Commentary

If Europe's top clubs really want a 'Super League,' let them go

"They stuff their bellies with tomorrow's ache," the Canadian poet Edmund Vance Cooke  wrote almost 100 years ago. Perhaps he had already foreseen how Europe's biggest soccer clubs would embark upon a ceaseless quest for more control and even greater wealth. Their latest plans for an elite, relegation-safe European Super League should, however, prompt us to ask how visionary these pioneering clubs really are. As Cooke clearly knew, excess and gluttony rarely come without gastric pain.

Last week's Football Leaks revelations, published by the collective journalists of the European Investigative Collaborations (EIC), pushed out another raft of disappointment for those of us still naive enough to care about the integrity of the game. For starters, gnome-like FIFA President Gianni Infantino, when still at UEFA, collaborated with the oil-owned teams of Manchester City and Paris St. Germain to help them circumnavigate his organization's own Financial Fair Play Rules, and thus avoid being banned from the Champions League.

Once Infantino was ensconced as FIFA President on a platform of promised reform, he then rendered toothless the body's independent Ethics Committee. He replaced its chief investigators with a clueless stooge in the form of Maria Claudia Rojas, and managed to have the word "corruption" removed from the Committee's brief. Infantino is achieving what had previously been thought impossible. He makes his shifty, lying predecessor Sepp Blatter  look virtuous and benign.

These were not even the biggest stories from the Football Leaks portfolio (and there are many more to come, reports the EIC). The main headline was reserved for the secret plans again being hatched by the richest teams in the European Club Association (ECA) to withdraw from UEFA and domestic competitions in order to form their long dreamed-of "Super League." This is the gun that the usual suspects -- lead by Real Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester United, Juventus, AC Milan and Bayern Munich -- have been holding to UEFA's head for the past three decades.

In the early 1990s, these teams pushed for the replacement of the old European Cup with the Champions League, and with good reason. Rather than risk losing a knockout series in September, they wanted full stadiums on midweek nights, and a certain number of guaranteed European games per season. The easily foreseeable sporting and economic downsides were that the more income these clubs gained from European competition, the more they would come to dominate their domestic leagues. Bayern has won the last six Bundesliga shields, Juventus the last seven Serie A titles, and PSG five of the last half dozen in La Ligue. Leicester City's magnificent Premier League triumph in 2016 only served to highlight its own exceptional rarity.

Over the years UEFA has placated the threat of a breakaway league by granting the self-styled elite ever more concessions in the form of increased cash and extra guaranteed places for the more prominent leagues. Increasingly it's the same few teams who make it to the Champions League quarterfinals. The qualification process and the laborious group stages only serve to knock out the hungry hopefuls who are pathetically happy just be there and grab a few scraps at the banquet. The competition, despite its on-field quality, is becoming as predictable as the domestic leagues that our restless, dominant giants now seemingly want to leave behind.

So perhaps the time has finally come for UEFA to call their bluff and invite them to go. Bayern's legal director Michael Gerlinger, who is also President of the ECA, cheerfully declared on German state channel ARD this weekend that the big clubs no longer need Uefa. Now they want to escape its regulations and control their own destinies. This translates as: we want to make unlimited amounts of cash without any regard for the health of the game in Germany or Europe as a whole.

Now, a Super League might be a massive global commercial success. Let it play out in Shanghai, in New York and on Planet Zog if that's where the market takes it. At some point, though, these clubs -- who never cease to bang on about history and tradition in their marketing campaigns -- are going to ask themselves: who are we now? What is our connection to Manchester, Munich or Madrid? How did we morph into bloated mega-brands with no connection to our communities?

They might look down from their profit mountains and see a domestic competition that's thriving perfectly well without them. While Old Trafford is filled with muted corporate guests and merch-toting crowds flown in from the Far East, Manchester-area fans could be going to watch Salford City, FC United, Stockport County, Bolton Wanderers or Bury. That's less of a prognosis and more like an already extant trend -- one that a Super League could quickly push into becoming soccer's happy new reality.

When the limits of avarice have been breached, bellies will start to ache. And belly-ache the big clubs will, especially if a Super League is susceptible to an economic downturn, brand fatigue, fan-led boycotts or dwindling support from a distant, fickle fan-base. What happened to our club, they'll whine, having ignored the supporters who've already been asking this question for the past decade.

Go on, my darling, devious European elite. Stop making empty threats to leave, and go take a running jump. My suspicion is that you still won't dare to risk the leap. But if you do, we will survive.

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•  What would a European Super League (ESL) look like? The European clubs have mooted various formats. The latest foresees 11 clubs with a fixed 20-year term in the league (that is, they would be immune to relegation in that time), and five interchangeable "guest clubs." The 11 permanent clubs would be: Real Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester United, Juventus, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester City, AC Milan, Paris St. Germain and Bayern Munich. The dispensable five would be: Atlético Madrid, Olympique Marseille, Inter Milan, Roma and Borussia Dortmund. According to the German weekly Der Spiegel, the 11 clubs are due this month to sign a "memorandum of understanding" that foresees the ESL kicking off in 2021.

2 comments about "If Europe's top clubs really want a 'Super League,' let them go".
  1. Wooden Ships, November 6, 2018 at 1:11 p.m.

    Personally, I don’t care for the idea. Enjoyed the authors prose. 

  2. beautiful game, November 7, 2018 at 9:31 a.m.

    Infantino is a con arti$t. More games on the annual schedule means more wear & tear on players.

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