Will Fifa, Uefa, the Premier League and governing bodies of the Continent’s other big leagues stand behind their threats? Will they even be able to in the face of legal protections boasted by the Dirty Dozen? Modern football faces its biggest crisis
Greed. Arrogance. Cynicism. Naked opportunism. The adjectives have been flying around social media and opinion articles as the prospect of the long-dreaded European “Super League” grew ever stronger throughout Sunday, culminating late in the evening in the announcement from 12 of football’s most powerful clubs that they do indeed intend to launch a breakaway competition.
Those words can’t seem to do justice to the disgusting self-interest behind this latest move to either consolidate the game’s power and money into the hands of a self-appointed few, upend modern football as we know it… or both. Between the short-lived notion of a 39th Premier League Game, the long-planned end goal of a closed-shop league of greed to last year’s misguided and reviled Project Big Picture, the current big clubs of English and European football have been trying to grow their riches and pull the ladder up behind them for years and their latest move is potentially the most seismic yet.
Indeed, if Fifa, Uefa, the English Premier League and the governing bodies of the Continent’s other big leagues stand behind their threats, the Dirty Dozen of Europe could find themselves turfed out of this season’s Champions and Europa Leagues — that means Real Madrid, Manchester City and Chelsea; Arsenal and Manchester United — barred from both competitions indefinitely, and each club could be expelled from their respective domestic leagues as well. The Premier League, with six traitorous clubs drawn from its number and given its standing as the most-watched and most lucrative, stands to be hit the hardest.
At stake are billions and billions of pounds in revenue. Uefa and the Premier League’s very model relies on the influx of mind-boggling broadcast revenue, much of it predicated on the participation of the clubs that have, over the past couple of decades, come to suck up most of the game’s oxygen, assumed all the glamour and gravitas, and hoovered up global fans as a result.
It’s why, despite the strident opposition they voiced yesterday as it became clear that the rebel 12 were going to pre-empt the finalisation of Uefa’s plans to reform the format of the Champions League, the leagues in question are unlikely to follow through on their threat. (The breakaway clubs already have their legal ducks in a row to ensure, they say, no one can stand in their way.) Uefa could torpedo their very existence by expelling those marquee clubs while the value of the Premier League’s to broadcasters would take a massive hit.
And yet, the very existence of a separate Euro league where clubs will be earning hundreds of millions of pounds not open to the others surely makes the domestic leagues untenable in terms of basic fairness and competitiveness. The Champions League, in particular, might already be something of a de facto closed shop and the Premier League has been increasingly uncompetitive for years but it was still possible, for example, for Leicester to win the title five years ago and this season has thrown up all sorts of unpredictabilities. Having six clubs, in the PL’s case, drawing in staggering multiples of revenue compared to the remaining 14 clubs in a given season makes a mockery of the whole spirit of competitiveness and undermines the founding principles of a base equality in revenue sharing. It will also only tighten the “big“ clubs’ grip on the major honours, not to mention the odd notion that the “Champions” League and Europa League participants might have to be gleaned from seventh place down to 13th or 14th!
The whole situation is angering and frustrating but, most of all, it’s just saddening. The Premier League model may have ushered in this era of greed and there is plenty to regret about the path it has taken English football down but, while a sizeable change, it was its the root an evolution of an existing model. England’s football pyramid remained unaltered; promotion and relegation have continued; and while it has become imbalanced, there has been evidence in recent years, as more and more clubs are taken over by wealthy backers, of greater competitiveness at the top end of the League. Nowhere near enough, but some.
Likewise, the Champions League was ripe for reform — albeit in the opposite direction than the one the big clubs wanted to take it — but there was still a pathway, however difficult and unlikely, for, say, an Ajax to reach the last four and for up-and-comers to forge their way deeper into the competition. A 20-team “Super” League — quite how Tottenham, who haven’t won a league title for half a century, fit that description is laughable! — with 15 clubs guaranteed entry every season and just five spot open to clubs from across the Continent virtually cuts that pathway off.
