Football Nation's Stephen Turner wonders if the creation of a ‘European Super League' would be such a bad thing for football.
One of the more unnoticed stories in football this summer has been Real Madrid president Florentino Perez' calls for a European 'super league', involving the continent's top clubs. While there has been talk of such a league over the last decade or so, especially amongst the now-defunct G14 clubs, it has not received much media attention, as it has always seemed too far-fetched to become a reality. While any European league would now have to involve a breakaway of the top clubs from the established setup, with Perez coming out in support of a breakaway league it is now looking more likely than ever that eventually we will see the likes of Real Madrid, Manchester United and Inter Milan contesting their own competition. While the effects of such a competition are obvious for the elite clubs themselves, this week Football Nation examines the effects of such a league on football in general, and in particular the 88 professional English clubs that would not be taking part in the new competition.
Perhaps the most obvious, most immediate and most significant outcome of such a league would be the withdrawal of the TV revenue that the top clubs bring to English football. Let's face it; given the choice between Manchester United v Barcelona or, for example, Bolton v Wigan on a Saturday evening, even the most passionate of Lancashire fans could be forgiven for switching to the game between the two current best teams in Europe. While the 'trickle-down' effect of the money generated by the top-level teams is well-documented, an opposite effect would likely occur given the withdrawal of the top teams from the league, where the absence of money would trickle down, affecting the clubs already in the most precarious financial position the most, and in all probability spelling the end of the four-tier professional league that we are all so used to in England.
The question is, however, would this be bad for the game of football? With so many lower-division teams going into administration in recent years, the removal of these clubs' professional status would relieve so much of the off-the-field pressure that threatens to ruin these clubs, allowing them the freedom of simply being a football club again. The key phrase for me here is 'football club'. Without professional players, lower-division teams would find themselves full of players from their community, playing for the club out of passion for their team and their town. While the standard would most likely drop (although not necessarily, as most players currently playing professionally would continue to play the game in an amateur capacity), how good would it be for local communities to see local players playing with pride for the local team? Attendances would increase as family and friends of the players go to offer their support, and just imagine the attendances that an open trials day for a club currently in League One or Two would generate. The clubs would revert back to what they were founded for in the first place; a focus point for the community, an alternative to the pubs for working men to find a release after a hard week at work, and an incentive for young boys across the country to maintain an activity that would keep them fit and healthy, knowing that there is every chance that they can grow up to represent their community, an opportunity currently unavailable to the vast majority of them.
The Premiership itself would most likely be nothing like what we have today. With the removal of four teams, replacements would have to be found from somewhere. I believe that ready-made replacements already exist in the form of Glasgow clubs Celtic and Rangers, which would create an 18-team league, with less fixture congestion as a result. With Cardiff City only two or three seasons, at most, from a place in the Premiership, and Wrexham and Swansea plying their trades further down the leagues, the argument that this would diminish the integrity of the 'English' football league is obviously nonsense, and without the top four clubs, the Scottish clubs may fancy their chances of being competitive in the top-flight of what would become the British Premier League. The other Scottish clubs would also relish a league without the 'big two' at the top, and the chance to be more than just feeder clubs for the Glasgow giants.
This league would surely be beneficial for both fans and players; without the snowball effect of the top clubs maintaining their positions due to their Champions' League income, and with the interest of the billionaires of the world being drawn away from the league, the Premiership would become a much more competitive competition, where any team could challenge for silverware in a good season, and equally could find themselves in a relegation battle during a bad one. The players, too, would be more motivated, knowing that they would now actually have a chance of amassing some medals in their career. There is too much genuine talent in today's Premiership going completely unrewarded in terms of team medals; the likes of Alan Shearer, Les Ferdinand and Matt Le Tissier, some of the best talent in English football over the last twenty years, have less medals between them than, for example, John O'Shea, Jonathan Greening or Djimi Traore, and while I mean no disrespect to these players, I am sure they would be the first to admit that they are not quite of the same class. Even today, for example, Robbie Keane, by far the most talented goalscorer his country has ever produced, is likely to end his career with just one League Cup medal to his name.
