Talk of a European Super League has dominated football headlines over the last week.
It is a story that is well known by now. Last Sunday, 12 clubs, including six from the Premier League, three from La Liga and three from Serie A, went public with their intention to form a breakaway league from UEFA.
Real Madrid president Florentino Perez claimed that this new Super League was designed to “save football." Virtually everyone else disagreed, with Manchester City quickly pulling ranks followed by Chelsea and the other four members of the English quartet, Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham.
The rug had been whisked from under the feet of the rebel teams. Atletico Madrid and Inter withdrew the next day, and so too did Milan. Juventus, meanwhile, published an ambiguous statement that seemed to admit defeat.
Only Real Madrid and Barcelona have continued with the pretense that the Super League is still a possibility.
Why do Real Madrid and Barcelona need the Super League?
It is no coincidence that the two clubs most set upon the idea of the Super League are the two teams with the most to lose without it.
Real Madrid and Barcelona are two of European football's greatest institutions, but their foundations are wobbling.
Poor financial management in recent years has seen both clubs accumulate incredible debts that are simply impossible to pay off if they are to remain competitive at a level they are used to.
Barca president Joan Laporta has described the Super League as “absolutely necessary,” while Perez has admitted that Real Madrid will not be able to sign the likes of Kylian Mbappe or Erling Haaland this summer without the competition.
Speaking to Spanish radio El Larguero, Perez argued:
“When money does not flow from the rich clubs to the poor clubs, everyone suffers."
The depth of the financial crisis in Spain
The stark truth, however, is that these clubs have been dramatically mismanaged for years. Barcelona find themselves an astounding €1.2 billion in debt. It is estimated by the end of the current financial year that Real Madrid will also be in the red to the tune of around €900 million.
Moreover, after Barcelona president Laporta’s bluster about being able to re-sign Lionel Messi during the presidential election, it would be a severe loss of face if the Argentine was to leave for nothing.
Given that Messi is paid over €100m per year currently, representing an incredible 11% of all the money the Blaugrana bring in, they cannot justify matching those wages. This holds especially true, as they have been instructed by the Spanish League to cut their wage bill by €140m. With an imposed salary limit of €338m, Messi would represent around one-third of that budget.
There are no easy fixes this summer, either. Real Madrid’s financial figures for last year were massaged by the fact they sold several squad players for a combined tally of around €100m, driving them into profit. Neither of the Super League’s two remaining sides have any particularly sellable assets this summer.
With the transfer market in a state of depression following the economic downturn driven by COVID-19, no one will take a risk on injury-prone players like Eden Hazard or Ousmane Dembele – especially not for the sort of fee that Real Madrid and Barcelona will command.
What now that the Super League is dead?
The Super League – and the promise of a quick €250 million cash injection that joining up would bring – would have been an easy solution. Not only would it allow the clearing of short-term debt, but it would also have generated revenue to sign superstar players like Haaland and Mbappe – as well as potentially retain Messi.
What the Super League may not have done, however, is solve the problem of astronomical transfer fees and player wages, which have driven these clubs to this point.
No one, for instance, forced Barcelona to spend €300m on Dembele and Philippe Coutinho, two players who have unquestionably flopped. They did not learn their lesson, though, and spent another €120m on Antoine Griezmann, who has not offered them any value on that investment.
The Super League would not solve the culture of mismanagement at these clubs, which, in Barcelona’s case, at least, was driven by the previous regime.
And indeed it was Josep Maria Bartomeu, the disgraced former president, who signed Barca up to the Super League in the first place – though no one seemed to pay much attention to his words at the time.
Speaking as he was deposed in October, Bartomeu said:
“I can announce some extraordinary news. Yesterday we accepted a proposal to participate in a future European Super League, which would guarantee the future financial sustainability of the club.”
In hindsight, this was a ploy preventing his successor, who was always likely to be Laporta, from gaining credit should the Super League prove his club’s salvation.
The short-term, however, shows that the Super League is off the cards, and with the shambolic way it was foisted upon UEFA, means that idea has lost credibility for at least a handful of years.
UEFA’s new Swiss Model Champions League, meanwhile, is not the solution. In many ways, it is the worst of both worlds. Clubs will not gain the additional revenue they crave, while there will be an additional strain on teams because of the extra games they will play, leaving managers and players unhappy.
In the meantime, both Barcelona and Real Madrid must ride out this financial storm as best they can – as they are the clubs poised to suffer most without the Super League.