None of this was fundamentally broken; it didn’t need to be fixed in this way even it did need to be changed to be more fair, not less. Unfortunately, the owners of these breakaway clubs only appear interested in money, more than they already extract from the game, and they’ve seized on the timing of the pandemic, when no fans can stage visible boycotts because the stadia are already empty and clubs like Barcelona, in debt to the tune of a reported €1bn, can use TSL as a get-out-of-jail-free card. In normal circumstances, of course, badly-run clubs go to the wall.
So the push by the greedy 12, backed by their boasts of legal protection of their plans, leaves Uefa and the affected leagues in a difficult and uncertain position. With the fear of doom hanging over them anyway, it’s not likely they would be moved to follow through on their threat of expelling the rebel clubs. But while it may not look that way now, both European competitions and the Premier League, in particular, would almost certainly survive without the breakaway clubs.
And while, in the short term, the future would be uncertain, the PL would do so with its soul intact. The 14 clubs that remain in the Premier League, plus those who would finish the current season in the top six of the Championship would constitute a highly compelling and healthily competitive top flight, not to mention the opportunity for a reset designed to usher in a more equitable financial landscape. The occasionally mooted “Netflix-style” subscription, model might not have the same cash-bonanza potential it might with the current member clubs but it could provide the League with more revenue than it draws in even now.
In Continental football, meanwhile, there is rich array of storied clubs, many of then excluded either from the latter stages by the currently lopsided landscape — that would provide plenty of engaging competition to sufficiently compensate for the clubs who have lost their way having been blinded by their owners’ ceaseless quest for more money.
Of course, there is a strong possibility that this is just a high-stakes game of poker, a brass-necked bluff designed to draw an unpalatable compromise from Europe’s governing body that not only hands control of the Champions League’s commercial revenue in the hands of these clubs but probably guarantees them entry on an annual basis.
If it isn’t, and the nuclear option is chosen so that these clubs are indeed expelled, the success of what is left behind by formation of The Super League would depend to a significant degree on “The Super Greed” dying on its avaricious arse, as many predict it could. After all, there has been a vociferous backlash to the announcement, embodied by Gary Neville’s impassioned reaction on Sky Sports where he called out his former club, Manchester United, for its part in this shameful proposition.
Supporters clubs are planning boycotts and the very model, which stuffs more European games into the footballing calendar, imperilling competitions like the FA Cup and League Cup in the process, means more away games on the Continent that away fans can’t easily attend. (Take away the Premier League from these clubs’ schedules and the majority of the six clubs’ away matches will be in Europe.)
The novelty of certain fixtures which might only occur once a year or less nowadays will be swept away by the same teams playing each other multiple times a season. Champions League football can be mundane at the best of times and there is a danger that the whole thing becomes boring and that all but the most “plastic” of armchair fans will eventually switch off. And if they lose the match-going fan, screening games in half-empty stadia is going to take the veneer off this jumped up product very quickly.
Whatever happens, it’s comforting to know on the one hand that Everton have no part in the breakaway but the whole issue is disconcerting on the other given the doubts it throws over the Club’s ambitious plans. The 52,000+ capacity imposed on the Bramley-Moore Dock stadium may well have been decided upon with the possibility that the Champions League might be walled off or a Super League come to fruition in mind. Nonetheless, Everton’s ability to fund that construction will depend to a huge degree on the guarantee of current levels of broadcast revenue.
We await developments with bated breath, contemplating all the while how bloody unnecessary it all is.
Reader Comments (52)
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1 Posted 19/04/2021 at 08:35:21
Certainly, if the Premier League and the FA don't stand up to these clubs and ban them from the minute they sign up to this so called "Super League", English Football will suffer a decline, if these clubs are allowed to set their own terms for participting in the Premiership and the FA Cup.
2 Posted 19/04/2021 at 09:25:00
I'm happy watching 11 honest pros battling it out with proper clubs like Villa and Wolves for the title. "Big Six" can play Madrid every Wednesday if they want.
