It was supposed to be the best of times. It was supposed to be the salvation of football. It was a plan in the making for years, a plan that would have propelled football into a golden age.
Alas, it was a plan that got undone inside 48 hours.
In the world of football, this week has been an emotional roller-coaster like no other. The clubs that announced themselves as Founders of this great new dawn on Sunday ‘apologetically’ backtracked in two days.
It began with Manchester City and Chelsea – two clubs who went into this only out of a fear of missing out, having been assured that this was the new hot train at the station, and it was leaving with or without them on board – who announced their withdrawal. Then fell Arsenal, who admitted it was a mistake and apologised for it. Spurs, Liverpool and Manchester United soon followed suit, each with a varying degree of lawyered statement to make their case.
So, where did it all go wrong?
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Why did the plan fail?
For a plan seemingly years in the making, the Founders took very little effort to do anything that would make anyone even remotely interested.
They seemingly hatched the plan in the shadows, scheming in the background as they continued to partake in meetings with their supporters’ trusts and UEFA, whom they continued to assure till the very last moment that there was no breakaway.
Post announcement, there was little to no strategy to help them gradually lay out a plan for the League – a plan that would detail why it was a better idea than UEFA’s Champions League reforms and an improvement upon the current system. An after-thought lip service to the women’s game and abstract, hollow promises from club owners who otherwise hardly reared their heads meant the unveiling was anything but incendiary and insultingly patronizing.
They blew it when they schemed, enacted and remained in the shadows upon a plan with misaligned objectives. They blew it when they kept their own players, managers, and staff in the dark regarding any developments, and then left them to fend for themselves in front of the press. Most importantly, they blew it when they spectacularly misread the gravity of what they were taking away from the fans – the sense of jeopardy.
Football has been steering away from its working-class roots for many years now. The current football framework, coupled by a global demand boasted by the commercial might of a select few, has ensured that the rich clubs continue getting richer and remain at the top while the poor ones languish towards the bottom. Yet for all the riches and fundamental exploits, the basic principle of football prevails – that you earn your place within the ‘pyramid’ on the pitch, and since anyone can beat anyone on any given day, it keeps alive within people the theoretical hope that if you play your cards right, the path is open for you to reach the summit.
It’s this path that the Super League aimed to cut off.
With fifteen sides given the status of a ‘big’ club based on an arbitrary period in time and hence, a permanent place in The Super League, the owners of these founding clubs not only attacked at the heart of football’s sacrosanct pyramid, they also laid bare the truth that was otherwise already known, in one way or another, that this wasn’t about the integrity of the sport, it had never been about the integrity of the sport, and this was just a ploy for them to establish a system in which they could enjoy guaranteed revenue streams to further fill their pockets – something that could never be a guarantee in a merit-based system that still required their teams to win them their riches.
With the announcement of a new breakaway league that would exist separate from the pyramid with no promotion/relegation, the Founders did something that is otherwise quite rare – unite the footballing community across borders, clubs, and political boundaries. This was, for everyone, a line in the sand, and while they would be remiss to not anticipate any friction to change, they did not expect a response so overwhelmingly negative. They did not realise that behind these successful clubs were local communities who wouldn’t have the soul of their game taken away from them. They did not realise that the global audience nailed to their masts the colours of these teams from far away not only because of the success, but because of the communal experience, a sense of belongingness that brought people thousands of miles apart together to celebrate a goal and lament a miss – to celebrate football.
With the community almost unanimously up in arms, rejection followed suit from all sides. Stakeholders of the clubs started demanding an explanation for the thoughtlessness. Brands and broadcasters started either walking out or distancing themselves from the idea before any further damage to their reputation. Condemnation followed from the remaining ‘uninvited’ football clubs, football organisations and even governments. Footballers and managers, first of the other clubs, then of the founding clubs themselves, started coming out one by one, airing their frustration at The Super League. Just like that, the house of cards came crashing down upon itself.
In essence, this was an idea in the work for years yet announced in haste. No plan. No strategy. No foresight. Really puts into perspective the acumen required to become a multi-billionaire.
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What happens now?
We are yet to see the full consequences the founding clubs could face. While they have been welcomed back into UEFA and their respective leagues, dialogue is underway to determine what should be done. While there has to be a punishment to set a precedent for any future instances like this one, harsh penalties look unlikely. These clubs are, after all, the biggest assets of these organisations.
Discussions are also underway in the UK to determine any quick legal changes that could be enacted to reform the ownership regulations for football clubs in the land. The ‘fit-and-proper-person’ test has been, for quite a while, deemed ineffective in stopping inept, unworthy owners to buy football clubs up and down the pyramid.
Financially, the clubs have already started taking a hit, the ramifications of which we might see for many months to come. The stocks of Manchester United and Juventus, which were soaring right after the announcement of The Super League, have plummeted. Sponsors are demanding an explanation, with Liverpool’s Official Time Partner, Tribus, already pulling out of its deal with the Merseyside club.
Resignations of high-ranking officials can be expected in the coming few days as a last-ditch attempt to save their clubs from any possible big-time penalties. Ed Woodward, Manchester United’s executive vice-chairman, has already announced his resignation at the end of 2021.
For many owners, especially the American ones, establishing a guaranteed stream of revenue by setting up a closed shop league was quite possibly the endgame. Now that it has been acknowledged that such a model cannot be envisaged in European football, it won’t be surprising if they were on the lookout for any potential buyers.
Football’s current framework is not perfect, neither are UEFA’s approved plans for a reformed Champions League, that are essentially a lesser evil compared to The Super League. At the end of the day, there are no good guys here, although there is an appetite to prevent the game from getting smeared beyond recognition. For now, anyway.
As a fan, you hardly ever feel your voice matters, so the past few days have been uplifting in that regard. This might also be a watershed moment that sees more players and managers find their voices. At the time of writing, İlkay Gündoğan and Pep Guardiola have already aired their frustration at UEFA’s reformed Champions League, which not only puts more money in the big clubs’ pockets, but also increases the number of games, with seemingly little to no regard for the health of players and managers.
Is The Super League gone for good? Not by any stretch of the imagination. The idea of a unified continental tier with leading clubs from each country is the next natural step down the path football’s been on for a while. Constructive suggestions have already been making the rounds for a European Super League that would sit collectively on top of every nation’s top tier, but with promotion and relegation that will retain the integrity of the game. It is inevitable, and it will happen, so as fans we can all but hope that the concerned authorities have taken notice of what we actually want. If and when established, this European league will again, in time, pose a new set of challenges, but hey, baby steps.