Editorial

A league of their own: On Europe's biggest football clubs

The decision by 12 of Europe’s biggest football clubs to unveil a plan to launch The Super League, a multi-billion-dollar tournament to be played largely among a closed group of 20 teams has thrown the European game into turmoil. Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur from England, Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid from Spain, and Juventus, Internazionale and AC Milan from Italy have come together for an initiative “to put the game on a sustainable footing”. But the principal aim seems to be to upend the Champions League, the crown jewel among all competitions managed by European football’s governing body UEFA. That the announcement came just a day prior to UEFA announcing a reformatted Champions League starting from 2024 is no coincidence. The Super League will inevitably damage the domestic leagues in each of the countries. Currently, league positions decide who qualifies for the Champions League, whereas in the proposed competition, the permanent members are under no risk of missing out, and are guaranteed a steady stream of revenue. According to one report, each founding member is assured of a whopping $400 million in exchange for a mere commitment to establish a “sustainable financial foundation”. This certainly appeals to clubs struggling to balance their books in the wake of COVID-19.

This use of a football club as mere for-profit business is the crux. Traditionally, clubs considered themselves to be public-spirited entities. Meaningful competition among them was seen as a meritocratic exercise. But with leagues increasingly awash with hedge fund money and handouts from oligarchies, outfits are answerable more to investors and shareholders than actual supporters. In such a scenario, unpredictability can be anathema and the Super League seeks to eliminate that. Understandably, fans are displeased. Jurgen Klopp, Liverpool manager, even claimed to have been kept in the dark. UEFA, desperate to protect its turf, has threatened to bar Super League players from its flagship events like Euros. FIFA bemoaned a “closed league”, but stopped short of announcing sanctions. The Premier League, Spain’s La Liga and Italy’s Serie A are open to expelling teams, while British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has issued a stern warning. However, this is no endorsement of UEFA’s new Champions League format, in which the number of games has nearly doubled and the additional revenue is sure to skew the domestic leagues further in favour of a few teams. Juventus has won the Serie A nine times in a row; Bayern Munich (Germany) and Paris Saint-Germain (France), both of whom have not signed up for the Super League, have been equally dominant. None of this feels like competitive sport. European football needs a rethink.

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Printable version | May 18, 2021 6:01:06 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/a-league-of-their-own-on-europes-biggest-football-clubs/article34370458.ece

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