and biggest clubs in European football as 12 of the 16 contesting teams would be labelled as “core founding” clubs.

Clubs Involved In The Super League

The 12 founding members of the European Super League were: Six Premier League sides – Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur. Atletico Madrid, Barcelona and Real Madrid from La Liga and AC Milan, Inter Milan and Juventus from Serie A. Real Madrid president Florentino Perez is the Super League’s first chairman.

Bayern Munich, Paris Saint-Germain, and Borussia Dortmund were rumoured to be the other three teams in the Super League. However, all three teams have refused to take part. The reason being, in Germany, the 50+1 ownership rule ensures that fans hold a majority of their own voting rights. Here, the private investors cannot overrule the decision of supporters. Fans of Bayern and Dortmund can therefore block their clubs from being involved. And as for PSG, The Athletic reported that the French club believe the European Super Cup to be “disrespectful” to UEFA and that they consider the Champions League should not be restricted to just the richest clubs.

Criticism and Backlash

The announcement of the European Super League on 18th April, Sunday kicked off a fierce power struggle. The launch of a “U.S.-style” European Super League shocked the soccer world when 12 of the biggest clubs rebelled against the sport’s authorities. The words were that the revenue from the largely closed off league would be shared among its 15 founding clubs, while players’ salaries would also be capped, according to the Financial Times. In a press release, Tottenham Hotspur said that the founding clubs will receive €3.5 billion ($4.2 billion) to support their infrastructure investment plans and offset the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. The clubs will each receive a “welcome bonus” worth up to €300 million ($360 million) each. This helped make it clear soon that the Super League was a total money grab scheme!

Criticism all across the football community was immediately ignited making it a global condemnation. Fans hated the idea, and their worldwide protest caused what would’ve been the biggest threat to football in decades to dissipate within just 48 hours. Liverpool and Chelsea fans have been one or the extreme vocals with their protests against the Super League. The Blues set an example by taking a stand at Stamford Bridge. Liverpool supporters’ took the decision to remove their flags from The Kop, protesting the owners’ decision to “put financial greed above the integrity of the game”. The American broker, JPMorgan Chase (JPM) has confirmed to CNN Business on Monday that it’s providing financing for the Super League. Hence, it has also received major criticism from the fans all over the internet.

Apart from these, there were floods of protests and hashtags coming from everywhere. People were mostly giving the examples of West Ham and Leicester who had a phenomenal season this year. These underdog teams had the chance to qualify for the Champions League and fans stated how wonderful it would have been to see a wonder such as 2004. In the meantime, Super League core teams like Tottenham and Arsenal are at seventh and ninth place as of now. This clearly shows how this new league wouldn’t give priority to the talent and hardwork – which the spirit of football is all about!

Legal Threat

Apart from the public backlash, there was the legal threat from football authorities. UEFA warned all the Super League clubs after the announcement of their plans on Sunday about legal threat. The authorities said that legal action would be taken against rebel clubs and the same would be barred from existing in the domestic competitions like La Liga in Spain and the Premier League in England. In fact, there were threats against the participating clubs’ players by banning them to represent their national teams. FIFA President Gianni Infantino said on Tuesday that clubs should think very carefully about their next moves stating, “They need to reflect and need to assume responsibility. They need to think not only of their shareholders, which are important of course, but they need to think of … all the fans, of all those which have contributed to create what European football is today.”

Media & Political Backlash

There was criticism from the media as well. Even though Facebook and Disney were the likely bidders to broadcast the Super League event, Amazon (AMZN), BT (BT GOF) Sport and Sky, which is owned by Comcast (CMCSA) had already distanced themselves from the rogue league. In a statement, Amazon Prime Video wrote: “We believe part of the drama and beauty of European football comes from the ability of any club to achieve success through their performance of the pitch.”

Political and government bodies weren’t behind either. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said his government was “exploring every possibility, including legislative options” to stop it. Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge, said that he shares “the concerns of fans about the proposed Super League and the damage it risks causing to the game we love.”

Criticism Of The Former Players

Former Soccer stars and players have also passionately spoken out against the idea. Former Manchester United captain Roy Keane said the Super League was all about “money and greed”. He told the Sky Sports: “Let’s hope it’s stopped in its tracks,” he told Sky Sports. We talk about big clubs, Bayern Munich are one of the biggest clubs in the world. At least they’ve made a stance, which is a good start.” Former Liverpool midfielder Murphy also had something similar to say and stated: “The plans … sound soulless,” he told BBC. Former Manchester City defender Micah Richards have labelled the Super League as a disgrace to football. He said, “What happens to the memories of what the fans have had over the years? They’ve just forgotten about for the sake of money, and that’s the way football has become now. I think it’s an absolute disgrace.”

