European Super League: All clubs are equal, but some clubs are more equal than others

The idea of a ‘European Super League’ has been talked about for decades, ever since the formation of the Premier League and re-branding of the European Cup, and has been the pipe dream of youths editing the Football Manager database, ‘what if’ conspiracy theorists and dystopian-article writers.

The idea has gathered more momentum over the past week. According to the German publication, Der Spiegel, several of Europe’s top teams have been colluding to break away and form their own European League. The information it obtained, apparently through legal means, states Bayern Munich, Manchester United, Juventus, Barcelona, AC Milan, Arsenal and Real Madrid are in advanced stages of talks which would see them form their own league from 2021. Teams making up the initial 11 ‘founders’ are Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain. The information provided by Der Spiegel also claims the above teams will be guaranteed 20-year membership of the league and wouldn’t face relegation even though it isn’t clear where they would be relegated to. There are also plans to invite five ‘initial guests’ that include Roma, Marseille, Atletico Madrid, Borussia Dortmund and Inter Milan.

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So, 16 teams, no potential relegation and possible start date. It sounds like the deal-makers at those clubs have been busy behind the scenes. Of course, nothing has been confirmed and Bayern have gone as far as denying any involvement, however, this is likely to be the party line given by all the clubs until the day when, or indeed, if, the deals are signed.

The Inner Party-esque UEFA will be a huge player in any breakaway league. They will more than likely host the league in the same way they presently do with the Champions League and UEFA dignitaries such as Karl-Heinz Rummenigge (until 2017) and Andrea Agnelli (coincidentally both are Chairman at one of the ‘founding fathers’), have previously talked about the idea of a new league. The influence of people with a foot in both the UEFA and club’s camps will have a huge bearing on how and when the new league happens.

UEFA have for many years already been trialing the breakaway league without anyone questioning it. Conspiracy theorists and cynics will note that the top four teams from Europe’s four biggest leagues are now guaranteed automatic entry into the Champions League, thus guaranteeing as many sponsor-friendly teams make it to the last eight as is possible, all this without actually calling it the European Super League. The quality of football may have been thinned somewhat and by allowing more teams into the competition you are merely guaranteeing wealthier teams in the final stages. UEFA wins as usual, and are able to deviously brand the competition as being more inclusive and absolutely not about money. Of course, the claims by Der Spiegel are purely hypothetical but if nothing ever materialises, at the very least it will bring the idea into the public conscience; preparing the public at large for the future. But what if it does come to fruition?

The domestic competitions for those left behind suddenly become more competitive, or do they? The likes of Tottenham Hotspur, Everton, Napoli, Sevilla, Werder Bremen and Borussia Mönchengladbach will surely be keen to experience a more level playing field rather than them versus the closed club for the rich, of which they’re never likely to gain entry to. However, at the same time, any future title wins will have an asterisk next to them and they’ll be subject to the question ‘would they have won it if Bayern/Juventus/Manchester City were still here?’ Currently, the winners of the Football League Championship are presented with the Championship trophy, but no one considers them the champions of England, more the champions of the league below the Premier League, and so the prestige that the trophy once had is tainted by the breakaway Premier League hegemony, and this could happen all over Europe.

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The usually mega-rich Premier League could arguably find themselves making significantly less revenue. Of course, this issue applies to all the leagues involved and while there are still many attractive fixtures, the real money making streams, that of television and overseas markets, would have their attention drawn to the new, shiny league full to the brim with talented superstars.

England is out on its own in terms of money generated by television deals and if a fall in revenue were to happen the teams in the lower reaches of the Premier League, who rely on the television money the most would be greatly affected. The question of parachute payments for relegated Premier League teams, which is predominantly made up of television income, also needs to be asked. How likely would a relegated team now cope with top division overheads and significantly less cash to pay them?

The other European leagues are already at a disadvantage in terms of income when compared to the Premier League, so they, more than most, will feel the draught of debt should the European Super League make a dent in their income. Germany’s 50+1 rule stipulates only 49% of the shares of a club can be owned by a single entity. Therefore Bundesliga clubs cannot lean on foreign investors or seek a majority takeover and are thus hamstrung by their limited ability to generate revenue, outside of what they gain from the Bundesliga and European competition. If that income is reduced by a lack of interest or lack of investment their long-term progress and stability will be even further affected.

On the flip side, the clubs who are in the mix to breakaway will point at an increase in revenue generated by the new league which will allow them to compete with the very best. Those outside the Premier League could justifiably make a case for this, but these arguments still cry of selfishness and the case for their escape from their respective leagues care more for the balance sheets and appeasing their accountants. No matter how much the clubs pay lip service to their fans they ultimately care little about what they think of the idea; one can hardly imagine the top clubs asking people to fill out a survey to garner their interest.

Many of the questions raised by the information in the Der Spiegel article surround money, greed and power. Many will also question how much a Super League will generate? How much will clubs charge for tickets? How much will a television subscription cost? What would a restructured television deal look like? Who will have to make up the shortfall in revenue?

A new European Super League is, like most things which scream wealth and opulence, a tawdry, tacky, soulless idea and will gain monumental opposition from fan’s groups and ‘Against Modern Football’ supporters. However, UEFA and the clubs themselves do not care about supporters, the gentrification started decades ago and will not slow down anytime soon. So long as someone is willing to pay to watch it the new league will be coming to a television screen near you in 2021, whether you want it or not.

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