A casual sports fan's guide to rise, fall of the European Super League, why it tore soccer world apart
- The rise and fall of the European Super League all happened in just 48 hours.
- Public pressure from fans, players, and politicians forced clubs to backpedal from the plan.
- It was two of the most chaotic days in the history of the sport.
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Over the span of 48 hours, the proposed European Super League went from changing the sport of soccer as we know it to gloriously crashing and burning under the pressure of fans and the governing bodies of the sport.
It was a whirlwind and admittedly a lot to follow, so here's a breakdown.
How did this "Super League" mess begin?
On Sunday, 12 of the wealthiest clubs in European soccer announced a new competition dubbed the European Super League. The new league would allow for the billionaire owners of these clubs to make more money independent of the existing structures of world soccer and keep a bigger piece of the proverbial pie for themselves.
The idea of a potential breakoff competition between the biggest clubs in the sport had been floating around for years, and it had seemingly come to pass.
What was the Super League?
Twelve teams originally announced their commitment to the Super League - AC Milan, Arsenal, Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Chelsea, Inter Milan, Juventus, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Real Madrid, and Tottenham. These clubs represent the biggest and richest clubs across three of Europe's most important top-flight leagues in England, Spain, and Italy.
The original teams hoped to expand to 15 "founding members," which would be immune from relegation. This group would then round out with five additional teams each year on a rotating basis.
The 20 teams would play mid-week games that pitted the biggest clubs in Europe against each other with more regularity than the current format of world football allows. This would generate more money for the owners and reshaping the global structure of the sport.
Having the best teams play against each other sounds kind of fun. Why was everyone so mad about it?
A lot of reasons.
First and foremost, the supporters of European soccer clubs have a degree of ownership and investment in their teams, unlike anything in the United States, outside of possibly the Green Bay Packers.
In many cases, these clubs were built by the working class more than a century ago to host and enjoy recreational soccer matches. As the sport grew and evolved, the best of these clubs rose to play each other, and the pyramid structure that guides European football was ironed into shape.
The clubs continued to grow in size and value as television rights and distributions exploded, bringing in more money. This peaked in recent years as American billionaires and other international interests now own several of the top clubs in Europe.
And then something like the Super League is born.
Beyond the blatant greed, the lack of relegation in the Super League would allow the rich to perpetually stay rich regardless of their performance on the field.At every other stage in European soccer, be it the domestic leagues or the Champions League, a team's spot is earned and held based on their play. Removing that element of the game would represent a monumental shift in the sport.Further, the new league had the potential to destabilize the domestic leagues that are the real core of European soccer.Suppose the teams favored the marquee matchups of the Super League and sent secondary squads to play in the domestic leagues, such as the English Premier League or skipped the competitions all together. The value of the domestic leagues could falter, and suddenly the entire sport is at risk.Beyond that, the biggest reason for the uproar was that it was a slap in the face to the fans who built the clubs into what they are today.
So nobody liked this idea?Aside from the owners? Not really, no.After the news of the league was first announced, it was met with a wall of criticism from fans and commentators alike."The reaction to it is that it has been damned and rightly so," said former Manchester United player turned commentator Gary Neville. "I'm a Manchester United fan and have been for 40 years of my life, but I'm disgusted, absolutely disgusted."I'm disgusted with Manchester United and Liverpool most. Liverpool, they pretend, 'You'll never walk alone,' the people's club, the fans' club."Manchester United, 100 years, born out of workers from around here, and they're breaking away into a league without competition that they can't be relegated from? It's an absolute disgrace."Chelsea fans marched in the streets to protest and cheered as if they'd won another cup after learning the club was backing out.
Even managers and players on the teams in the Super League didn't seem crazy about the idea.
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp came out against the Super League, as did team captain Jordan Henderson.
This was not a popular idea amongst anyone with an interest in the sport that went beyond money.
Did the disgust from fans, players, commentators, and managers force the clubs to back out?
That was part of it. That crowd of Chelsea fans made their voices heard.
That said, it's difficult to say that that was the entirety of it. The owners who decided to break off and attempt to form the Super League likely knew a backlash was coming but didn't think it would be as strong and universal.
Additionally, the Super League clubs had several threats come down from the governing bodies of the sport. There was talk of the Super League clubs being banned from domestic competitions and potential banning of players from those clubs from participating in the World Cup. On Tuesday, several clubs backed off their initial commitments thanks to the potential complications of fully cutting themselves off from the greater football world and the public's outcry.The Super League was grounded before it ever took to the skies.
Is this over now or will something like this happen again?For now, it feels as though this iteration of the Super League is dead in the water.That said, it's impossible to say that such an idea won't spring forth again in a few years. There's money to be made in getting Barcelona and Manchester City playing against each other multiple times a year, and the investors backing the top-tier clubs in Europe are clearly interested in opening that treasure chest eventually.A second effort could take several forms, including expanding the already existing Champions League, which has already announced changes that will make its future formatting a bit more similar to that of the proposed Super League.Expanding the Champions League would allow the grand structure of European football to remain in place while also producing more games between the biggest clubs on the continent and being far less consequential to the sport.
So now we're back where we were before the Super League was proposed?Yep.As crazy as the past two days have been, the sport is back to a place of relative normalcy. Soccer fans around the world can exhale.
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