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In Memoriam: Mourning the European Super League That Never Was

By Mac Johnson (Senior Writer)

It was a genius idea, and one that needed very little forethought. Football needed saving, and it was as simple as that, but how to do it was the question. The mastermind behind the plans, Florentino Perez, returned to a past concept, an old flame if you will, one that had previously threatened to give the clubs the control over the game that they so desperately needed in their darkest hour. A European Super League.

The first obstacle was to get twelve of the fifteen biggest clubs in the world to sign on, using a tactic every schoolyard bully knows best: Peer Pressure. First, the rest of Spain caved, then Italy, and finally, all of the Big-Six Premier Clubs, aided by Perez’s best mate, Stan Kroenke of KSE, the reputable, aboveground, and well-loved organization that’s been running Arsenal so brilliantly for the last decade. Two men, with their ears to the ground and their fingers on the pulse of their fanbases, trying to do what’s best for football.

Soon they were joined by the Glazer family, and Fenway Sports Group (FSG), the owners of Manchester United and Liverpool respectively. Backed by his American triumvirate of associates—honestly, who would you trust more than an American to have a perfect grasp of how to manage a complicated European situation—Perez had created the perfect storm. And when it was announced, the football world became a hurricane.

I honestly still don’t understand what all the fuss was about. I mean, what’s so awful about rejecting over a century of history in favor of profit margins? Everybody knows modern football is run by rich owners, so why not give them even more capital, so that they can carry their agendas forward. I mean, what could possibly go wrong in a world where the winners guarantee themselves a seat at the table,

“It cannot be that in England, the six lose money, and 14 make money. In Spain, the top three lose money, and the others make money. It cannot continue—at the moment the rich are those who are losing money. You cannot touch La Liga, so you look for more money midweek, and the UCL format is obselete.” — Florentino Perez

Makes perfect sense, right? Why care about the other fourteen teams in your league, their success, their history, their pride, not to mention the lower divisions of your leagues, when you can improve your profit margins? What does it matter that your players will lose the opportunity to play in the league they grew up watching, and lose the opportunity to play for their country as well? Well, to Perez, and Kroenke, and Andrea Agnelli, it doesn’t.

So their solution was an immediate cash injection of £350m for every club that joined, and a cash payout of £3.5 billion once the league was established. Keep in mind that, according to the Forbes lost of most valuable football clubs, Barcelona have the largest net worth, at $4.7 billion, which converts into around £3.4 billion. The ESL was set to grant every club who joined double their net worth, if not better, and there was only one thing that could change that.

Us, the fans.

To quote my fellow WYLA writer, James Whiffing,

“I am disgusted with my beloved Arsenal and I feel betrayed by them; a club that I have essentially built my life around has stabbed me and all other Arsenal fans in the back. It’s no surprise that people are going to stop supporting them. 135 years of history, class and success feels like it is being destroyed by that c**t Kroenke, along with all the other owners who signed up for this league. Football has become rotten to the core, and it is up to the fans, the players, former players, managers, staff, pundits, journalists to all come together to protect the sport that we love.”

We all felt that way, when the breakaway was announced. Betrayal was forefront on our minds, and we streamed to social media to vent. I, personally, couldn’t touch Twitter because it was an echo chamber of my own negative thoughts on the matter. And on James’s point of football being rotten, I reckon the issue comes down to money. The commercial injections of wealth into football that have caused such massive inflation in recent decades—the last decade especially—are now coming back to bite us, because world football has just muscled through a financially unstable pandemic that nobody could plan for, right at a time when finances have never been more paramount.

We all know the score with Arsenal: redundancies, wage cuts, the entire deletion of three departments, and of course, the loss of our beloved Gunnersaurus. We took loans from the Bank of England, and from our tight-fisted owners—because every investment KSE makes in Arsenal is a loan, with interest—and are still heavily in debt, along with nearly every club in the world. So why, then, hasn’t everybody tried to join the Super League? Because they rely on football to save them, rather than prizing cash as king.

