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Why The European Super League Was A Colossally Terrible Idea

The European Super League died an inglorious death within the first week of its introduction as a concept to the public, and for good reason. Why the concept was so unpopular, how it largely represented a tactless money-grab, and to what degree this was a victory for 'the people' against a shady group of wealthy elites with a less democratic view of what global football should be.

The European Super League: Dead On Arrival

The European Super League sparked major backlash almost instantly; fans of especially the clubs who'd signed up for the Super League began to clamor to their clubs' stadiums and training grounds with flares and, often, a far more aggressive approach to 'protest' than one usually sees here in the States. Folks here in the U.S. were surprised by the furor, but maybe not by the riled up approach to protest.

Most protests in Europe seem to be far more 'angry' than their counterparts here, where people typically much more peacefully 'protest,' though perhaps views have shifted since the failed insurrection of January 6th, and the 'summer of discontent' following the extrajudicial murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and many other African American unarmed civilians at the hands of the police.

Still, by and large, people in the U.S. often march and chant peacefully, after applying for permits, cordoned off by a police force in far greater control of the situation than the ethos of 'protest' would perhaps logically entail. So it is often the case that the U.S. views protest in Europe with a mix of bewilderment, awe, horror, and perhaps even a little envy. Many in the U.S. see riots in Paris over rate hikes and the like in the same way they stereotypically (and ignorantly) often see the culture there as a whole, that these riots, with cars overturned, wild fires, and the like are merely a product of the 'emotive,' 'sensitive' nature of the people of France, or even Europe as a whole.

The logic almost implies that these more active methods of protest are some sort of cultural manifestation of their various stereotyped European national characteristics. Seeing this kind of vitriol rise up over a "sports issue" like the European Super League's advent only likely exacerbated this kind of broad brush stroke that people in the U.S. apply to protest 'across the pond.'

Many of my own personal favorite writers & journalists in the U.S. e.g. Elizabeth and Matt Bruenig, Mina Kimes, and others from various disciplines, spoke up not so much in defense of the Super League as generally against stodgy traditionalism or stubborn hardheadedness regarding how they viewed if not European football fans specifically, sports fans at large.

What (Good-faith) Proponents Were Missing

What these folks, and people in the U.S. generally are probably not ignorant of is just how popular football (or soccer, if you prefer) is throughout the (vast) majority of the continent of Europe (among a few continents where it reigns in a similar way culturally). It has the popularity and cultural gravitas that all of the professional sports leagues do here in the U.S. combined; HS, college, and professional.

But what might be overlooked by many here, a kind of 'missing the trees for the forest' scenario, is its local appeal; every town and village has a 'pro' team that through the ability to promote up to higher divisions (or relegate down to lower ones), has the potential (or at least theoretical ability) to rise all the way to the top of the country and compete with the best. Thus in England, relatively smaller cities the likes of Manchester, Liverpool, or even Leicester, can somehow rival the capital city of London on the football pitch, and even garner far more success (which they have, in two of those cases). So a young boy or girl from a small, rural town in, for example, Central Europe has direct access to a professional team in their town, which with a bit of luck and good management, might come to rival the biggest team in the nation, might feature on national TV, and perhaps that young child could grow up to become a national hero playing for his or her local club before then even moving on to the likes of a Manchester United or Barcelona, bringing international fame and prestige to their whole hometown. And this only covers one vital aspect of the sport's reach and popularity, there are also national teams, where the best players from a respective nation are selected from all the various domestic leagues they might play in around Europe. They are put together on their own respective national teams to play against other nations' best in tournaments like the World Cup. You've probably heard of it, even if you're in the U.S. and not at all a fan of the sport; it happens to be the most popular sporting event in the world! The intricacies and specificities of national team football are a whole world unto themselves, but for the sake of brevity, it'll be glossed over here. There is another form of competition that connects the continent(s), and due to its more regular occurrence than the World Cup, generates even more money: Continental football.

The Super League's (Former) Target: The Champion's League

The European Super League would not have sought to replace domestic football (though by giving huge sums of money to a select few teams every season, it would permanently have altered it too), it instead was designed to essentially replace the Champion's League as the preeminent competition in Europe. So What exactly is the Champion's League then?

The best teams of Europe's domestic leagues all get pooled together to compete in a continental tournament that meets mid-week, between domestic league matches every few weeks throughout the season. It is called the Champion's League and success in it is considered to be the pinnacle of club/league football. There is another similar competition that caters to the next tier of teams across the continent (The Europa League), and so on and so on; what this all entails is that through this mechanism, that same child in Central Europe earlier alluded to doesn't just get to dream of competing among the best teams nationally, but with success there, even among the continent's best - in fact it is often in these continental tournaments that players from smaller leagues across the continent get scouted and discovered by the more famous clubs that they play against. The tournaments connect players and clubs from all across Europe, boosting the ability for exposure and 'mobility' for players, clubs, and entire footballing nations as a whole.

With the Super League's advent, much attention was put on the bigger clubs in Europe, the 12 teams who'd signed up for the sham tournament, and those who passed on the offer. What was lost in this whole discussion was what kind of an impact the death of the Champion's League (as we know it) would have had on smaller or less renowned clubs and footballing nations.

