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The demise of the European Super League - but is football in safe hands?

A league consisting of the biggest clubs in Europe
A league consisting of the biggest clubs in Europe
Harsh Pillai
ANALYST
Modified 28 Apr 2021
Top 5 / Top 10

The European Super League (ESL) was formed, introduced, marketed and suspended; all within less than 60 hours. Florentino Perez's dream project has seemingly shattered due to the political pressure from England, UEFA's solemn pledge to become transparent with the clubs that dominate Europe, and fans collectively raising a voice.

The majority of football supporters across the globe reacted against the creation of a Super League, while a few understood the motive, reasoning & incentive behind the project. The rest, albeit a few, were blindly in support of the Super League.

But is the Super League as detrimental & demeaning to the football pyramid as fans claim? And if yes, are we currently in the hands of organizations we can trust to take forward the beautiful game with integrity, transparency & honour?

Football has been monopolized & consumed by corporations for decades. Gone are the days when the game was played out of pure love. The sport in the current era has become a cash-cow for the billionaires who control it. And despite the team's results, their pockets are never hurt.

The creation of the European Super League

The European Super League is reportedly a project on which Real Madrid president Florentino Perez has been working on for well over a decade. The 74-year-old businessman, along with the help of Stan Kroenke, Joel Glazer & Andrea Agnelli, formed this league to ensure sustainable growth for all the big clubs in the coming years.

Million-dollar broadcasting & sponsorship deals with companies worldwide would be struck by a committee formed by the 15 founding members of the Super League itself, without the interference of a third party. This would mean the clubs would have sole rights over the revenue generated, which eventually leads to even distribution of income and transparency amongst the members while ensuring steady growth of every football team part of the league.

The cherry on the cake was JPMorgan Chase, an investment banking company, who was ready to shell out north of $3.5 billion to kickstart the Super League.

There are two principal motives behind the Super League project. Firstly, it was to eliminate UEFA & FIFA's monopolistic control over the European giants, and it would be fair to say that Aleksander Ceferin & Gianni Infantino felt the distress when Perez decided to drop a thumping interview.

Secondly, the founding members of the Super League are in major debt due to the pandemic, heavy losses in matchday income, as well as the insufficient revenue they receive from UEFA to cope with the annual expenses of their respective clubs.

The chairman of the European Super League underlined UEFA's lack of transparency towards the clubs that are the catalysts to their organisation's growth. It was a statement that went under the radar as attention was lured away to his other comments regarding reducing game time & people aged 16-24 losing interest in the game.

The reason behind UEFA & FIFA's aggressive actions to hinder the European Super League

If the Super League is to be formed at some point, UEFA would lose its control over the big clubs. This meant they would not only lose out on the supernormal profit they're currently generating, but also face the risk of forever being under the shadow of ESL; a project which would cost their corrupt-proven organisation, dearly.

According to UEFA's financial report for the year 2019/20, they generated €3.038 billion in revenue from the Champions League, Europa League & the Super Cup. Out of that amount, €2.17 billion was distributed to a whopping 80 teams that qualified for the competitions mentioned above; the founding members of the ESL receiving less than €100 million on average. Meanwhile, a mere amount of just €242.8 million was provided as solidarity payments in the same season.

The Covid-19 pandemic has certainly played a major role in the decrease of financial payments to clubs from UEFA, but it was significantly inferior as compared to the official finance model disclosed by European Super League in their press release.

To offset the impact of the pandemic, JPMorgan Chase was reportedly ready to invest around €4 billion into the Super League, a fee which would be directly distributed amongst the 15 founding members of the competition as a "welcome bonus".

Each club participating would have, on estimation, €266 million at their disposal, to deal with debts, the impact of losing matchday revenue & to continue their infrastructure development plans. Besides, there were solidarity payments of over €10 billion for grassroots and lower league division clubs to ensure smooth functioning of their clubs in this tough market.

The €10 billion figure was spread across the initial commitment period (reported to be 20 years); an average of €500 million per season, almost twice the amount compared to UEFA's.

The Super League plan & structure has surpassed UEFA's financial model for European competitions, but the lack of marketing as well as the club owners' refusal to do separate interviews to apprise fans about the commencement of the league have resulted in unhealthy speculation.

ESL's press release, however, wreaked havoc at the FIFA & UEFA headquarters. While the presidents of either organisation termed the league as a "greedy move" from the clubs, a highly hypocritical comment, the Super League guaranteed a robust foundation & sustainable growth for the big clubs without hindering the grassroots development; an aspect UEFA failed at.