Of course the top players would drift towards the European Super League, but knowing that doing so will mean turning their back on the established game, including their countries' national teams, will lead to the sensible ones only staying for a few years, enough to amass enough money to make them comfortable for the rest of their lives, before returning to their domestic league for the second half of their careers. This would lead to only the elite players earning massive amounts of money, rather than having squad players at struggling Premiership teams on wages that the general public cannot even imagine. Obviously the players who are only in the game for the money will stay in the Super League for as long as they can; frankly, however, I believe that the Premiership would be a better place without this type of mercenary footballer anyway.
Of course those who say that money is destroying the game will argue that a European super league would be the final nail in the coffin. I would say, however, that that coffin has been buried long ago. Again, the key phrase is 'football club', and let's face it, the top clubs are no longer run as football clubs, most obviously in the case of Manchester United, whose current owners have actually removed the words 'football club' from the club's crest. The clubs taking part in this league would be the ones that are already run purely as businesses (Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal), or as fun side-projects to amuse their already-rich owners (Chelsea). My argument is to let the super-rich 'business clubs' form their own competition where money is the focus, and let football belong to the football clubs.
The effects of this new league across Europe would be similar to what I have already described in England; a few countries may lose a division or two of professional football, as well as a large part of the TV revenue that their top clubs bring in, but these leagues would too become more competitive as the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Inter Milan and even Lyon, all dominant forces in their domestic leagues over the last decade, flock to the more glamorous European league. Let's not forget that the TV revenue would not dry up altogether either; fans are not going to stop supporting their countries' leagues just because there is a more glamorous alternative on television once or twice a week. The format of the Champions' League could remain as it is, but would be closer to the standard of the current Europa League, again a much more competitive competition. The Europa League itself would most likely have to be abolished as another European competition would not be able to generate the same interest or standard of football as it currently does.
Such a system is already in place in many sports, notably in the United States where the NFL, NHL and Major League Baseball are all backed up by well-supported minor leagues, many of which remain professional despite the lack of media spotlight and the knowledge that they can never be promoted to the top leagues. Australia also has a similar system, where the high profile AFL gets most of the attention but a thriving community-based competition also exists, despite having a fraction of the population of England. To those who say they do not want their sport to become Americanised, I say to just take a look at the Premiership in its current state, where they will find American-style stadiums named after the clubs' sponsors (a money-generating idea taken from American sports) serving hot dogs, hamburgers and french fries, as well as American beer below the stands. The top two clubs in last year's Premiership, also the most successful clubs in the country historically, are both American-owned, with more surely to follow. These are the same fans who complain about the influence of money and the dominance of the top four teams in the Premiership; problems which could be solved, as I have already explained, by the introduction of a super league for the top European clubs.
Finally, let's not forget the entertainment factor that would come with a European super league. Quite frankly, I would be perfectly happy to settle down on a Saturday or Sunday evening to watch, for example, Arsenal v Real Madrid followed by Inter Milan v Bayern Munich, all the while looking forward to the big midweek game between Liverpool and Manchester United. I have a feeling that I am not the only one who would watch these games, nor am I the only one who would still watch the Premiership as well. Simply arranging the new league to take place outside the current football season, or having the games at different times to Premiership games would be enough to guarantee an audience for the Premier League.
In summary, I believe that the European super league put forward by Florentino Perez has been inevitable for years, and has been coming since the Premiership's inception. With dozens of lower-division football clubs going into administration every year, it is time to bring domestic football back to basics, and for these clubs to become central points for their communities rather than the clearly unsustainable professional institutions they currently are. The Champions' League, Premiership and top divisions across Europe would become more competitive and unpredictable. Players would build their reputations in a league where they can actually win something, and the top players would have the option of making their fortune in the new European League when they reach their prime, knowing that doing so would involve leaving the current system, including their international team. The teams in the new league themselves, and their mega-rich owners, would fulfil their dream of a system guaranteed to make them money year after year, while the focus of the domestic game will be put back on the football itself. It is time for the top teams to follow through with their murmurs of establishing their own competition, so that regular fans can enjoy more competitive, more entertaining, community-based football at all levels of the game.
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