Breakaway European Super League Scores Own Goal

20 Apr 2021 03:48 pm, by YorkshireSquare

The boiling anger of football fans across the country to the news that six English clubs have signed up to the European Super League reached its apogee last night when Leeds United played one of the self-styled “big six” clubs, Liverpool. When the Reds arrived at Elland Road, Jurgen Klopp and his players were accosted by a seething horde of Leeds supporters yelling their hatred for the new proposals and Liverpool’s involvement, with Leeds players rubbing salt into Liverpool’s wounds by later emerging on the pitch sporting t-shirts proclaiming “Football is for the fans”. Klopp had been deliberately kept out of the scheming by Liverpool owner, 71-year old American investor John W Henry and when he was being pushed by the media for his views, responded quite simply, saying “I don’t know exactly why the six clubs did it”.

We do! Cash, dosh, filthy it what you will, but making money is at the heart of the European Super League. The Super League would replace the UEFA Champions League for fifteen permanent participating clubs - locked in to a 23-year contract - who would play each other each year without any qualification matches. Twelve clubs have already agreed to join, lured by the League offering incentives of up to 350 million euros with more to come from television rights. Three further teams will be recruited as permanent League members with five more teams qualifying on an annual basis.

So far, the roster comprises six English clubs - Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United (whose chief executive, Ed Woodward, is believed to have been a driving force behind the Super League), three Italian clubs - Juventus, AC Milan and Inter Milan and three Spanish clubs - Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid. The “dirty dozen” are all top class teams but there are some notable omissions. German sides Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund and RB Leipzig are firmly opposed to the plan and the set-up of the German Football League means that, even if they were interested, a membership vote would be required to approve any deal. Qatari-owned Paris Saint-Germain is also refusing to join with the club’s firm support for the status quo attracting plaudits in France.

The massive opposition to the proposals in England has come from all quarters (excepting the Church of far!). Many fans and football pundits are extremely angry and concerned but so too is the Government. Boris Johnson has committed to blocking the Super League and ideas being mooted include legal action to prevent the Super League being created (on the basis that it would be a cartel), imposition of a “windfall” tax on the six clubs, visa bans for foreign players and a review of the game as a whole - to consider the appointment of an independent regulator, and the future of the current ownership structure where foreign investors have all the aces up their sleeves. President of the Football Association, Prince William, has tweeted “Now, more than ever, we must protect the entire football community - from the top level to the grassroots - and the values of competition and fairness at its core”.

So has the European Super League scored an own goal? So far, not one owner from the twelve clubs involved has put his head above the parapet to express support for the Super League. Although you could argue that this silence has allowed opposition to the new competition to fill the vacuum, perhaps it is also a deliberate ploy to douse the flames of the media wildfire. One thing is for sure, the clubs will have to work hard to placate their fans, players, sponsors and financial backers with promises that they will weather this media storm together for benefits in the longer term. iNHouse Communications, which provides PR for the new competition, remains positive that the forward strategy is correct with one source in the company telling The Times “Once we get over the initial hurdle in terms of the news breaking, there are good points about solidarity payments to be told and English football will take a lot of that money for the grassroots game”.

The financial markets are also sure that the Super League will be a winner. Some of the clubs now contracted to ESL are publicly traded companies and yesterday the shares of Juventus shot up by 20%, and there was a 10% increase for Manchester United shares on Wall Street, adding over £200 million to the club’s market value. The global reach of the Super League, bringing together the best European clubs to compete on a regular basis, is seen as a potential treasure chest for investors.

But it is early days and the Super League faces considerable opposition across Europe. Extensive legal action is expected as a result, with the governing body of European football - Uefa - at the fore, and the negative consequences may arrive at the doorsteps of the participating clubs earlier than they would have expected. Uefa is currently exploring the possibility of excluding Super League clubs Chelsea and Manchester City from their Champions League semi-finals, with Manchester United and Arsenal also in the firing line for the Europa League. Super League players too, could be penalised, with exclusion from national teams also being mooted. Many bookmakers have stopped betting on this season’s Champions League as a result of this threat and Betfair Exchange saw support for Leicester City to win this season's Premier League even though they are seventeen points behind Manchester City !