It has been a topic of discussion for some time now, it has been branded as a crazy idea, a fantasy, but the news of the project of a European Super League led by Florentino Pérez, the almighty president of Real Madrid, hit the football world on 20 April.
UEFA cannot say that they were not warned, let alone claim that the clubs affiliated to this project are traitors. In fact, the European football organisation has had more than a year to prepare for this news. The twelve so-called founding clubs of the Super League eventually announced in unison on Sunday 18 April their intention to leave UEFA in order to create their own European competition. In these trying and uncertain times, football clubs could not rely on getting tickets revenue whereas the costs of maintaining clubs have been ever rising and sustaining a healthy wage bill more complicated. Consequently, the finances of these historic clubs have taken a huge hit. The biggest regret expressed by the owners of the renegade clubs – which includes Real Madrid, Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, Internazionale, A.C. Milan, Juventus, Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham and Liverpool – and especially according to Florentino Pérez, is the drop in revenue of television rights coupled with the continuous decline in the ratings. He announced that his Real, which boasted a combined turnover of around €2.5 billion over the period 2015 to 2018, had lost €5,000 million over the last two seasons according to an interview he gave to El Chiringuito. The motive has been clear from the beginning; it is all about the money.
UEFA gives 120 or 130 million and we will give 400 million.Florentino Pérez for El Chiringuito
« We are going to save football* »
The mission of the Super League is to improve the image of the sport, with Joel Glazer, owner of Manchester United, saying that the new competition is the way to give fans highly competitive and flashy matches. It would eventually improve the standard of the game, and with a bigger revenue stream, more money could be pumped into the football pyramid. However, the format chosen by the Super League organisation contradicts this idea and promotes a sport where the competitive aspect is nullified. In the current Champions League system, clubs have to be competitive at national level in order to compete in Europe. The Super League, on the other hand, guarantees the sustainability of its founding clubs and removes the promotion/relegation system. Sporting stability should allow clubs to concentrate on the playing field, as they would have nothing to risk, and their status never put in jeopardy. But if we dig into this question, how can removing the competitive aspect of a sport benefit it? Elitism in football, which is historically based on a merit system, is inherently paradoxical. If the solution is to copy the American sports and economic model, we will end up with a franchise system that is completely incompatible with the identity of European football. Even if it has crept in gradually and subtly, in the sense that clubs are now run as corporations, to forcibly remove the meritocracy that is the only thing that gives fans the illusion that the football they have fallen in love with still exists would be catastrophic. To reduce sport to its financial aspect is rather naive, even arrogant. Talk about saving anything!
« Sport should always be based on meritocracy. But UEFA organises all the competitions and only reserves a small part of the money for the clubs. The clubs should be rewarded more appropriately. UEFA does not invest anything, the clubs do. »Antonio Conte, Internazionale Manager
Fans on the front line
The shock announcement of the creation of the Super League has created a massive reaction from football fans around the world. They have put aside their affiliations with their beloved clubs to unite and voice their displeasure with the idea of a Super League. This is the biggest mistake Super League has made, it has thrown in the face of football fans that they are just a walking wallet for them. The fans were not consulted by the clubs; they had no say in this, and yet if football has become the money printing business it is today, it is because of the fans. UEFA exploited the passion of the fans covertly, the Super League did not hide. And UEFA is taking advantage of this, as they will once again exploit these fans to make the clubs come to their senses, and by senses, I mean submission.
English fans of the clubs involved went outside their stadiums to show their anger. The other Premier League clubs, with the support of the English Football Association, sided with UEFA. As a result, on 20 April, just two days after the announcement of the creation of the Super League, the six English clubs involved withdrew one by one, including Manchester United and Liverpool, which were the first British clubs to flirt with the idea of this new competition. Fervour overcame greed, and the British clubs, which clearly had the least to gain from the Super League, returned to their fans with their tails between their legs. Can this be considered as a sign of a power shift? Not necessarily, money will always rule for the billionaire owners. Yet, Matt Busby’s words – legendary Manchester United manager – remain relevant, as the pandemic proved, that football is nothing without the fans.
Is UEFA invulnerable?
The contempt that the so-called ‘historic’ clubs have shown to the rest of the football world has made them an easy target. The trend in recent years has shown that even at European level, the status of the big clubs is less and less likely to be jeopardised by the ‘little ones’ who come along and shake up the hierarchy on an ad hoc basis, i.e. once every five years. This declaration of war disguised as a coup d’état can be seen as a warning message to UEFA. The clubs are powerful, and the ‘super’ clubs have shown that they will not hesitate to challenge the governing body of European football. This Super League proves that UEFA in recent years has been completely ineffective in its efforts to regulate European football. Financial Fair Play has been a failure. The system that was supposed to protect the integrity of football by preventing clubs from spending more than they earn and thus creating a financial balance has proved to be a sham.
The governing body has repeatedly demonstrated that the rules do not apply to clubs with significant financial resources, as they can manipulate their way out of trouble. At a time when Turkish clubs, for example, were being punished for the slightest infraction, state-owned clubs such as Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City (owned by the state of Qatar and the UAE respectfully) managed to escape punishment. Paris and its fictitious sponsors did not have to suffer from UEFA’s harassment, and City, on the other hand, thanks to an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, avoided sporting sanctions at the start of the 2020/2021 season. Mediapart revealed in 2018 that Michel Platini (former UEFA president) regularly negotiated with Paris in order to avoid the heaviest of sanctions, exclusion from the Champions League. The use of fictitious sponsors in order to escape the rule and thus have more financial flexibility did not bother UEFA that much, as they could make a profit on it. A slap in the face to the clubs that were suffering financially, because in their cases UEFA did not hesitate to crush them. The limits of Financial Fair Play have been exposed by the corruption of executives. To make it even worse; the financial impact of Covid-19 on the incomes of the big clubs has been so impactful that rumours are growing about the dismantlement of the Financial Fair Play. When the purses of the richest clubs are in danger, UEFA runs to their rescue and removes all restrictions. By extension, it is saving itself.
The power struggle provoked by the Real president calls into question UEFA’s position and importance in the football world. It is an open secret that UEFA is corrupt to the core, but such frontal opposition from the footballing powers, even if it does not go all the way, could eventually lead to a questioning of UEFA’s status. What is certain is that football will never be the same again, as business football has tarnished its image forever. The Super League will have underlined one thing: European football continues its descent into hell, and the only party to blame is UEFA.
Cover photo: ©Club Africain de Tunis