Football fans across the globe were this close to seeing the sport as they know and love it nearly cease to exist. And if greedy owners of these “elite” clubs undervalued the power of the people who serve as the foundation of the game, I can assure you they will not make the same mistake again.
Twelve famous European football clubs planned to break away from the current UEFA competition formats of the Champions League and Europa League to form what would be called the European Super League. The proposal included many of the most prominent clubs across European leagues, including:
(The English clubs are also known as “The Big Six” of the English Premier League… I’ll tell you why that is ironic shortly.)
It should be documented that three other famous clubs, Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund from Germany’s Bundesliga, and Paris Saint-Germain from France’s Ligue 1 all declined the initial invitation.
The format of the ESL was to be like that of the Champions League: a knockout competition featuring Europe’s elite clubs. Something that literally already exists. The competition format was set to involve 20 total teams, two groups of 10 teams—competing in home and away games, to be played mid-week. At the conclusion of the first round, the top three finishers in each group would automatically qualify for the quarterfinals.
The fourth and fifth-place teams would then face each other in a play-off match for the two remaining places in the quarterfinals. Quarterfinals and semi-finals would be played on a home-and-away occurrence, with the final being played as a single-leg fixture at neutral stadium.
The clubs who make up the 15 permanent clubs in the Super League, however, would be immune to elimination from the competition, even if their performances were consistently poor.
Yes, let that marinate for one moment because you did read that correctly… those 12 original clubs, plus the additional three clubs that accepted the inaugural season’s invitation, could never be relegated from the European Super League even if their performances suggested otherwise. Relegation and promotion are what make world football such an awesomely unique sport. It wreaks of competition, surgency, and requires positive results. If those results do not come over the course of time, then clubs potentially face huge ramifications.
Additionally, the current format around domestic leagues in Europe offers the chance to qualify for the Champions and Europa Leagues. You must earn that right to play in those competitions. The ESL was an elitist and entitled power play for rich clubs (primarily driven by billionaire owners, to be fair) to only get richer at the expense of smaller clubs and would have eliminated the excitement and opportunity to compete.
I mentioned The Big Sixin the English Premier League earlier: Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal, and Tottenham Hotspur. There is such a huge performance irony of them wanting to initially break away and become members of the ESL.
Here is a glimpse of what the top half of the table currently looks like after approximately 33 matches played amongst all 20 teams in the league:
For context, the top four clubs qualify for the Champions League, which is essentially the super league we currently have. The fifth place team qualifies for the Europa League—think of the Champions League as the NCAA Basketball Tournament, and the Europa League as the NIT. If the season were to end right this second, Arsenal, Liverpool, and Tottenham would not even qualify for European competition at all next year. Chelsea would get in by the skin of their teeth, and Leicester City and West Ham would have earned their places in Europe.
The idea that Arsenal, Liverpool and Tottenham—all who have, at times, been horrendous to watch this year—were about to be placed into a super league with the likes of Inter Milan, Barcelona, and Real Madrid… just because? That is mind-boggling. Spurs have never won the Premier League, and Liverpool won it for the first time last year. Hell, Leicester City won it before either of those teams did, and they were 5000-1 odds to win it in 2015-16, but you are telling me that four clubs who sit below them in the table get this God-given right to mix it up with the giants of world football? And they do not?
The meritocracy of domestic football across Europe would have disappeared before our eyes. The most beautiful thing about football is that on any given day, the best team can be defeated by the worst team. Sheffield United currently sit dead last in the Premier League table, yet they went to Old Trafford earlier and beat my club Manchester United 2-1. West Bromwich Albion are in 19th place, but traveled to Stamford Bridge and beat Chelsea 5-2. They scored 5 goals against a team who is typically a stubborn defensive powerhouse. That almost never happens, but football offers the opportunity that it can.
Once the idea of this so-called Super League came to light last week, it was a beautiful thing to see supporters from “The Big Six” (or selfish six if you ask me) come together and voice their frustrations against their club owners. Manchester United, like many other clubs in England were founded by factory and blue-collar workers who needed a release on the weekends after busting their tails during the week. There are signs at Old Trafford from the famous Sir Matt Busby that say, “Football is nothing without the fans.” The supporters, the backbone of modern-day football, were overlooked and nearly forgotten. But ultimately, the supporters won the day, with their outspoken backlash relegating the ESL to the trash can of bad ideas.
It will be interesting to see what happens now, as the ESL is “on standby,” according to Real Madrid President, key member of the ESL executive board, and Florentino Perez, probably one of the most hated men in Europe.
My hope, and the hope of many true football fans, is that this elitist money-grabbing league never happens. The spirit of competition, and the understanding that nothing can be assumed makes football the best sport in the world. It is perfectly set up for both the Davids and the Goliaths to prosper, which—billionaire owners should note—is the true beauty of sport.