European Super League: Jeopardy is a problem for the big clubs but it is what makes football great and cannot be removed


Florentino Perez promised entertainment and the European Super League provided it, cramming grotesque ambition and, ultimately, meek surrender into its 48-hour existence.

There was action.

The flurry of statements on Sunday evening, when it seemed that the most popular game on earth was changing forever before our very eyes, the verdict already in from 12 angry men. The resignations from the European Club Association. Declaring war on UEFA in cyan and magenta font.

There was drama.

The sacking of one of the most famous managers in the world and the resignation of the executive vice-chairman of Manchester United were mere subplots, said to be nothing to do with it.

There was gallows humour.

Florentino Perez, Real Madrid’s septuagenarian spokesperson for the youth of today, advocating shortening matches during a rambling television appearance because youngsters cannot concentrate for 90 minutes, only to discover that he was the one who had not been paying attention.

But the essential component in it all was jeopardy.

People knew what was at stake.

That is what mobilised so many against this landgrab, uniting disparate groups in a way that – tragically – even something as appalling as racism thus far could not. Governments talked of legislating against it. Even the Royal Family found the stench of privilege distasteful.

When Chelsea’s ‘legacy fans’ protested before their game against Brighton on Tuesday, the proposal that Perez claimed to have drawn up to “respond to their desires” did not survive the briefest contact with them.

Image:
Chelsea supporters led protests outside Stamford Bridge on Tuesday night

To misquote Mike Tyson, everyone has a plan until you’re trying to drive the team bus down the King’s Road. The announcement of the club’s withdrawal came while they were still protesting. The cheers could be heard inside. If this were a movie, you would question the pacing.

The characters purporting to lead us all into this brave new world crumbled remarkably quickly, in their own words “forced to take such decisions due to the pressure on them”.

But while this sordid venture has been stopped, complacency would be a mistake because it will surely return in another guise. It will return because of that key word: jeopardy.










1:58

Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher react to withdrawals from the Super League

It is what we love and they hate. It is central to sport, the idea that success on the pitch will be rewarded and failure will not. But it is anathema to business, the big-club auditors who watch on as Leicester lift the title to the strains of Andrea Bocelli and see only a risk to be mitigated against.

“A manager makes a three-year plan but he can have a difference of several hundred million euros depending on his results,” Anas Laghari, the Madrid banker appointed general secretary of the Super League, told Le Parisien. His incredulity leapt from the page. Earning success? It just won’t do.

It is almost an aside that their solution for football was nothing of the sort.

There is a misunderstanding at the heart of it. It is back-of-a-fag-packet mathematics to spot the popularity of the biggest matches, note, as Laghari did, that “these big games rarely happen”, then conclude that by increasing their number, the appetite and the money will rise accordingly.










4:27

Kaveh Solhekol reacts to the withdrawals from the proposed Super League

Bayern Munich versus Paris Saint-Germain was perhaps the game of the season so far, but that was because the reigning European champions spent much of it on the brink of elimination.

Porto versus Juventus in the previous round of the Champions League might have been even more thrilling, featuring as it did some extra-time drama as the 10-man Portuguese underdogs progressed. The delicious irony here is that only one of these four teams signed up for the Super League.

And they lost.

The future envisaged by these big clubs is not to extend this fun but to curtail it. The Super League proposal was for a drawn-out group stage but would actually reduce the number of knockout matches by moving to a quarter-final stage instead once that nonsense was concluded.

Sadly, UEFA’s own plans for the Champions League are little better, a forlorn attempt to appease these big-club owners who see the pre-season farce that is the International Champions Cup as something to aspire to rather than a stark warning of how anodyne their football could become.

It would only have been a matter of time before Perez perused a Madrid fixture list that included a run of games against Arsenal, Inter and Tottenham, interspersed with a couple of unwanted ‘guest teams’ in a sop to meritocracy, and concluded it was time for his endgame.

El Clasico on loop.

Andrea Agnelli, Florentino Perez and Ed Woodward
Image:
Andrea Agnelli, Florentino Perez and Ed Woodward were among those involved

This is it. Capitalism unfettered. Guaranteed success. A taste of which is coming to a leisure centre near you if you want to see the Harlem Globetrotters face the Washington Generals in perpetuity.

That threat has been delayed for now but the problems that underscore this unfortunate episode have not gone away, as those proposers of the Super League themselves made clear even as they announced its failure and began preparations for their awkward chats with Aleksander Ceferin.

The Spanish clubs were acting in debt-fuelled desperation, the urgency of the Italian trio increased by their own diminished financial status. Leicester had a bigger turnover than the Milan clubs not long ago. West Ham might soon be able to say the same if they can retain their place in the top four.

But it is the actions of the English clubs that expose the thinking here. The Premier League is a success story. There is no gaping hole in the finances of these clubs that cannot be solved in an instant by eschewing their summer interest in that next £50m back-up forward.

Their motivation is still money, of course, but it is the guarantee of it. Six into four does not go and even if it did, the presence of not only Leicester and West Ham but Everton and others disrupts that.

This is why compromise is so difficult and the struggle to assuage these clubs will go on. Because the jeopardy that they view as a problem to be solved, the rest of us regard as the foundation of football’s success. That message has been sent loud and clear. It must continue to be heard.





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