Over the last few days, more and more details have emerged as to the potential creation of a breakaway European Super League. The circumstances of this situation have been unprecedented and unparalleled in modern sport, and seem likely to rock the foundations of the sport. To the extent that the future of European Football as a whole seems to stand on a knives’ edge, in a period in which the sport particularly its lower echelons had already been struggling financially.
Threats as to the possibility of the creation of such a league, have been posed since the the early nineties, due to the financial implications of new broadcasting revenue and the exponential growth of the sport which accompanied it. However the announcement made by the twelve major clubs involved in world football, seems to indicate a change in tact by the ECA (the organisation representing the clubs in question). While in the past they would use such threats in order to gain a greater bargaining position, this time it seems likely not only from the statements made but also in the timing of their decision, that a fundamental change will occur to European football in the coming weeks and months.
The proposed structure of the league allows for fifteen founding members, of which twelve have already come forward to take their position; AC Milan, Arsenal, Atletico Madrid, Chelsea, Barcelona, Inter Milan, Juventus, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Real Madrid and Tottenham Hotspur. With three more such founding clubs yet to be announced, following the rejection of such a proposal by Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, Paris Saint-Germain and FC Porto respectively. The following five spots would be available for teams who passed the yet to be detailed qualification process, while the remaining founding clubs would be immune to relegation.
This would lead to the creation of two groups of ten teams, all teams will play each other home and away, with eight teams qualifying for the subsequent knockout stage. The fixtures are proposed to be played midweek from August until May and will be in conflict with what is already a congested fixture list, between domestic and European competitions. Unfortunately, this could cause a dilution of already established competitions, as weakened teams and potentially even reserve teams are played in order to ensure the focus remains on the Super League itself.
For those who have not followed the course of European Football in the preceding years, the question which may arise is why this is now occurring. The simple answer which has been forwarded by the likes of Gary Neville, Roy Keane and Rio Ferdinand is an issue of greed. The proposed alterations to the format of the Champions League, which culminated in the acceptance of the Swiss Model roday by Uefa, would lead to a greater number of teams being included in the competition as well as the creation of a third division of the competition. While this could have possibly improved the popularity of the sport in countries on the fringe of Uefa planning in the past, it also meant a further dilution of the profits enjoyed by those involved in the competition.
Arguments have been made by the various representatives of the league and their adherents at club level that this proposed breakaway league would ensure greater viewership and interest in the sport, pleading that they have the fans in mind in doing so. Yet Kaveh Solhekol, reporting for Sky News served to illustrate the financial aspect surrounding these revelations. Namely that clubs such as Manchester United, on a good year of competing in Europe would make between 40 to 80 million pounds in revenue. While other clubs such as Arsenal who have failed to qualify for the Champions League in the past four years, have made even less than this per annum in their participation in the Europa League.
The new league set up would allay the fears of the owners of these clubs from a financial perspective. Upon entrance in to the league, the competition which has received the support of some six billion in funding from American banking giant JP Morgan. This would constitute an immediate payment of between 250 and 300 million pounds upon entering the league, as well as a potential 200 to 250 million pounds in broadcasting rights. Which have already apparently been tendered to potential buyers in the Middle East, as well as the possibility of maintaining the right to broadcast a certain number of games on each club’s own channels.
This comes in a year in which clubs lower down the pyramid have been struggling massively, necessitating the furloughing of players and layoffs of a number of subsidiary staff, in order to barely stay afloat. Some clubs who have maintained a century or more of history within the football league have been hovering upon destruction, as evidenced by the effective collapse of Bury F.C.
While the approach taken by the apparent founding clubs has seemed radical in nature, the proposed reactions seem even moreso. In the European context, a meeting is set to be held tonight in order to decide upon the fate of the two premier competitions most at threat by the revelations which broke over the weekend. These include the possibility of Paris Saint-Germain being declared the winners of the Champions League tonight and the decision to make the final of the Europa League a straight clash between Villareal and Roma, effectively expelling the offending parties from each competition.
While from the Premier League perspective, the current solution which has posed is an immediate relegation of the big six teams. This would allow the current bottom three teams for whom relegation seemed imminent to survive for another season in the top flight, as well as allowing the current top six teams to enjoy immediate promotion. While a somewhat radical and reactive solution it may seem to be, it is important to remember that the reigning Serie A champions Juventus were relegated to Serie B in 2006 due to the Calciopoli scandal. As well as this, confirmation has also been received that any player who engages with the Super League will be prevented from playing in the upcoming World Cup.
Right now very little remains certain and the situation seems likely to change in the coming days, but rest assured the future of the sport remains at stake. The approach taken now could either make or break what is the most watched sport in the world, whether the fans win out or the greed of the elites is allowed to permeate depends upon the actions taken in the coming days and weeks in order to save the sport at large.