The football world as we know it faced its biggest threat to the traditional structure with the announcement of the ultimately short-lived European Super League.
The clubs involved included the big six from England as well as three from Spain and three from Italy. Rumours of a European Super League had been circling for years, but its apparent realisation turned it momentarily tangible.
The funding for the Super League was going to be provided by American financial goliath JP Morgan, with the founding clubs promised €3.5 billion (A$5.4 billion). The creation of such a league brought to light the club owners’ thirst for more and a greed that does not take into account the broader health of football.
Real Madrid president Florentino Perez claimed the creation of the European Super League was designed to save football.
“Football has to keep changing and adapting to the times,” he said. “Football is losing interest. Something must be done.”
The thought of the European Super League being created to save football was criticised by former players and pundits alike. Former Manchester United and Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville savaged his former club for its involvement in the Super League while also questioning the legitimacy of the clubs chosen.
“Manchester United aren’t even in the Champions League, Arsenal aren’t even in the Champions League … and they want a God-given right to be in there.”
The arrogance and complete disregard for the countries and communities that these football clubs represent should have come as no real surprise in a game where owners value the bottom line more than the working-class fan. Foreign ownership is not something new, especially in the English game, which has seen the likes of Manchester City and Chelsea both benefitting from foreign investment.
Moral and ethical concerns about such takeovers seem to have been pushed aside in the pursuit of wealth and trophies wherein the creation of super clubs now dominate the football landscape.
The European Super League is an extension of the creation of these super clubs that are now utilising the power that has been afforded to them by breaking away from organisations like UEFA. The stepping away of clubs such as Manchester United, Arsenal and Tottenham from the European Club Association was yet again a sign that these clubs were willing to branch out on their own. UEFA unsurprisingly came out strongly against the 12 clubs by threatening the exclusion of any players and clubs involved in the breakaway league from all its competitions.
UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin condemned the planners of the Super League as snakes and delivered a powerful message to the breakaway clubs.
“I have seen many things in my life. I was a criminal lawyer. I have never seen people like that,” he said. “It is hard to believe the level of immorality of some people.”
Football has reached a watershed moment wherein the voices of fans, players and managers have never been more important. The moral compass of football must now be challenged and brought to the fore. For too long clubs and owners have controlled and dictated terms while avoiding any ramifications.
Sanity has prevailed for now with the withdrawal of all clubs besides Real Madrid and Barcelona from the European Super League. The folding of the competition, the creation of which would have turned the football world upside down, showcased the power of fans as they protested against their respective clubs joining.
Unsurprisingly clubs have met this condemnation by releasing statements apologising to the very fans they were looking to leave behind. These hollow statements do not explain or highlight the motivations for the split besides greed, with only Real Madrid president Florentino Perez offering a plausible reason, with both Real Madrid and Barcelona facing mounting debts.
The greed that exists in football is a sad microcosm of a broader society, which is controlled and sadly run by a financial hand which in many cases prioritises wealth over collective wellbeing. The European Super League is yet another example of wealth treading on the importance of community and connection. The rich get richer.
The disregard for the clubs outside of these elite 12 is not what football was built on. The prospect of fairytale stories like Leicester City winning the Premier League or Wigan defeating Manchester City in the FA cup final keeps the magic of football alive.
Football’s roots are in the working class, and without this connection, football will lose the very thing that makes it both the global game and the beautiful game.