Every now and then, the notion of a European Super League rears its head in the football press, and its debated, and knocked back, by pundits and supporters alike, who all share a distaste and disdain for it. This column though has always seen the wood from the trees.
The continent’s elite have always been headed towards a European Super League, and now it seems they have their format, FIFA-backing and $6 billion of US investment for its green light.
It’s long been mooted that a new competition, a closed league for the richest and most successful clubs, would eventuate and totally disrupt, nay harpoon the current way in which football is played, structured and celebrated.
This column too has long identified not just the existence of the elite, further and further separating themselves from the peloton of European clubs, but also worked out the format we think would maximise the opportunity in front of them without causing too much angst and destruction to the sport.
Overnight, Mark Kleinman for Sky News in the UK has broken the story that a ‘European Premier League’ is now in the final stages of deliberation and in gratifying if not totally unrewarding news for this column it appears to follow a very similar proposal that we have thought serves best the eventual inevitably that this column forecasted.
Firstly, Mark’s highlights:
But what does this really mean, and whilst this story is still in essence just hypothesising, for all we know this is just a hugely powerful negotiation tactic with UEFA and nothing more, let’s look at this through the lens of how we’d go about this given this column has seemingly been on the money with this one.
The two greatest points of contention with the breakaway Super League idea have been the dismissal of promotion/relegation or qualification, and that these clubs would divorce from their domestic leagues.
We’ve long thwarted both of those notions, firstly, if the big clubs are dominating the knockout stages of Champions League football as is, if those same clubs are now on umpteen-years in a row winning streaks of their national leagues, what relevance is the concept of relegation or qualification to the likes of Man City or PSG anyway?
And secondly, where it would be far, far too problematic for Liverpool to never play Everton again and only live in a world where it plays week in week out against AC Milan, and Atletico Madrid, the ideal way out for the big clubs, and their domestic counterparts as well, would be for these guys to excuse themselves from European competitions and do their own thing, yet critically remaining in their domestic situations all the while.
In essence, UEFA would just redefine the Champions League qualification spots for the leagues where clubs have withdrawn their candidacy and are off playing this European Premier League instead. In simple terms, Spain might retain four spots, but instead of being the top four who qualify, it’s the top four who aren’t Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid.
Domestic leagues continue as is, UEFA’s competitions continue as is, just 16 of the biggest clubs are now separated and excluded from qualification and you’re only potentially rejigging then how you award spots to each league going forward.
Meanwhile, for Europe’s elite, and parallel with Sky’s story for me it remains the 16 clubs we’ve circled for five years now, they have their own midweek league, where it matches their standing in the game and meets their commercial dreams which are so far beyond the realms of everyone else or that UEFA could properly and fairly cater to.
The money on offer would be absurd. One example, Champions League rights, it’s about 3 billion Euros each year for UEFA. Competing clubs get a portion of that, but UEFA runs the sport, so they take their fair share.
This European Premier League, not only would the rights go up to at least 5 billion Euros a season, but the 16 clubs in question would be raking that all in, as the clubs own this league as opposed to being subservient to a governing body.
They’d have a 6.25% share each in ‘European Premier League Inc.’, so any broadcast revenue, sponsorship, all that, after paying a few executives and what not beforehand, all goes to the clubs. This has 500m Euros a season potential for them, which in a lot of cases is 10 times the amount they’d get from European football at the moment.
The Bundesliga keeps Bayern Munich. That doesn’t change. Juventus can go on winning Scudetto after Scudetto in Italy. But the Champions League will look more like the Europa League each year, and at the same time, every football fan in the world is watching the 16 best clubs play each other over in this new comp.
The format bandied around by Sky is 32-34 matches, so you play everyone home and away, like a normal league. I think that’s borderline impossible, especially if clubs are staying true to their domestic competitions, leagues and cups. An extra 25-30 games on top of the busiest calendar possible currently, it’s just too much.
My solution is to see each big club play each other once, so keeping the league at 16 clubs, a 15-game season. Seems a bit low, but remember, we’re playing midweek here, alongside the Champions League.
In the UCL the winner plays six group games before Christmas and then seven knockout games after. The two best clubs will then play 13 games, the two who are knocked out at the semi finals play 12, the quarter finalists only play 10 and so on. In this new proposal, for Europe’s elite 16 to all be guaranteed 15 European games a season each, maybe a few more if you include a knockout at the end, where the revenue earning potential is hugely inflated on what they aspire to now, that’s about as far as they can push the dream before the calamity of such aspirations would actually inflict more harm than good.
And as for the idea this is opportunistic during a pandemic, um, the idea has been coming for decades, and been so hot for at least the last five years that some knob in Australia keeps on writing about it. I don’t think this has been an idea born out of taking advantage of the game’s current conundrum, if anything the timing’s an untoward coincidence.
However, this would be something to deploy out the other side, so 2022, 2024, by then we’re vaccined and got full stadiums and the big clubs would no longer be doing something greedy whilst other clubs suffer through an ongoing health crisis.
So six clubs in England, both Manchesters, Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal and Spurs, the Big Six, then chuck in the big boys in Spain, Real Madrid and Barcelona, plus Atletico, they’re not the same level but a huge club and clearly part of a Big Three now. Then Italy, Juventus is in, plus both Milan clubs, don’t sweat their recent Serie A seasons, they are both two of the biggest clubs in the World, and chuck in Roma as well, they’re the 16th club in this but if you’re drawing a line, they fall in.
Bayern and Dortmund from Germany, the two big boys from the Bundesliga and finally PSG in France, by far and away the only big club there and reigning Champions League runners up. As for anyone else, as having 18 clubs has been a number bandied around, you could make a case maybe for Marseille and/or Lyon, or perhaps consider Schalke or Napoli too. But my case has always been that the 16 mentioned standout, measuring trophy cabinets, league performances and then fan following. Ajax, Benfica, someone from Turkey, yeah maybe, but as it stands it’s pretty clear.
So now what? UEFA would hate this, but the big boys have played them on a break leveraging FIFA as a governing body to endorse and to ratify. UEFA would lose billions from this but it’s their own doing, they oversee a sport where allowing runaway capitalist trains would at some point come back to bit them in the arse, and here we are.
But if you’re fans of Aston Villa, or Scunthorpe, the English game doesn’t change, or if it does its subtle at worst, but importantly the relief would be that the elephant in the room of the big boys plotting something would then have been resolved. The Big Six were already going to run your top six spots most years going forward anyway.
Yet the money this European Premier League will draw will be enormous. That the premium content of the Champions League knockout stages can happen every second week or so, that every year we are guaranteed Real Madrid playing Bayern, that Man City will always play Man Utd in a European game, it will generate TV money like you’ve never seen before. The cheque for this from Asia alone will scare the bejesus out everyone.
So it’s seemingly here. This column for some time now has seen a crushendo coming, more recently identified the path to which it could take, and Sky News has either broken one of the biggest stories the game’s ever seen, or simply thought my stuff is to shit hot not to follow up.