A major drawback of the European Super League

For all the financial benefits reaped by the clubs, players and its owners by participating in the Super League, there is a major drawback for football teams that do not boast the same stature as the big dogs. The argument is that ESL does not promote meritocracy.

While Florentino Perez has emphasized the fact that domestic leagues would not collapse by the formation of ESL, there is an assumption that clubs playing in the Super League would not invest the same efforts in their respective domestic leagues.

However, this is a debate proven wrong by the EuroLeague, a European competition that is a closed basketball league. The EuroLeague was formed in June 2000, and after two decades, regular EuroLeague followers state that the competition has only improved.

The Liga ACB, like the La Liga, is a Spanish league format for basketball. Real Madrid, a club which has played in both the EuroLeague and Liga ACB, have effectively competed in both the competitions. The Madrid outfit has won 4 Liga ACB titles in the last 6 years & 2 EuroLeague titles in the same duration, displaying that there has not been a lack of effort in the domestic league by Real Madrid, despite playing in a European closed-league.

The European Super League, on the other hand, provides 5 spots purely on merit for clubs who aren't the founding members. For example, Leicester City won the Premier League in 2016 but instead of qualifying for the Champions League, the club would earn a direct ticket to the Super League if it accepts the invite from ESL.

In this hypothetical scenario, Leicester would eventually earn significantly more profits than by playing in the UCL, helping them with a cash injection to reinvest and stay at the top for a longer time.

But if the Super League wish to win over the fans, they have no choice but to increase the spots for merit-based qualification, a subject the chiefs have to touch on and find a solution.

Florentino Perez, Chairman of Super League and the mastermind behind the project
Florentino Perez, Chairman of Super League and the mastermind behind the project

Is football being destroyed by the Super League or did it already lose its integrity under the influence of UEFA & FIFA?

Over the years in power, FIFA has been guilty of money laundering, racketeering & wire fraud. In 2015, former FIFA president Sepp Blatter was banned for 12 years for multiple breaches of FIFA's ethics code, while former UEFA president Michel Platini was found guilty of criminal mismanagement & forgery; breaches worth £1.3m ($2m). The latter was banned for 6 years.

There have been plenty of scandals we could dive into, but the pick of the bunch would be FIFA choosing Qatar as the hosts for the World Cup 2022, a country that has a deplorable human rights record for workers, migrant groups and the LGBT communities while also promoting slave labor.

The Middle Eastern country allegedly bribed FIFA officials to win the bidding contest, which took place in 2010, to host the tournament. According to Guardian, 6,500 migrant workers have died in Qatar building stadiums in the last decade; a figure which should send shockwaves across the world.

Unsurprisingly, FIFA has been incredibly passive on the whole issue, according to Pete Pattinson who was the reporter who worked on the investigation.

When we finish taking our eyes off FIFA in disgust from their wrongdoings over the years, UEFA presents an even more interesting pool of scandals, but fortunately, without the abuse of human rights.

A Russian oligarch & two state-owned football clubs have quite simply ruined the football we fell in love with. One would argue that none of the accusations have been proven, but it cannot be a coincidence that their corruption came to light, despite there being more successful clubs in Europe during the period.

Fans are protesting, but for the wrong reasons
Fans are protesting, but for the wrong reasons

Sheikh Monsour, through his sponsoring contracts, which was only a front according to Der Speigel, has pumped over £1.1 billion into Manchester City between 2008 and 2012. The FFP (Financial Fair Play) was introduced in 2011 and this seemed to be the end of Abu Dhabi's financial doping strategies.

The Manchester-based club went fanatical with the sheikh's money and according to the Fair Play rules, those expenses must be revealed. That would've put Man City's future in doubt so the cash inflow was disguised as money from sponsorship revenue (companies based in Abu-Dhabi) in City's financial reports, which meant the club could afford their spending. A genius play to cheat their way to the top.

Source: @SwissRamble (Twitter)
Source: @SwissRamble (Twitter)

The FFP states that clubs should promote a self-sustainable model, where the teams are only allowed to spend what they earn. While Manchester City's combined losses of £618 million in 7 consecutive seasons (2009-12) have proved quite the opposite.

But how did Manchester City get away with this? According to various reports, FIFA President Gianni Infantino was accused to be the orchestrator for "settlements" between UEFA, Manchester City & the Qatari-owned club Paris Saint-Germain (PSG), when the clubs were being heavily investigated by UEFA in 2014.

