It says a lot about how deep social alienation runs among football fans that the announcement of a European Super League has been met with either weary cynicism or utter fury.
Shady billionaires ran the show before and they’ll run it afterwards. Football’s a rich man’s playground. You might not think it’s that different to when the Premier League broke away from the Football League in 1992, so it could gorge on Rupert Murdoch’s millions.
Except, it is different. The formation of the Premier League may have been motivated by greed – and laid the philosophical groundwork for this kind of craven move years later – but it was never a closed shop where the majority of clubs were entitled to a place by right and reputation. Football may have been bought up by the rich but, while deeply flawed, there are still checks and balances: governing bodies and national associations with the power to enforce common rules, even if many have failed to regulate ownership and finances successfully.
Whether or not a Super League comes to fruition – and there are still numerous logistical, political and legal hurdles to overcome for those who want to make it happen – this is a defining moment in the history of modern football. A tiny cabal of extremely rich men have plotted behind closed doors to redesign the highest level of the game in their image. They have tried to upturn the competitive balance, history and heritage of European football overnight, arbitrarily excluding other clubs in an attempt to monopolise the market and siphon off the profits (the plan eschews any form of promotion or relegation for its founder members). There has been zero fan consultation, zero transparency and zero concern for the integrity of football as a sport.
In attempting to jettison the rest of football, the owners of the clubs involved have shaken family loyalties going back generations. You would struggle to find a fan on social media today who isn’t boiling with rage and feeling betrayed. Fundamentally, a secessionist league that could see clubs expelled from domestic competition and their players barred from international tournaments is a spectacularly unpopular idea among the people who watch and love the game. It could only have come from the minds of hedge fund managers, oligarchs and billionaire businessmen, detached plutocrats who understand football as an investment opportunity that exists solely to amass more wealth and power for themselves. (It is not coincidental that the “ringleaders” of this plan are the clubs in the most debt – Manchester United, Real Madrid and Barcelona among them.)
The fact that the Super League has been floated in the midst of a pandemic, a time when fans aren’t attending matches to protest, shows how calculated and opportunistic its backers really are. If they do manage to franchise their clubs and create a new league in addition to the existing ones, those same people will write their own rules. Drastic rebrands, spiralling prices, games in glamour locations overseas: fans will find out what a rich man’s playground really looks like when there’s nothing to inhibit them. It will be football as dictated by the whims of capital, neoliberalism at its most extreme.
Though it’s tempting to take the attitude that the clubs involved can gladly eat themselves and that everyone else is better off without them, a new anti-competitive league could have profound implications elsewhere. While the statement announcing the Super League’s formation pledges some form of solidarity payments, there would likely be a sharp financial shock to the domestic leagues left behind when it comes to broadcasting revenues, sponsorship and commercial income. That could have a knock-on effect that reverberates down the football pyramid. With so many clubs already struggling owing to the pandemic, it could have dire consequences for football’s fragile financial ecosystem.
Ultimately, though, this is about what football represents and who it’s intended to serve. Europe’s grand old institutions may long ago have been bought up by the rich, but a Super League would end any notion that owners are custodians with a duty to their supporters. Should decades of history be expunged and communal ties severed, so that a handful of grotesquely wealthy people can make themselves even wealthier?
Protest, boycott, turn off the television. The elite need to know that, from this point onwards, they no longer dictate the rules of the game.