3 Posted 19/04/2021 at 09:30:01
Also an interesting take on the capacity of BMD, which at 52000 is basically our present attendance, plus the waiting list, plus the seats for the away fans. Maybe it was planned with this ESL development in mind.
Now we await the considered reactions from those bastions of integrity, EUFA, FIFA, PL, FA etc. And of course the various lawyers, accountants in the cold grey light of dawn
4 Posted 19/04/2021 at 09:45:26
A perfect summation.
Given the quality of your work, do you have a journalist background?
5 Posted 19/04/2021 at 09:52:54
6 Posted 19/04/2021 at 10:00:33
Football is been threatening to eat itself for many many years now. This moment right now is absolutely historic - it's the moment football jumped the shark. Stay tuned, this will run and run and run....
Not a great time to be borrowing a shitload of money for a new stadium as an aside. Everton that.
7 Posted 19/04/2021 at 10:18:11
I've commented on the other thread. What I think will play out is different to my personal view on this, on which I share the almost universal contempt for the way these clubs have behaved.
They elite (yes Tottenham?!) have deliberately fired the first shots. I believe we will now see an inevitable game of cat and mouse, who blinks first and political games. There will be some sort of middle ground, although it won't really be middle ground, it will lean towards the wishes of the elite but involve some sort of compromise on their part.
8 Posted 19/04/2021 at 10:43:42
Oliver Dowden our Culture Secretary, is to make a statement on this, this afternoon. Apparently Ministers are under pressure to take action as well.
Now that should be interesting as a bunch of free marketeers are being asked to take action against what is basically a free market initiative.
9 Posted 19/04/2021 at 11:20:58
10 Posted 19/04/2021 at 14:00:44
I can't imagine the average fan of any of these "Big Six" clubs want to leave the PL.
The proposals are for a midweek league, in theory not "interfering" with league fixtures (I think it will).
Is some of the sour grapes from the other 14 PL clubs based on the fact that they aren't in a position to be involved? (It's not a view I hold, but there can be a hint of envy in outrage).
Isn't a European Super League inevitable? We've heard this sort of thing for years, I first remember hearing it mooted in the 80s.
Is it not just a power grab by clubs from UEFA and in turn a money redistribution? We've seen similar moans in the PL about the distribution of TV money.
Is there an issue that foreign ownership of clubs has lead to a dissociation with the traditions of domestic football?
This issue won't go away, even if these particular proposals are quashed. The globalisation of football and the huge strides in broadcast technology surely mean that it is possible to increasingly monetise the "content," discuss it and gamble on it, all with branding and global partners fully onboard, each buying into the super-slick product that is a "Super League."
11 Posted 19/04/2021 at 14:48:26
12 Posted 19/04/2021 at 15:20:28
So what if it does go ahead, and these six clubs are to remain in the premier league? What kind of teams will they be fielding? And, here's the biggie for me, what if they play a weakened team in the premier league all season, and end up being relegated?
It's being reported that the remaining premier league clubs are demanding immediate sanctions against the six clubs, and even want suspensions imposed from the current season. The remaining fourteen clubs are to meet with the premier league tomorrow, so let's hope their sanction requests are granted.
And one more thing, there will be fifteen clubs guaranteed the safety of avoiding relegation, while there will be five clubs invited to participate. Is this for one season only, and what happens if their own national league won't let any of these five clubs back in to their league?
13 Posted 19/04/2021 at 15:29:43
All the sympathy Everton showed Liverpool over Heysel and Hillsborough counts for nothing.
Liverpool are a disgrace and need to be kicked out the Premiership immediately.
The Premier League will be stronger for it in the long run.
