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  • Writer's pictureKai Abbott

The Revival of the Super League - History, Challenges, and Effects

By Kai Abbott  | December 24, 2023


Florentino Pérez, President of Real Madrid, and mastermind behind the European Super League (Image: Getty Images)

April 18th to April 21st of 2021 was a fascinating time in the history of European football. Manchester City sat comfortably at the top of the Premier League, Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid, and Barcelona wrestled in a three-legged-race for the La Liga crown, and Robert Lewandowski of Bayern Munich had already scored his 35th goal in 25 games in the Bundesliga. Oh right. One other minor thing too. The century-old structure of European football nearly collapsed. 

When Florentino Pérez, President of Real Madrid, announced the formation of the European Super League, on April 18th, 2021, 12 original clubs signed up to be involved. The breakaway competition included some of Europe’s biggest, most successful, and wealthiest teams in a “closed shop” format, meaning no other clubs could join. This included English clubs (Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, and Tottenham Hotspur), Italian clubs (Inter Milan, Juventus, and AC Milan), and Spanish clubs (Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, and Real Madrid). 

So what made the offer so enticing to these clubs? As the old ABBA song goes, “Money, money, money.” A $250 million bonus, and an extra $3.5 billion overtime to support infrastructure investments and offset impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic, which ravaged many clubs' financial security, immediately widened the eyes of these football clubs’ owners. Just hours later, American bank JP Morgan announced a prospective $3.5 billion loan to the project to “ensure its viability.” 

The announcement sent the entire footballing world into mayhem. Immediately, the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) and the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) stood up to the project. Swift reforms were threatened, such as banning the 12 clubs from their respective leagues and the more prestigious UEFA Champions League, along with stripping them of all of their previous titles. Meanwhile, fans, coaches, and players sparked numerous protests in almost every major European city. Flags were flown at games, flares were set outside of stadiums, and hundreds of players and coaches signed pledges to leave their clubs if the project went on.

Chelsea fans protesting the Super League in April 2021 (Image: Getty Images)

All within the short space of around 56 hours, the entire project came crashing down gloriously—the relentless pressure from fans and the pledges of the 12 founding clubs to leave made its mark. The entire footballing world celebrated the merit and integrity of the game-winning over the financial interests of those at the top. 

Two-and-a-half years later, another twist in the tail has come Europe’s way. Just this Thursday, the 21st of December, 2023, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) delivered its long-awaited verdict after the European Super League Company (ESLC) took legal action against the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) and the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA). The ruling declared that UEFA and FIFA, after the meltdown and fallout of the failed ESL in April 2021, “Abused [their] dominant position” and “breached competition law to prohibit clubs and players from joining the ESL.” The ruling effectively sanctions Pérez and ESLC’s right to form a breakaway ‘super league’, putting European football in a tricky situation once again.

Just hours after the ruling, UEFA, FIFA, and the European Club Association (ECA) released a statement. “There is no place for any type of ‘super league’ in Europe. Football is for everyone. Keep it open to all.” For football fans, the ruling comes as a shock too. Within hours of the ruling, clubs such as Bayern Munich, Manchester City, Manchester United, Borussia Dortmund, Sevilla, and Atletico Madrid all released formal statements to oppose the league. The next day, Liverpool, Arsenal, and Paris Saint-Germain followed suit with those who formally spoke out. However, there remain most notably two stubborn outliers—Real Madrid and Barcelona. 

Both Real Madrid and Barcelona’s financial statuses were devastated by the COVID-19 Pandemic. Though Real Madrid faired far better than Barcelona, who recorded a net loss of $627m in the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons, they still missed out on over $350m of revenue over the two years. Right after the European Court’s announcement, Barcelona and Real Madrid sent out a very clear message. Despite holding Europe’s most fierce and legendary rivalry on the pitch, it has become obvious that they had continued working in tandem on the Super League after the collapse of the original plan in April 2021. Both clubs insist that the Super League is the only way for European football to survive, given the guaranteed revenues for every single club involved, and fans not having to pay a single euro to see the games on television. The response of almost every elite European club is at the least, not ideal for President Pérez or President of Barcelona Joan Laporta’s vision.

Barcelona playing behind closed doors during the COVID-19 Pandemic (Image: Getty Images)

The ruling is not doom and gloom for all though, even for clubs that have rejected the approach from the ‘Super League 2.0’. Because of the European Court’s ruling, UEFA, FIFA, and the Football Associations of countries no longer hold as much power over clubs. While this freedom can be used for negative purposes, like forming a breakaway European tournament, clubs now hold much more autonomy over their destinies. Jurgen Klopp, manager of Liverpool, said “I like that UEFA and more got a bit of a shake.” Klopp, along with other world-class Premier League managers like Pep Guardiola and Mikel Arteta, regularly speaks on the expansion of competitions by UEFA and FIFA, without consultation of club teams, resulting in more games and stress. We saw this with the selection of a 2022 World Cup in Qatar after former President of FIFA Sepp Blatter and other officials were paid billions by Qatar to host the tournament. Because of the congestion of games in and around the tournament, which spanned from November to December, teams still rue the long-term injuries and damage caused to their players. Many worry that more tournaments and more high-stakes games will make the European game no longer feel ‘special’, with finals and prizes to be won multiple times a season. 

Protestor throws fake dollar bills at Sepp Blatter, President of FIFA, during a conference, after selecting Qatar for the 2022 World Cup (Image: Getty Images)

Club football is still not perfect. Teams regularly abuse Financial Fair Play, continental tournaments have slowly expanded over the past decade for more revenue, and poor policies conducted by UEFA still put a strain on the sport. European football is constantly under renovation. It has been greatly revolutionized over the past century, with the remodeling of the former European Cup into the UEFA Champions League, and the creation of the UEFA Conference League in just two years for lower-tier clubs. That withstanding, a closed competition only available to the most prestigious and wealthy clubs of Europe, solely in the search of higher profits and popularity, is most definitely not the direction football should be turning in. Lacking club and fan support, perhaps Pérez’s dream of the Super League must wait. Rest assured, this is not the last we will be hearing of it.

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