Is the European Super League as dead as we thought?

You may remember that in December, for a few days at least, the European Super League was back on the agenda.

A ruling from the European Court of Justice stated that FIFA and UEFA had “abused a dominant position” by threatening the Super League clubs with sanctions and exclusion from major competitions. A22, the company behind the European Super League, instantly released a statement, saying that “football is free”. Real Madrid president Florentino Perez also declared it a “great day for the history of football”.

This rapid series of developments and bold claims brought back echoes of April 2021, when the news broke that, following top-secret negotiations, 12 teams had all signed up to the breakaway competition.

Soon after, A22 released a slick video outlining their vision for a new competition. This new and improved proposal, they claimed, would bring “openness, competitive tension and success based on sporting merit”. Additionally, they planned for every match to be available for fans to watch “live and for free”.

This rapid series of developments and bold claims brought back echoes of April 2021, when the news broke that, following top-secret negotiations, 12 teams had all signed up to the breakaway competition. All of the English ‘big six’ had, without fan consultation. The surprise news shocked the football world, with huge fan protests, player discontent, and a social media clamour the likes of which the sporting world rarely sees.

FIFA and UEFA had thwarted them before, but now the ECJ was ruling their efforts illegal. Without these bodies in the way, were we about to see a revival of the European Super League? Many a fan had their heart back in their mouths: was European football about to be torn apart once more?

FIFA and UEFA had thwarted them before, but now the ECJ was ruling their efforts illegal

It quickly became apparent that, for now, this was not going to happen. All the Premier League clubs that had previously signed up quickly released statements saying they were not interested, all the major European Leagues reiterated their opposition, and the president of FIFA, Gianni Infantino, said that “nothing has changed”. Status quo restored; crisis averted.

However, the situation is not as complete as you might first think. A22 still exists. Backed by private equity. Two footballing giants in Barcelona and Real Madrid are both still actively campaigning for the Super League. While clubs have seen the way the wind was blowing and pulled out, the facts on the ground remain that a Super League would make involved clubs significantly more profitable, with large clubs unrestrained by UEFA being able to play each other more frequently, and with their global viewing figures surely skyrocketing. And examining football’s history reveals a consistent trend: in the end, money always wins.

All the way back in the 19th century, for example, when football first became a professional sport, religious groups opposed the idea of it being a legitimate job. But the money won: we now have over 14,000 professional footballers in the UK alone.

In 1992, the top 20 English clubs broke away from the Football League to form the FA Premier League so as not to be forced to pay money to smaller clubs; the Football League opposed the idea because it would have left the remaining clubs behind. Once again, money won: the Premier League is now by far the richest league in the world.

In the 1960s and 1970s, people opposed having foreign players in Britain as they would deprive home-grown players of opportunities. Now, two-thirds of Premier League players are foreign. In the 1950s, salaries were capped at £20 per week (£280 in today’s money). Today, Kevin De Bruyne’s £400,000 weekly pay is 140,000% higher. In football, money always wins.

When the tide seemed to be turning in the other direction just a couple of years ago, clubs who now appear to view the project with such disgust were very happily signing up

When the tide seemed to be turning in the other direction just a couple of years ago, clubs who now appear to view the project with such disgust were very happily signing up. Consider their position now: there are still several more legal loopholes for the Super League to navigate before it truly is a viable option for clubs and, so far, the other clubs have all held firm and not signed up. Why risk upsetting fans and short-term revenue on joining that project at this stage?

But if the League was ready to go, and other clubs all seemed to be signing up for a project that would give more control, stability, and a huge boost to their revenue, would they really want to risk being left behind? They didn’t in 2021, and they won’t if it becomes a realistic option again.

Image Credit: Little Savage via Wikimedia Creative Commons

Image Description: Santiago Bernabéu Stadium, Real Madrid vs Borussia Dortmund in the UEFA Champions League semi-final, 30 April 2013