14 Posted 19/04/2021 at 15:36:45
And the greedy 6? They will come crawling back, begging to be let back in. Yes, for a few years the 'fans' who live in USA/Asia will love it - paying top dollar for an exclusive armchair experience, but the real fans will get bored witless as the RS play Juventus again and again and again every year. And, to please the 'new' fan base, games will be franchised out to Qatar or Chicago or Bangkok etc. What fun as a RS fan - watching Liverpool v Athletico at Soldiers Field in Chicago in 40 degrees C (or minus 20 C) at 3am in the morning. Yes, let them go, I couldn't care less.
15 Posted 19/04/2021 at 15:55:40
16 Posted 19/04/2021 at 16:55:43
Your opening words: greed, arrogance, cynicism, naked opportunism could be applied equally relevantly to those who cut themselves adrift from the Football League and sold their clubs' souls to Rupert Murdoch. You point out that "there is plenty to regret about the path it (the PL) has taken English football down" but that it was more evolution than revolution.
This is the only part of your analysis that I would take mild issue with; I think it was all more clinically planned than evolutionary. The PL is an insatiable monster, which having created a huge divide within its own 20 clubs and a vast chasm between it and the rest of English football, will eventually eat itself. I ask myself often the rhetorical question: would I rather be watching top flight football in the 1960's, 70's and 80's or the PL?
The driving forces behind the secession from the Football League were motivated by exactly the same adjectives you use to describe those behind this I'm all right Jack concept. Sadly there is a stand at Goodison named after one of those driving forces 30 odd years ago. What a pity he lacked the same drive to oppose Thatcher when his own club, Football League Champions, were banned from Europe because of Liverpool fans at Heysel.
17 Posted 19/04/2021 at 16:57:55
Because they are not getting what they want. The toys are well and truly out of the pram.
I hope that in response that the PL UEFA and FIFA don't dare offer any concessions that will damage competition.
They should teach them a lesson and impose much more equitable sharing of TV money and enhance competition.
Then an independent body with a charter needs to be set up to legally protect fans and the game itself from wanton greed and any future anticompetitive actions.
18 Posted 19/04/2021 at 17:05:01
25 Posted 19/04/2021 at 17:21:18
26 Posted 19/04/2021 at 17:26:40
Dowden is wearing his Everton club tie proudly.
27 Posted 19/04/2021 at 17:37:58
We've seen the impact what the lack of fans has done to games due to Covid. Fans are the lifeblood of any team, if you're replacing them with faceless customers/tourists, it will be just like playing in front of no fans as they'll be no atmosphere. This whole premise is around the funding coming from worldwide tv deals. Other than the fans of these clubs in this country, no one is going to pay to watch the games of one of their former rival teams. While these international fans will be rabid to watch the teams to start off, there's a good chance that many will get turned off due to the repetitiveness of the games. Also, how many of the Super Sunday 'big 6' games already that are hyped beyond belief are boring 0-0 or 1-1 affairs.
28 Posted 19/04/2021 at 17:58:37
The initial reaction from all quarters is overwhelming appalled by the declaration.
There will be a great deal of brinkmanship and arm wrestling before this is definitively resolved.
The little we do know of the detail is revealing. The broad strokes are these:
The ESL intends to have 15 founding clubs. The named 12 plus three â€˜guests'. You have to believe, given the Dirty Dozen signatories, that the likes of Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund and PSG were on the invite list, but declined, or it might well have been the â€˜Filthy Fifteen'. Five other clubs would qualify for the 20-strong ESL each season, based on their domestic league performance.
Even with the closed shop of 15 there appears already to be in place pre-determined benefits based on â€˜who-knows-what' criteria. Of the total 3.5 BILLION euros paid to 15 members (what the 5 seasonal â€˜qualifiers' receive has not yet been specified, based on what I've read so far), there will be 350m euros for six clubs, 225m euros for four clubs, 112.5m euros for two clubs and 100m euros for three clubs.
That alone puts six clubs at a considerable advantage to the other 14. A super-duper elite within the super-elite.
