It would be an understatement to say that those behind the plan to create a European Super League (ESL) with the biggest clubs in football spectacularly misunderstood the space before unveiling their own strategic vision for the benefit of the entire European football pyramid.
Those around the table led by Real Madrid president Florentino Perez (ESL chairman), Manchester United co-chairman Joel Glaser (ESL vice-chairman) and Juventus president Andrea Agnelli (ESL vice-chairman) will notice the nods of their fellow board members from nine other major clubs, but football exists outside of this exclusive boardroom as well. In the pursuit of financial gain, the feelings of all those who have an emotional attachment to gambling have been completely ignored and set aside.
– ESPN FC Daily Stream on ESPN+ (US only)
– Marcotti: What the European Super League means for football
Simply put, the ESL is an idea that nobody wants, except the owners of the biggest and richest football clubs who only want to get bigger and richer, despite the demands of their executive and watered down members.
We will help football on all levels and take our rightful place in the world, Perez said in a statement released by the ESL on Sunday. Football is the only global sport in the world with more than four billion fans and it is our responsibility as big clubs to respond to their demands.
Agnelli, whose collapsed Juventus may not qualify for the Champions League this season after dropping to fourth in Serie A, just two points ahead of Napoli, said our 12 founding clubs represent billions of fans around the world, before adding: We have come together at this critical time to transform the European league and give the game we love a sustainable foundation for the long-term future.
Rather than being a means of enriching every ESL club with over £300 million a year, the Super League offering is actually designed to save football, and fans around the world should be eternally grateful.
Much to the chagrin of ESL management, fan reactions have been consistently hostile. On social media you can read condemnations from fans of all clubs, angry statements from fan clubs linked to Manchester United (these proposals are totally unacceptable), Arsenal (the death of what football should be), Chelsea (we are appalled) and Manchester City (motivated by greed), to name but a few.
Fans of Europe’s biggest clubs will not be able to object to the Super League project in the stadiums. Phil Noble/PA Images via Getty Images
We already know that UEFA and FIFA are against these plans and that all clubs involved have been warned that they risk being expelled from their national leagues and their players from international football if these plans are implemented. So why are the owners of the 12 founding members (the ESL has confirmed that the number will rise to 15 in the coming weeks) so determined, despite strong opposition from fans and football officials, to shake up the current model in order to push through their plans?
Check out all the latest news and reactions from ESPN FC editor Mark Ogden.
The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us a lot over the past year, both in sport and in society, and one element from a football point of view is the reality that broadcasters’ money is now keeping clubs afloat, rather than fans paying at the box office. As a spectacle, the fans in the stadiums are sorely missed, but from a purely economic point of view, Premier League football has proven that it can survive without paying fans in the stadium.
Of course fans will return once the pandemic is over, but ESL club owners know that even if the animosity continues and escalates, most will continue to pay to watch in the stadiums. If they don’t, the owners know that millions of fans around the world will pay subscription fees to see ESL games, and that sponsors will give anything to be part of the league that brings together the biggest clubs and the best players.
It’s a reckless and perhaps even cynical approach, but those in charge know how it works. And if it becomes a closed shop, with no fear of being fired, then the NFL and NBA are very successful business models to follow. United, Arsenal and Liverpool – the three founding members of the ESL – are all owned by Americans involved in the sport in the United States, so they already know well how to benefit from owning a franchise in this environment. It is also clear that in the future, when all ESL member clubs are protected from elimination, they will be even more valuable to their owners.
But still: And the fans? What about the families who have supported their club for generations, who have experienced successes and failures, who have bought tickets and shirts, who have come to the game in the cold and rain? Owners bought their clubs, often without prior affiliation or association. In the case of the Glazers at United, their acquisition in 2005 was funded from the club’s own resources. And those same owners are now using historic clubs, rooted in the community, as leverage to create a money machine that only they want.
It’s not the clubs that are threatening to tear the fabric of football apart, it’s their owners, and they’ve shown that they have no regard for the wishes of the fans. But without consulting the fans, they are doing it anyway, even though the stadiums remain closed to fans because of the pandemic. This means that the opportunity for these passionate supporter groups from all clubs to protest loudly and visibly has been lost. Imagine the scenes at Anfield, Old Trafford or San Siro if fans were allowed into the games this weekend as they have been in the past. But fans will find a way, through social media campaigns or other forms of protest, to make their voices heard.
Maybe the hosts misjudged the venue, maybe they even deliberately put their fingers in their ears and kept their heads down, but now they can’t doubt that the football world is thinking of them and their plans.