Miracles happen in soccer. Leicester City F.C., who was promoted to the Premier League in 2014 and survived a relegation battle in 2015, won the Premier League against 5000/1 odds in 2016. Aston Villa F.C. won the European Cup in 1982 just 10 years after it was promoted from the third division of English soccer. These miracles–last-minute goals, penalty saves and most of all, rags-to-riches stories like those of Leicester and Aston Villa–are what fans remember and treasure in soccer. The twelve founding clubs of the European Super League tried to kill this magic.
On Sunday, A.C. Milan, Arsenal F.C., Atlético Madrid, Chelsea F.C., F.C. Barcelona, Inter Milan, Juventus F.C., Liverpool F.C., Manchester City F.C., Manchester United F.C., Real Madrid C.F., and Tottenham Hotspur F.C. released a joint statement on their respective social media pages and websites announcing the formation of a new elite European soccer competition called the European Super League. According to the joint statement released by the twelve clubs, the league was expected to start “as soon as practicable,” and would have featured fifteen permanent clubs in addition to five teams who would have gained qualification through merit. After facing intense backlash from fans, players, coaches, and even politicians such as Boris Johnson and Emmanuel Macron, most clubs pulled out of the competition on Tuesday and it looks as though the Super League will not become a reality.
Despite the fact that the plans for the Super League did not come to fruition, this three-day catastrophe gave fans a warning and a reminder of what the owners of these clubs really want. Advocates for this new league said it would increase the number of “big games” for fans to watch, and that it would generate more revenue for the participating clubs during a pandemic in which club finances have been impacted drastically. While this may be true, for the clubs outside of the permanent fifteen, the Super League would have been a disaster.
Currently, there are 32 spots in the U.E.F.A. Champions League, all of which are earned through qualification by league position or winning the U.E.F.A Europa League. If the European Super League replaced the Champions League as Europe’s elite soccer competition, only five spots would have been available for qualification. This means it would have been much more difficult for the clubs outside the permanent fifteen to get an opportunity to play in the elite European competition. Qualifying for European competitions comes with a massive financial package, and clubs often use this package to strengthen their squad. When clubs are undergoing a transitional period (e.g. building a stadium), they rely on European football to keep the club functioning. Therefore, the fifteen permanent teams would have a guaranteed source of income while others would struggle to ever reach the level of these clubs because they wouldn’t have the same resources to strengthen their teams. The organizers of the Super League knew this, but still tried to go ahead with the league because of the revenue it would have brought to the participating clubs.
Moreover, the Super League would have also stolen viewership from domestic leagues, as spectators are theoretically more keen to watch matches between two “big teams.” A part of the entertainment of the domestic leagues like the Premier League or La Liga Santander has always involved qualification for the Champions League and Europa League. In 2020, the final two English spots for Champions League qualification (third and fourth places) came down to the final day of competition in the Premier League, which provided great entertainment for fans of the English top flight. The Super League would have taken away that aspect of the league, and with it, much of its entertainment value.
I am an Arsenal fan— I have been since I was six; I would, and still do, stay up until five in the morning to watch a league match against Burnley F.C., Fulham F.C., or West Bromwich Albion F.C. There really was not much I wanted more than to watch the Arsenal players lining up in pre-match jackets under the floodlights with the Champions League anthem booming throughout the stadium. It still fills me with immense excitement and pride when I watch old videos of the stands painted red and white before a losing match against Barcelona or F.C. Bayern Munich.
Yet, I am absolutely embarrassed that Arsenal opted to take part in a competition in which we are guaranteed qualification. We are ninth in the league, so we didn’t play our way into the Super League. Instead, we paid for it with the potential revenue we would get over more deserving clubs such as Leicester and West Ham United F.C. Stan Kroenke, the owner of Arsenal, wanted a guaranteed source of income that he wouldn’t get with the current system and didn’t mind sacrificing the meritocracy and the spirit of sport to get it. The same goes for all the greedy presidents and owners of the twelve founding clubs. They didn’t care that clubs like Leicester, Sevilla F.C., or S.S.C. Napoli would not be able to compete in the Super League even if they deserved it. They simply wanted a free pass to elite European soccer and all the financial incentives it provides. They wanted what should be earned through competition and got it through money.
So, while the suspension of the Super League has shown the power fans still hold in their clubs, this fiasco was a reminder that soccer clubs are not “clubs for the fans” anymore. It was a reminder of the harsh reality that the Arsenal I have been watching and admired for more than a decade has always been a greedy billionaire’s little toy.