The ESL has apparently already sent a letter to Fifa president Gianni Infantino and Uefa boss Aleksander Ceferin issuing notice of legal proceedings in European courts designed to block any sanctions the two governing bodies may try to enforce over the formation of the ESL. An acknowledgement then that their initiative is sure to be challenged with banning sanctions against those who enlist.
Aleksander Ceferin in his ferocious attack today on the clubs and individuals involved has already declared he will be consulting with UEFA's lawyers to firm up their own legal options.
With FIFA and UEFA the long-standing administrators of the game their statutes determine which clubs can play in which competitions, as well as regulating who can manage and play both club and national football.
Potentially, as an elite player or coach, if you follow your club into the ESL you are considerably limiting your employment options. Managers will be sacked. Players will not make the grade and will age. If you are contracted to this rogue league, you risk having no other option outside this â€˜elite' group should your contract be terminated.
For youth players the situation is even more fraught. The attrition rate at academies is huge. Currently, you may â€˜fail' at a top club, but still have a career is lesser leagues. Again potentially, if you hail from an ESL academy but don't make it to their first team, that's it. Your career as a professional footballer withers in the cradle.
This dilemma extends to the â€˜five annual qualifiers' based on their domestic league performance. Potentially, if a club qualifies and enters the ESL for one fleeting season, they could find themselves ostracised and unable to return to their domestic league. Homeless and unloved.
This strikes me as very much a boardroom decision made by a few suits whose principle driving motive is pure avarice. Now they will be extremely savvy players, but superficially it does not appear that they have canvassed opinion and viability of this proposal from the different stakeholders who this will directly impact upon the most.
Players. Managers. Fans.
A helluva lot for everybody working within football to weigh up. Never mind the fans. But thenâ€¦who is minding the fans' opinion in all this?
All concerned are going to have to pick a side in this. And when they do, we will learn a lot about their individual resolve and integrity on this question.
Should this come to pass, I see it as a wonderful opportunity for Everton. But that can wait for another day.
31 Posted 19/04/2021 at 18:07:47
The law firms will be licking their lips - there is potentially millions of pounds in fees to be had here - but most lawyers tend to recommend dispute resolution rather than litigation; in other words, compromise.
My worry is that compromise will give the greedy owners far too much. My fervent hope is that this is the big moment when we all take a good look at what is positive, and what is negative, about the current state of the game. What most fans want, and most clubs, is a more level playing field rather than an even bigger slice of the pie going to just a few clubs.
33 Posted 19/04/2021 at 18:12:36
Good luck to the lad, always like to see our ex pros doing something.
Hopefully they'll have something to say as well
36 Posted 19/04/2021 at 18:17:57
These have many precedents in our taxation history over the years
37 Posted 19/04/2021 at 18:21:34
38 Posted 19/04/2021 at 18:22:36
Can you expand on the precedents please
39 Posted 19/04/2021 at 18:26:46
40 Posted 19/04/2021 at 18:27:57
The banks, pension funds, power and oil companies and Utilities Companies, over the years. Some recent talk about big IT companies. By Labour governments, so to hear it from a Tory Minister is a bit surprising.
A few years since the last one
41 Posted 19/04/2021 at 18:32:57
The Labour Governments involvement in such matters is not surprising.
Saying and doing is a totally different thing when it comes from a tory
42 Posted 19/04/2021 at 18:40:58
43 Posted 19/04/2021 at 18:42:17
At the end of the day, he was saying it's down to the Organisations like PL, FA etc to take necessary action but they would do anything to facilitate that. They also said they would initiate an investigation/ enquiry into the governance of football. That should kick the can down the street for a bit.
Even America had a windfall tax once! Even Thatcher!
44 Posted 19/04/2021 at 18:45:43
45 Posted 19/04/2021 at 19:05:06
46 Posted 19/04/2021 at 19:08:15
47 Posted 19/04/2021 at 19:38:43
They can and must be defeated and then, no compromise they are gone for good.