Needless to say the financial benefits of playing in the (lucratively sponsored) Champion's League are astounding - for example in Turkey, where the four largest, most historically successful clubs have nearly accrued a combined 2 billion dollars in debt in recent years (Daily Sabah) as the country's economy and currency have gone belly up, competition for the two Champion's League places afforded to the Turkish Süper Lig (the top two teams advance to the tournament) is life or death. UEFA, European football's governing body, distributes 2 billion euros to the teams that qualify for the Champion's League tournament, with the winner potentially taking home as much as 82.4 million euros (Borg/Sporting News). The money earned for winning the championship in Turkey, and thus the ensuing money that UEFA apportions for European tournament qualifiers, can dictate whether the clubs have money to continue improving by bringing in the players they need to compete, perhaps eventually even if they can survive financially or not if the Turkish economy doesn't turn sooner rather than later. This is the narrative for just one of 55 nations in UEFA's jurisdiction, and not even the most dire (in fact despite the existential threats that Turkish football faces, its league ranks as the 13th best in Europe); the impact of minimizing the reach and prominence of the Champion's League would do more than just inconvenience those with an 'affinity for tradition' or whatever the reason is that one might assume they defend the system as it exists.

So What Exactly Was The European Super League?

In short, it was a competition that was being designed to forego meritocracy for some of Europe's largest teams, guaranteeing them a place (and its money) in a Champion's League-like tournament that would serve to crown the champion of Europe, just as the Champion's League already does. The Champion's League still requires clubs to qualify for it via their performances domestically, the Super League would have removed that barrier for 12 teams; AC Milan, Arsenal, Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Chelsea, Inter Milan, Juventus, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Real Madrid, and Tottenham.

An 'off year', poor management/coaching, underperformance, injuries, nothing would stand in the way of Europe's traditional powerhouses from collecting that valuable income, guaranteeing that nothing could ever unseat them from their perch atop Europe, meritocracy be damned. There was apparently no concern for the fact that this would essentially rig not only the dominance of these 12 clubs, but also weight their performances in their respective domestic leagues. The financial stability provided by guaranteed admission into the elite annual tournament would necessarily add weight to their ability to swoop in and buy any and all talent that their domestic or continental competition might otherwise have had a chance at.

So who's to blame for all of this?

The most pronounced scapegoat has been 'the U.S' in general, if not the casual U.S./international fan who is new to the game and might have lead 'the powers that be' to assume this might ever have been an acceptable idea. The U.S. being implicated at large is in part because the owners of AC Milan, Liverpool, Manchester United, and Arsenal, four of the 12 sides who had committed to the Super League, are all U.S. citizens, and all accused of being itinerant outsiders, less interested in being steeped in 'the culture' of the clubs they came to own, and more in making that cold, hard cash that owning such a lucrative 'brand' would entail. Add in the fact that New York-based financial service provider J.P. Morgan/Chase was the main corporate entity that had been locked in to bankroll the winner's prize, then couple that tidbit with there being talk that some matches would potentially be played in the United States, and naturally, U.S. interests seemed to be very much the driving force behind the momentum this whole project had gained in such a short time.

Still, just as those U.S. owners are type-casted as disinterested parties with little to no interest in the footballing world they'd bought into, it very much stands to reason that they and the U.S.-based bankers who sought to fund the whole thing lacked the knowledge, certainly the scope, to understand the ripple effects of what they were scheming. They likely couldn't have known just how destructive it could have been to everyone else who wasn't slated to be involved in the Super League in the same way that they may not, as outsiders to football, be able to name even a single team that plays in, for example, Portugal's top flight of football.

The question, in seeking someone to point the blame at should be simple; who most certainly did know better, but somehow pretended otherwise? For starters, one has to look at the 8 clubs not owned by U.S. interests; who could not claim ignorance as far as the ramifications of what they sought via the Super League?

Roman Abramovich of Chelsea, the Agnelli Family of Inter, Florentino Perez of Real Madrid, Joan Laporte of Barcelona, Miguel Ángel Gil Marín of Atletico, or Joe Lewis of Tottenham are certainly a good starting point. And giving the rest the benefit of the doubt as far as knowing how terrible this idea was should also have its limits and merit scrutiny. Nobody involved in the creation of this elitist trash-fire should be exempt from criticism, and any punishment that is forthcoming should be welcomed by all who love football and wish for it continue forward in a manner that still allows us all to enjoy the sport, regardless of how wealthy our favorite club's owner is, or what country's domestic league they play in.

The Super League, luckily, died out quickly. The guiding logic that brought it about, however, and the greedy fingers behind it, are still there in the shadows, looking for new ways to tilt competition in their favor, or at least grab as much cash from a ship they themselves are trying to sink as they can before bailing. As fans of football, and certainly the governing bodies themselves, we all need to be sure to continue to stand against any and all such attempts at unsportsmanlike hoarding of power and wealth - and the reaction to this particular failed attempt at a cash-grab can certainly be a model going forward.

United, we all won! Solidarity!

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