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International Champions Cup: A Trojan Horse for a Super League?

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10th August, 2019

“It’s great to put eight goals past Dijon, but it is in these matches that you have to make it count,” Adrien Rabiot told beIN Sports after Paris Saint-Germain lost to Real Madrid in the Champions League last season.

This statement from the French midfielder highlights the purgatory that PSG find themselves in – they’re far superior to any challenge domestically, so much so that many have claimed it blunts their edge so they’re unable to contend with the European elite on the grandest stage.

This has not been a one-off phenomenon. Last season, PSG finished 16 points clear of second and won their sixth league title in seven years.

And this scenario is not unique to France. There is a gap that has been steadily growing between the top one or two clubs across European football to the rest.

PSG's Angel di Maria controls the ball.

(AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

Juventus have won eight consecutive Serie A titles, Bayern Munich have been Bundesliga champions for seven years running and Atletico Madrid’s 2013-14 La Liga crown was the only time in the last 14 years that the Real Madrid-Barcelona duopoly has been broken, with Barcelona last season wrapping up their eighth title in the last 11 campaigns.

As things currently stand, the status quo in footballing leagues will remain as it suits those who would have the power to change it. However, how many consecutive Serie A titles do Juventus need to canter to while simultaneous falling short in Europe before people decide it is enough? How many French teams can PSG eviscerate on a weekly basis before their repeated failure in Europe can no longer be stomached?

Money from media rights is where the issue could turn from complaints to tangible action, with the English Premier League outstripping its European rivals.

English clubs are now taking advantage of their riches in European competitions, which could see whispers from continental club presidents turn into shouts.


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Bayern Munich chief Karl-Heinz Rummenigge has never been shy about discussing alternatives to the current models of footballing leagues in an attempt to find ways for Bayern to break through the financial glass ceiling of being in the Bundesliga.

Rummenigge, however, has taken these hints a step further in recent weeks by questioning the very fabric of German football. The 50-plus-1 rule ensures that a majority of each club is owned by the fans.

This rule, by extension, limits private ownership of a club – the sort of ownership that has helped the likes of Manchester City, Chelsea and PSG turn from domestic also-rans into European elite.


A revolution doesn’t need a 30-team agreement, just a single match to light a waiting fuse. PSG have the ability to be that match. The club is effectively owned by the Qatari government as a vehicle for soft power and international legitimacy.

This, as well as their international branding, will only last so long if the team keeps failing at the first sign of difficulty in Europe while swatting aside all domestic competition.

Given their need for prestige and combined with the almost unlimited bank accounts of the owners, PSG would have both the motive and financial clout to realistically propose a breakaway league.

Sure, it would possibly gut Ligue 1, but what do the Qatari owners care for the health of French domestic football if it allows their project to further sun itself in glory?

Neymar Jr for Paris-Saint Germain

(AP Photo/Kamil Zihnioglu)

Given Rummenigge’s quotes about the limitations of the German footballing rules, it seems likely that Bayern – who can see their glorious history being overshadowed by an inglorious future – are simply looking for a good reason to join a new project.

What about the others, though?

English teams know that they have it good, with a competitive league and a veritable treasure chest of television income. This is enough to keep them happy under the present conditions.


If a European Super League was formed, though, it wouldn’t take long before the elite of European football decided it was too good to refuse. Would Sheikh Mansour prefer to play Brighton or Barcelona?

Where does the International Champions Cup (ICC) fit into all of this? It is a harmless, glamour preseason friendly tournament, isn’t it?

The ICC was started by Relevent Sports, who are a subsidiary of American venture capital group RSE Ventures. Each year the tournament format changes, as do some of the teams invited, and this has allowed a several-year experiment in deciding which are the most lucrative teams and best formats.

The tournament has enabled RSE to lay the foundations to create networks to launch a renegade league. TV rights negotiations, advertisers, venues, and match-day services – these contacts have already been established and these relationships have evolved over five years.

This experience means that Relevent Sports would, at the drop of a hat, have the connections and relationships established to turn these preseason contracts into season-long deals.


Will the need to find new revenue streams and regular competition eventually lead to the heavyweights of European football forming their own Super League? Given the disparities in domestic football only increasing, it’s looking more likely that it’s a matter of when and not if.

This leads to the question: is the International Champions Cup ultimately a pre-season friendly tournament or a Trojan Horse for a Super League?