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Coaches & Their View On The Super League

Jurgen Klopp

Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp has said that he did not know about the European Super League until the official announcement. Speaking on Monday Night Football on Sky Sports, Klopp was asked about his opinion on the Super League back in 2019 where he said he hoped such a competition would “never happen”. His opinion didn’t change and the German commented, “People are not happy, I can understand that. We were not involved in the process, not the players, not me, we didn’t know about it.”

Klopp has always criticised the packed playing schedule and he has also been against UEFA’s decision to expand the Champions League to 36 teams from the 2024-25 season, which was announced this week as well. “You can’t just always introduce more competitions,” he said. “It’s very good that the new Super League is off the table, but the new Champions League isn’t great.”

The Liverpool coach further expressed his unlikeness towards the football governing bodies stating, “UEFA didn’t ask us, the Super League didn’t ask us. It’s just always ‘play more games’. The new Champions League, what’s the reason for that? Money … I have no idea how we’re supposed to deal with even more games,”

Pep Guardiola

Earlier this year, the Manchester City manager clearly stated “we cannot kill the lower divisions or the Premier League” when he was asked for a comment on a possible European Super League.

Speaking in January, the two time Champions League winner said: “I have the feeling we cannot lose the local leagues, what it means for the FA Cup, the leagues. What we should do is make every single league in Europe stronger than what it is, less teams, better championships, better League One, better League Two, better Premier League with less teams in every competition. Go to the quality over quantity. To make a super Premier League, you have to reduce the teams, but we cannot kill the lower divisions or the Premier League itself.”

Thomas Tuchel

During a press conference on Monday, Thomas Tuchel said that he “trusts” his club to make “the right decisions” after he was asked about their plans to join the European Super League.

Tuchel was appointed in January to coach Chelsea, the club which was also one of the founding members of the 6 English clubs to join the Super League. He said: “I’m part of this club. I want to play in hard competitions. I trust my club to make the right decisions. I think it’s too early to judge everything and it’s not my part. My role is to be a coach and to be focused.”

Mikel Arteta

The Arsenal boss claimed he was unaware that his club had agreed to be part of the European Super League. Areta clarified the doubts when he was questioned about the same after their 1-1 draw against Fulham on Sunday.

When a reporter asked if he is aware of the situation, Arteta replied, “No,” adding, “Once I know every detail and I have all the information then I can evaluate and give you my opinion.”

Jose Mourinho

Before the Portuguese were sacked as Spurs manager on Monday, just hours after the club announced its plan to join the European Super League, Mourinho had been tight-lipped about his thoughts on the breakaway competition. However, there were rumors about the “Special One” not being pleased with Tottenham’s participation in the Super League. Nonetheless, there’s no official statement from Jose as of now.

The Verdict: What Now?

There will no longer be a SUPER LEAGUE, for now at least. All the Premier League clubs involved with the European Super League (ESL) have now withdrawn from the competition. Manchester City was the first club to step back after Chelsea made clear of their intention to do the same by preparing documentation to withdraw. The other four sides – Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester United, and Tottenham have all now followed suit.

After everything was said and done, Liverpool owner John W. Henry issued a video statement to the club, apologizing to his manager Jurgen Klopp, the players, the staff, and fans. “I’m sorry, and I alone am responsible for the unnecessary negativity brought forward over the past couple of days. It’s something I won’t forget. And shows the power the fans have today and will rightly continue to have,” he said. Manchester United co-owner Joel Glazer, Manchester City CEO Ferran Soriano – all have apologized to their faculty and fans. However, the two Spanish giants, Barcelona and Real Madrid seem to stand their ground. Real Madrid president Florentino Perez has reiterated he thinks the Super League could have “save football”. However, he believes that the near-universal backlash it received was because the idea was “presented badly”. Barcelona president Joan Laporta has said the European Super League is “a necessity,” “We had a position and we still have one and we will explain,” Laporta told TV3, adding, “The position is one of caution, but it [ESL] is a necessity. On the other hand, as it should be, our members will have the last word on it.”

Hence, this can be concluded that even though the fear of all players and fans, the European Super League is gone for now, there’s no way the idea has been totally disbanded. However, there are major reforms required in the current European football and the governing body, UEFA must take drastic measures to revamp the competitions. While the big clubs are at their weakest, it’s time to make the Champions League and Europa League fairer for everyone. Both have to be more competitive and become marketable competitions – just like the way Premier League became in the 1990s. However, things are often easier said than done!