News broke this morning confirming that 12 of Europe’s biggest football clubs intend to form a breakaway ‘Super League’ just hours before UEFA are scheduled to announce an expanded Champions League format.
Among the clubs are England’s ‘big six’ (Liverpool, Arsenal, Tottenham, Chelsea, Manchester City, and Manchester United); Spanish giants Real Madrid, Barcelona, and Atletico Madrid; and Italian clubs Juventus, Inter Milan, and AC Milan.
Pundits and fans have rightly identified the motivation driving these clubs to be pure financial greed. American investment bank is JP Morgan is reported to be investing some US$5 billion into the project to get it going. UEFA is similarly reported to be threatening to bring a lawsuit of €50-60 billion against the breakaway clubs.
But what’s most astonishing about this deal isn’t the money involved, eye-watering as it may be.
Nor is it the sheer greed or total selfishness, grotesque and sickening as they may be.
What’s most astonishing is how much this agreement rips the soul out of football and violates the game’s promise of democracy.
The beauty of football is that it treats every person and every playing style with equal dignity, equal opportunity, and equal respect.
The game doesn’t discriminate between physicality in the way that rugby or basketball might. The two best players of the past decade (and perhaps ever) could hardly be more different in stature: one a towering specimen of pure physical power, the other a diminutive, smiling man who wouldn’t turn a head as he walks down the street but turns the world upside-down with the ball at his feet.
There is no ‘correct’ way to play football. We might say that one way is more beautiful or more pragmatic than another, but even the most casual fan would concede that the best way to play will vary between teams and players. Jesse Lingard might flounder at Manchester United, but at West Ham he is flourishing. Timo Werner was lethal at RB Leipzig but has been lethargic at Chelsea. Football expresses culture.
There is high drama on the game’s greatest stages, but anyone who has played even the most amateurish football on the weekend has access to the same storied emotion. The game doesn’t require expensive equipment or particular playing conditions – ‘two jackets and a ball’ is all you need.
There are financial inequalities in the game, to be sure, but miracles still happen. Claudio Ranieri’s Leicester City in 2016 and its bag of rag-tag players showed that money can’t buy everything. No doubt Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich and Manchester City owner Sheikh Mansour would offer similar sentiments.
What the game promises is that every player and every team is capable of rising through the ranks and achieving glory.
This so-called Super League is fundamentally opposed to the principles of equality that underlay the beautiful game. Entry to the Super League is not earned by playing good football, it is through being able to earn enough money to satisfy the greedy administrators.
Arsenal sit ninth in the Premier League and Spurs haven’t won a league title since 1961. Despite sitting ahead of four of the big six on the Premier League table, neither West Ham nor Leicester will be invited to play on the ‘biggest stage.’ Initial reports claim that additional spots will be opened up based on merit, but “merit” is surely a thinly-veiled euphemism for ‘the highest bidder.’
It’s clear that those behind the league don’t understand the game or the fans that cherish it. The presumption that the breakaway clubs can ‘win the argument’ against fans around the world is mind-boggling. Football fans support their clubs for a range of deeply personal, deeply emotional reasons that cannot be rationalised away with a paycheck and empty rhetoric of solidarity.
It might be because their parents took them to watch that team growing up. For many Australians who are children of immigrant parents, their allegiance to a particular club is owing to their parents’ heritage and is a tribute to their forebears.
Perhaps by chance they met a player from a team one day and have been passionate fans ever since.
My own support of Chelsea in the Premier League was due to the fact that after Guus Hiddink took the Socceroos to the World Cup in 2006 he next appeared at Chelsea, and so as an excitable nine-year-old I took the Blues on as my own.
Changes to the game always attract criticism but no change has ever attracted a chorus of outrage as uniform as this one – even VAR has its supporters.
The Super League squashes the promise of equality and the spirit of democracy that underpins our beautiful game. Fans can hope that FIFA or UEFA intervene, but the inmates running the asylum doesn’t paint a much more promising picture.