Similar to Manchester City, PSG were accused of overstating their sponsorship contracts to an incredible value. In 2013, when CFCB (Club Financial Control Body) investigated PSG's financial books for the first time, they detected a sponsorship agreement with Qatar Tourism Authority (QTA).

Nasser Al-Khelaifi - President of Paris Saint-Germain
Nasser Al-Khelaifi - President of Paris Saint-Germain

In 2012, PSG had struck a deal with QTA over "Agreement for the Promotion of the Image of Qatar" for five years; a contract which saw PSG infuse €1.08 billion into the club over the duration of the agreement. The eye-opener here was that Octagon (international sports marketing agency) assessed the "fair market value" of this contract to be around €13.9 million only, allowing QTA to pump an extra €998.6 million into the French club over five years. The contract signed was a hugely inflated price, a clear-cut case of financial doping.

If FIFA & UEFA would've halted the two state-owned clubs in their roots, there wouldn't have been an idea to form the Super League in the first place. The transfer regulation policies and wage caps implemented by UEFA in the FFP were for a good cause but the problem arose when they blindly allowed Man City & PSG to freestyle their way into the top, breaching rules in utmost fashion.

When fans, retired players and pundits lobbied against the formation of the Super League, they were, in a way, lobbying for FIFA & UEFA to stay in power. The two organisations went gung-ho to bring the Super League down.

The ploys went right from making empty threats aimed at Florentino Perez and other owners to involving PSG, Bayern Munich, English FA, La Liga, Bundesliga, Serie A and other football associations under them to put out statements against the Super League.

Because the birth of the European Super League meant the death of FIFA & UEFA's corruption in football.

Super League vs the new Champions League format

After the Super League's announcement, UEFA dropped a new format for the Champions League, ready to be implemented from 2024. While ESL has 15 of the biggest clubs in Europe that will never be relegated, because they are the "foundations" of the competition, the new UCL format has new spots for elite clubs that fail to qualify directly for the Champions League.

UEFA have come up with an idea to keep the fans happy, add more games to the calendar and eventually bag more revenue in the process, all at the expense of players' fitness & longevity while they also stay in power for the prolonged future.

Will the Super League return with an improved format?

Highly likely. The official statement from the Super League states that the competition is only 'suspended', as the project is now undergoing changes. According to Florentino Perez himself, the European Super League is on standby, reports BBC.

Meanwhile, on the 22nd of April, the Real Madrid president did a second interview with El Larguero, a Spanish radio sports program. And this is what he had to say.

In addition to Perez's comments, the latest report by Vozpopuli states that any club willing to exit the Super League has to pay a penalty of €300 million. This is in relation to the €3.2 billion investment received by the clubs from JPMorgan Chase, to kickstart the tournament.

Funnily enough, in every statement put out by the Big Six clubs in England, there hasn't been any mention of officially quitting the Super League. So there is a high probability that the statements that all had a sentence in common, which read "we have begun the procedures to withdraw from the Super League" were released only in response to the tremendous outcry from the fans.

The clubs will likely return with the project and with an improved format, based on current reports. Time will tell.

Conclusion - Author's opinion

While the outrage towards the creation of the Super League was understandable, the ESL failed to market their product effectively. The tournament was paramount for the financial sustainability of big clubs because their profits are what trickles down to grassroots football survival. For example, the stability and success of big chain supermarkets are what helps local food producers to stay in the market.

If the big clubs find themselves buried in immense debts or end up on the brink of bankruptcy, it will have a drastic hit on their transfer spending in the market, which would eventually affect the small clubs in lower divisions, making it difficult for the latter to sell players.

Debts of the six big clubs in Serie A & La Liga
Debts of the six big clubs in Serie A & La Liga

Now, despite all these debts, the big clubs are not in any hurry to clear it because of the massive revenue they generate, which helps in paying off interest for loans and hedge funds. However, the debts are to be cleared off at some point and if big clubs continue to run into major debts, there will be a time when they will find themselves helpless. This is exactly the reason behind big clubs pushing for the Super League.

The founding members failed to explain their decision to join European Super League. The advertisement for the league was minimal and therefore, it presented a perfect chance for UEFA & FIFA to ask every football associations & journalists to protest against the league, securing the support of fans in the process.

Because at the end of the day, every fan needs to ask themselves a question. Would you rather your clubs to have sole ownership over the enormous revenue they generate through their fans, or witness fraudulent organisations like FIFA & UEFA continuing to exist off your clubs' income?

Published 28 Apr 2021
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