Here’s another quote from James on the matter.

“Of course, I love Arsenal and I want them to be successful and go on to win the Premier League in my lifetime, but I want this to happen legitimately, without this ridiculous, unfair injection of money. As Jurgen Klopp said before the Leeds vs Liverpool game, having teams like West Ham potentially in the Champions League is incredible, having teams like Leicester go on to win the Premier League despite their odds being 5000/1 is amazing; it is what makes this league and this sport so unique and so exciting.

Speaking of the Leeds vs Liverpool’s game, the wonderful Sumaiya Vawda checked in with me as well, offering further thoughts on the systemic corruption money has caused in football, using that match to highlight the fact that nobody is exempt from criticism or accountability.

“Since 2006, Arsenal has called the Emirates Stadium home. Sublimation print promoting Rwanda as a tourist destination is tacked to shirt sleeves. Want club wine? Or perhaps you fancy a cheeky bet? Advertising dances around the stadium on electronic boards to fulfill your desires, while the absence of fans has offered further marketing real estate in concealing seats. There are brands on boots, bottles and footballs. Television companies bookend matches with performative punditry segments. Much occurs so that I, 9800 km away, can sit on a couch, donned in merchandise, to absorb the mayhem. This is capitalism painting its egregious face red, feigning a loyal friend. A Super League seeks only to heighten profiteering and power consolidation of what is increasingly a commercial product.
Vested interests fill not only The Super League proposal, but also its criticisms. Leeds wore 'Football is for the Fans' t-shirts when warming up against Liverpool; a good-hearted sentiment affixed to the back of a UEFA logo. This is the UEFA of one disgraced Michel Platini, unfettered owner investments in select teams and dubious sponsorships. The few players who have spoken out against a breakaway have highlighted childhood dreams of playing in a World Cup. It seems unlikely that dream sequence involved the deaths of 6500 migrant workers to stage the event in Qatar. Thus, no footballing body holds a moral high ground.”

Whether we look at football through the unfair applications of FFP, both in the rulings UEFA makes and in its original implementation and the basis of its laws, or through the human rights crises created by FIFA at the last three World Cups (I’m including Qatar), or through the numerous corruption scandals and tax evasion penalties slapped onto nearly every top-level football organization, it’s clear that money has usurped both fan and sport in the hierarchy of importance. Created by the poor, stolen by the rich.

And that prioritization of financial gain really kicked everybody else to the curb when the ESL was announced. The English FA relies on the money garnered by the Premier League to support the league itself, along with all of the lower divisions, and the Big Six raise a massive portion of that money. With the Super League gone, that threat has been removed, but it wasn't the only threat caused by Perez's rogue organization.

Sumaiya checked in again, to talk about the threat to women's football.

“A singular line in the Super League proposal acknowledges women's football. It almost reads as a, 'PS: we're not misogynists,' from a group of men with little grasp of the women's game and its trajectory. Amongst the proposers sits Liverpool of the second division in England and Real Madrid in its first season in women's competition. Manchester United long resisted investing in a women's complement for their club. For Arsenal, a European mainstay, a Super League could be damaging to chances of retaining talents, such as Vivianne Miedema, who may be better tested against the true elite.”

As the women's game begins to truly blossom around Europe, implementing a European Super League could have disastrous results for its success. The World Cup aside, the women's game has finally started to rise to its rightful place in the spotlight, but despite the ESL's "best intentions," (read: a band-aid for a bullet wound), the creation of this league would likely have hamstrung women's football, both from a financial and a coverage-based perspective. If the Premier League did collapse, as seemed likely, there would be little to no chance that the WSL could continue.

I don't want to turn this piece into a rant, nor do I want to harp on this forever, although I do hope you enjoyed the sarcasm. It's over and done with, and hopefully won't rear its ugly head again. But here's what I will say. This club needs to move forward and move beyond this incident, and frankly needs to guarantee that this type of coup cannot and will not happen again. Kroenke Out, ESL Out, save football with football. There is no other way.

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