Every few years, the idea of a European Super League emerges on the surface of the restless seas of the game of football which is currently going through one of the most significant hardships in history.
Days when the idea is put on the table, and when the radiance of money sparkles in the eyes of club officials, are usually days when people at UEFA have a collective headache. They know what follows is either evolution or revolution. Either UEFA is ready for compromises that benefit top clubs, or the top clubs break away from the current European and domestic competitions and form a Super League, a closed format competition where they play against each other, all season long.
So far, UEFA has resisted the game-changing movement of the rebel group of clubs, but the unprecedented times, brought by COVID-19, might be signaling the revolution is inevitable in order to have further evolution of football. Even though it might mean riot of thousands of loyal fans across Europe, breaking away at this moment would be justifiable as never before and potentially even needed for football to reach new heights.
The moment football was suspended was the moment many European clubs started their battle for survival. The loss of matchday and commercial revenues combined with the most significant loss of TV rights money have brought some clubs, even from the top European leagues, on the brink of bankruptcy. The only clubs that will quickly overcome the crisis are those clubs whose capital is sufficient to recover from few months of zero revenues.
To survive the crisis, many ‘smaller’ clubs will need to put their players up for sale in the next transfer window, whenever it opens. Since the values of players have been falling rapidly, clubs will be forced to sell players at a lower price. At the moment, the most endangered clubs are those in leagues that have been cancelled, such as Ligue 1, meaning French clubs will miss TV rights money for this season. For example, Moussa Dembélé, one of the best players of Olympique Lyon, on the day when Ligue 1 was first suspended in March, was valued 45 million pounds, according to Transfermarkt. On April 8 his value was 36 million pounds. That was way before the French government cancelled the league at the end of April.
The teams that will take advantage of the ‘broken’ market will be the likes of Real Madrid, Manchester City and Juventus, who will be in a position to bring some of the best players for a ‘bargain’. Therefore, those clubs with a lot of capital will get out of the crisis stronger than ever while clubs on the other side of the spectrum will get out weaker than ever, or will not get out of the crisis at all.
As we witness by watching Bundesliga, which recently resumed, the ‘new normality’ includes empty stadiums, making football unpleasant experience for players, club owners, media and most importantly, fans. However, if anybody can deal with the current situation and speed up the process of getting fans back to stadiums, those are clubs such as Bayern Munich, Manchester United and Barcelona who possess enough capital to transform the system painlessly, whatever will be required.
If the stands are required to transform according to the rules of social distancing, it can be done. If the entrance sectors need to be converted to clinical facilities where fans are required to measure the temperature, it can be done. It would require a severe logistic effort, but Liverpool, Atletico Madrid, AC Milan and other ‘superclubs’ can do it. The potential lack of atmosphere, fans have gotten used to from the time before the COVID-19 outbreak, could be replaced with new entertaining content. Media facilities, offices and museums could be adjusted since there is enough money to implement a system strong enough to fit the new reality, but also to be appropriate for players, fans, media and owners.
When it comes to the action on the pitch, a significant change has already been introduced. Coaches can now use up to five substitutions per match. ‘Smaller’ clubs stand against that rule because they find it unfair in comparison to bigger clubs whose benches are much more durable. Paris-Saint Germain, Arsenal, Chelsea and other top clubs don’t mind the new rule, and they would probably not mind to keep it for the following seasons.
Long list of Super League opponents
Football romantics and passionate fans arguably oppose the concept of a Super League as they see money as the only driving force behind the idea. They see it as an incredibly selfish movement based on financial greed, and a lack of empathy for the whole of football. The Super League breakaway would mean the top European leagues see their best clubs leaving, indicating remarkably less money from the TV rights for those who stay. Some clubs would need to be shut down, and the ones that would become carriers of their leagues would need to be satisfied with being the best of the rest and qualifying in the UEFA Champions League where they would compete against the best of the rest from other leagues. The idea of a Super League is based on the closed-league format where clubs can’t qualify. It would simply be a league with its own rules beyond UEFA and FIFA.
At the mention of a Super League president of UEFA, Aleksander Ceferin, said in a statement last year: “It would clearly ruin football around the world – for the players, for the fans and everyone connected with the game. All for the benefit of a tiny number of people.”
President of FIFA, Gianni Infantino, at the same time, threatened by not letting players of the breakaway clubs compete in the World Cup. There are some fierce opponents to the idea of a Super League even among representatives of the clubs which are heavily involved in the discussions. One of them is Bayern Munich chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge who sees the coronavirus pandemic rather as an opportunity to re-establish football as we know it.
“I am not in favour of a Super League. The coronavirus can help us create a more rational world, also when it comes to football. We must correct the mistakes of the past,” he told Spanish newspaper El Pais.
For those who can adapt, this crisis can be a path to empowerment. On the other hand, for those who are not able to adapt, the pandemic might mean shutting down the operation. Some sectors of society will have stop existed once when the new normality become a reality. Football might be on the other side of the spectrum, but the future of the game is in the hands of wealthy clubs. Top club owners have had the idea of a Super League on mind for the last two decades. It might be the time to start perceiving such a league as a necessity rather than an act of oligarchy.
Source: Karlo Tasler| AIPS Young Reporter – England