The European Super League is the natural progression of football, but to claim it is the end of football as we know it might ultimately prove to be hyperbole.
It is of course dramatic for clubs to protest that they want to be in charge of their future, rather than leave the premier European tournament in the hands of UEFA, but realistically this is a logical step for the biggest teams, that goes further to cement their dominance.
For now, we should also wonder if this is not merely a signal to UEFA that the power rests with the clubs rather than the governing body. There is also a reasonable argument to be made here. UEFA have signally failed on racism. They have failed to combat corruption. They don’t do anything particularly well, and their administration is hardly the most efficient that could be put in place. Essentially, the biggest clubs must be wondering why they pay for the privilege of having their importance sublimated.
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However, there is another side to this. Just because UEFA has its failings, it does not mean that any alternative that is under consideration is superior. Some of the biggest clubs have of course turned a blind eye to racism when it suited them. Atletico Madrid, Liverpool and Barcelona are all reportedly invited to be part of the breakaway, and all of them were or are content to employ Luis Suarez, who was banned for eight matches in 2011 for racially abusing Patrice Evra. There are other sides who are not particularly blemish-free.
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There’s more, of course. Many of the teams involved benefit from the weighting of prize or broadcast money towards them based not solely on where they finish, but their historical importance too. If they do not benefit from it explicitly, it is what is being pushed for when UEFA finally announces its new format for their Champions League. Real, Barca and Atletico bargain individually for their broadcast rights, and the Premier League TV rights favour the teams that finish higher. There is nothing inherently wrong with clubs receiving financial rewards for doing better, but it implicitly reinforces a lack of competition. The more you do well, the more money you get, the more you are able to poach the best players from the less well off sides.
This is already at play, one step removed, in the Champions League. The richest clubs from the richest leagues dominate. The last surprising winner of the tournament was Porto under Jose Mourinho, almost two decades ago. In France, PSG have only been upset by the coronavirus pandemic and could still win their league. The last time they did not win the league in France was due to a freak heroic season from Montpellier. The success of Leicester was an aberration. Bayern Munich are only being challenged now a drinks behemoth has decided to juice a team at random. Spain is a lockout, as is Italy, as is England.
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What this new Super League appears likely to do, should it go ahead, is entrench existing privilege. It exacerbates a problem that is not going to be solved by UEFA, but it is not as if there are any practical alternatives at hand that would have changed things for the better. The casual observer probably wants a less predictable competition to watch, but with fan support increasingly concentrated amongst the biggest clubs, it would probably be a depressingly sizable faction who will only be concerned that their own club will be left behind. If their team stands to benefit then, broadly speaking, they will embrace it out of partisanship.
What this is leading to is a denouement between one cartel and another. The biggest clubs have now amassed enough cultural capital to lay further claim to more financial capital. The biggest governing body has the brand to limit access to the rewards as much as they can get away with. In the end, unless someone puts a foot desperately wrong, the pair of them will argue and arbitrage until they finally come down to a figure that both can put up with. The rich will indeed get richer, and the poorer clubs will be further disenfranchised. This is not the end of football as we know it. This is football as we are all too familiar with.
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