48 Posted 19/04/2021 at 19:41:59
49 Posted 19/04/2021 at 19:52:24
50 Posted 19/04/2021 at 20:25:34
Once you go you don't come back! The football governing bodies need to act quickly. Expelled from their league they play and all European competitions. All players playing for those clubs banned from world international competitions.
Next season the premier league should be rebranded and renamed. Meaning all those clubs who have left cannot return to their domestic leagues for a minimum of 25 years and must start at the bottom!
The government cannot stop this. Do we not think lawyers have not been scrutinising the legality of such a league? Yes they have!
How do we stop this? Rub their hands with more silver? Making the leagues more one sided than they are already. Let them go! It will devide cities and people but this is life.
As fans we dream of a billionaire owner pouring millions into our club. They are business people not fans. Fans are to blame for this super league as much as the owners. We the fans demand more!! That comes at a cost!!
51 Posted 19/04/2021 at 20:26:06
52 Posted 19/04/2021 at 20:27:18
53 Posted 19/04/2021 at 20:40:01
54 Posted 20/04/2021 at 02:30:45
55 Posted 20/04/2021 at 03:19:56
On the other hand there must be CONSEQUENCES for the traitors. I fear some compromise where there permanent wealthy status will be further entrenched. I would say now is the time to put that in reverse. Take a hit now whilst we still can fight them. Maybe just kick out Man U - seems to be the ring leader maybe Liverpool as well. That would n't harm the PL's TV deals too much and make a point to the others.
56 Posted 20/04/2021 at 07:00:38
We must now act with integrity and tell the ESL clubs they either give the idea a miss or quit the EPL. It is the most popular league in the world and will survive expelling the ones who don't come in line.
Have no relegation this year and promote the top 3 in the championship.
Should make for a far more competitive league.
57 Posted 20/04/2021 at 09:04:07
With the likes of Barca and Real Madrid both being close to a billion Euros in debt, this is their last chance of getting more money as they already control their own TV deals.
At the end of the day, the greedy 6 will need EPL agreement to play in the ESL. If that is withheld that would certainly force them to make a decision, however, I would expect that with a few brown envelopes the powers that be at the EPL would give that agreement. Money talks.
58 Posted 20/04/2021 at 09:04:35
59 Posted 20/04/2021 at 09:23:34
60 Posted 20/04/2021 at 09:36:58
I don't begrudge the "talent" receiving the bulk of the reward - in fact, it's a good thing. But if it's killing the game, then it needs reigning in.
Is the "product" so much better now that we are paying players more money? I honestly don't remember watching us win the title under Howard Kendall and thinking "yeah, this is great, but it would be much better if everyone on the pitch earned ten times as much".
My big worry is whether we now lose the Bramley Moore project. But, if we can fill that ground every week (which we can), and if there is still an appetite for Premier League football on TV (which there is), then is it still affordable? If not, then I guess it's another decade of splinters up your arse in Goodison.
61 Posted 20/04/2021 at 09:54:18
62 Posted 20/04/2021 at 12:15:29
The American model and two of our six are American owned, is such that a team can have twenty years at or near the bottom and their income is guaranteed without the threat of relegation.
To see Neville, Carragher (both employed by Sky and with their jobs on the line) joining Prince William and Boris Johnson as the defenders of the people's game is frankly nauseating.
Football ceased to be the people's game a long, long time ago. Roy Keane talked of the takeover by the prawn sandwich brigade a long time ago. To afford a season ticket for two or more members of a family requires a middle class salary.
Yes, this exercise is greed, but all sports suffer from greed by the top clubs or countries and football has been lucky to survive so far. If it doesn't happen now I'd take bets that it will happen in the very near future.
Spurs last won the league in 1961,I was fourteen, and have been trophyless for almost as long as Everton, yet they've managed to get into this elite.
I disapprove of this move, but see it as part of the Americanisation of sport and some of the moral outrage is posturing, football is no different to other financial entities under capitalism and I'm afraid money rules.
63 Posted 20/04/2021 at 13:09:43
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