If you aren’t aware of the proposed European Super League (ESL) that took the European football world by storm and dominated every headline for the week, I’m going to give you the breakdown of how it started, why it was awful and why within a single week it has been suspended.
Much like American sports there are powerhouses that dominate football in Europe, with professional leagues in every country leading to the creation of the Champions League, a competition that determines the best team in Europe every year. In order to get into the Champions League you have to be one of the best teams in your country to get into the tournament, you have to EARN your place to be there. While most countries have the same few teams sent every year there was always a possibility that an underdog could make it to play against elite European talent. The Super League was an invite-only competition, completely abandoning the competitive aspect of the sport.
Twelve teams were announced as founding members on April 18th, including my favorite club Arsenal FC. They are a prime example of why the concept of the ESL is criminal at best. Arsenal is currently 9th in the Premier League which is not good enough to qualify for European competition. However, because they are owned by billionaire Stan Kroenke they were invited to the ESL. Arsenal is consistently one of the top ten richest teams in the WORLD, not just Europe. Despite the fact that they are performing poorly, they were allowed to play European football. Replacing something that needs to be earned versus something that requires an invitation because their pockets are deeper than others undermines the integrity of the biggest sport in the world.
Football in England and the rest of Europe operates in a pyramid system. In England particularly, there are 20 leagues in the “football pyramid” where teams can either be promoted to the league above, or relegated to the league below. Relegation and promotion can happen to anyone, and that’s the beauty of it. No matter how rich or poor a club is, it can be subjected to the highest of highs or the lowest of lows; nobody is truly safe. It creates such fierce competition and spirit among the teams and passion from the fans, teams could be playing in the lowest tier of football in the country but the path is there for them to get into the pinnacle of club football which is European competition. The ESL rids leagues of this, creating an invite-only rich boys club. This leaves teams who aren’t supported by billionaire owners in the dust.
The proposed league was met with intense backlash. Managers of teams played in matches the day the ESL was announced and were told that they were joining the league only a few hours before game time. Managers were hit with questions on what the implications of this league would have when they themselves had only been made aware of this a few hours before the rest of the public. Gary Neville, a former Manchester United player, ripped the league apart when asked for his opinion. Suggesting the teams who were going to join need to be fined and have points deducted from them in the BPL. Needless to say, the public were in agreement with Neville.
The ESL would leave home fans in the rain. Instead of playing a majority of games in the home country, the working-class fans wouldn’t be able to travel all around Europe. In the middle of a global pandemic, owners were more concerned with how they could improve profits instead of accommodating their fans. How could they possibly expect the average person to be able to travel all around the continent during a time like this? Greed. Greed is the only answer. Knowing that the top teams would always be guaranteed to play each other means they could attract more eyes from American sports fans who have no real connection to football. They just want to see the top names play each other constantly.
Thankfully, and somewhat surprisingly, football was saved from its depths thanks to UEFA (Union of European Football Associations), the current governing body of European football and the EPL (English Premier League). UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin, much like Gary Neville, did not hold back when he spoke about the ESL. Likening the owners who would join the ESL to “snakes”.
The clubs joining the ESL expected that they would be able to compete in their domestic competitions and international competitions as normal. UEFA announced that any players that were going to participate in the ESL would be banned from international competition, and the EPL announced that the teams leaving would be banned from competition. Being banned from competition inside of England is one thing, because these players would find new clubs in a different league, but the idea of not being able to compete internationally was the real piece de resistance. Every football player’s dream is to be able to one day play for their home nation, without this there was no chance any player would agree to participate in the ESL.
After a mere 48 hours of intense backlash from fans, players and managers alike, all six Premier League teams pulled out of the competition, which eventually led to the ESL being suspended. Fans of these clubs rejoiced as their club and sport had been saved, but are still not satisfied. The actions by these owners in the past week showed the fans what they have felt for years: these owners don’t care about them, or the players, or the integrity of the sport. They care about money. Arsenal fans have staged a protest in order to get their owner to sell the team that has seen several hundred fans take the streets around their home stadium.
For now the ESL is suspended. The originator of the league Florentino Pérez insists the league will be back and that “it will save football”. Regardless of whether it makes another attempt to ruin the beautiful game or not, Pérez will know where the fans, players and managers stand.