Elite football clubs have detached themselves and retreated to a fantasy world
The European Super League refuses to face football's challenges head on
On Sunday, twelve of Europe’s biggest clubs announced a breakaway. The founders of the newly formed European Super League want you to know they have suffered during the Covid pandemic and that they want assurances about their financial future. In reality, these plans have been in the works for years.
Instead of facing up to the increasing complexities of the world and the challenges they pose, certain football clubs have detached themselves, retreating to a world run and managed by them. Zero jeopardy, guaranteed qualification and participation moolah larger than any prize money, the European Super League would smash the global football pyramid as we know it. Owners who have seemingly lost touch with reality would now manage bona fide cash cows where investing in your club was choice rather than a necessity.
These are clearly people who hate sport at an intrinsic level.
While this charade might seem as simple as relevant owners realising they can make more money because the current system no longer works for them; the truth of the matter is that the current system isn’t working for anyone. Football has long embraced hyper-capitalism with open arms, thwarting progressive regulation and undermining the global pyramid that once took you from grassroots football all the way to the World Cup.
Much like the real world, the inequalities in football have surged to staggering, unsurmountable amounts. Many leagues are completely dominated by a single club and all efforts to level the playfield have been timid or flat out dishonest.
Take Financial Fair Play, for example. It was designed to prevent football clubs spending much more than they earnt. But really, it was contrived to prevent smaller clubs from investing and potentially competing with the elite. FFP did nothing to prevent the astronomical debt levels that were rising at clubs which actually threatened their long-term futures and neither did it stop unethical leveraged buy-outs.
FFP was nothing more than a bridge drawing exercise by Europe’s biggest clubs who sought to build a wide moat around their castle. It a was dishonest ploy that proved to be a precursor for the bigger and more sinister things to come.
It’s a huge shame because there did exist several fascinating proposals that could have curbed the growing inequality in football. Salary caps, greater distribution of TV income and perhaps most interestingly, redistribution of players might have saved football from ruin.
But unfortunately, each of these proposals would’ve required creative thinking, planning and a healthy dose of self-awareness. But perhaps most of all, less greed.
Much like society, power in football has become concentrated in the hands of the very few. Entire boards and associations are littered with club executives backed by venture capital that don’t understand football in its essence. Redistribution is the last word coming out of the mouths of the management consultants that advise them for thousands of pounds an hour. Instead, these consultants have likely been painting a picture of an Americanised form of sport with no relegations, financial assurances and commissioners who ultimately work for the owners.
So what happens now? Who knows.
U.K Prime Minister Boris Johnson has already promised to drop a ‘legislative bomb’ to prevent it from happening and administrative bodies are threatening to ban players that participate from appearing in their competitions. But besides the obvious oppositions to the breakaway, there are other logistical concerns.
How will the ESL negotiate new broadcasting deals across multiple markets without the approval of individual governments? Where will this tournament fit in football calendar and how many of these club’s traditional fanbases will go along with this?
If the founding members of the ESL can avoid being ejected from their domestic leagues, stop FIFA banning their players from representing their international countries and replace the Champions League in its current format then it might become clearer for the ESL. Token promises like solidarity payments to other clubs and investments in grassroots infrastructure could also avert government action and buy them much needed good-will.
In reality though, everything is still up in the air. The only thing for sure is that absolutely nothing is off the table. And, it seems, that the structural inequalities that have existed for decades have finally come home to roost.