“Greed,” money and power.
These were the three defining words of a week that shook European football’s very foundations.
On April 18, 12 of Europe’s biggest, most successful and financially powerful clubs – subsequently dubbed the “Dirty Dozen” – announced their intention to breakaway from the current UEFA competition format and create their very own Super League.
As football fans began to grapple with the concept, it didn’t take them long to vehemently criticize the move as one fueled by greed, the desire to hoard more money and wield more power than they already do.
The Super League wanted to guarantee 15 clubs a place in the 20-team competition every season, regardless of performance on the pitch.
Except, as many fans pointed out, some of the 12 founding super clubs really aren’t all that super.
Tottenham Hotspur has won just one League Cup in the past 30 years; Arsenal hasn’t qualified for the Champions League since 2016 and AC Milan since 2013; and Inter Milan hasn’t progressed from the group stages since 2011.
This was a power grab intended to guarantee the Super League’s founding members status and revenue, which some of them aren’t currently earning from their performances on the pitch.
The Super League’s structure goes against the very essence of what makes European football so compelling.
Promotion and relegation allows supporters of teams further down the football pyramid to dream that, one day, they might well be able to compete against the very best.
Unsurprisingly to everybody – except those involved in this new project – fans were outraged. The criticism was instant, fierce and widespread, with one supporters’ group calling it the “ultimate betrayal.”
It proved, despite the slogans of unity that these clubs peddle to drum up support and create a sense of togetherness – one Liverpool slogan is “This Means More” – that their connection to fans is wafer thin. Supporters are seen only as “consumers.”
As more details of the Super League’s plan emerged, this coterie of owners provided plenty of evidence that they do not understand the connections that bind clubs to supporters.
It has been widely reported that Super League clubs view their traditional supporter base – those that go to the games and are part of the communities in their cities – as “legacy fans.”
“Two words that sum up cash over culture view of owners,” wrote the Athletic.
Instead of catering to “legacy” supporters,” the Super League clubs – which see themselves as “content providers” – wanted to pivot towards “fans of the future,” those that are more interested in seeing superstar names go head-to-head.
Supporters were joined in their indignation by politicians and the heads of governing bodies – though cynics might argue this was to boost their own political or financial interests, rather than a true belief in football’s greater good.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden talked of passing legislation to stop the Super League, while FIFA President Gianni Infantino warned the breakaway clubs that they must “live with the consequences.”
At times, this week’s drama has been worthy of a soap opera, not least that a project apparently three years in the making had imploded in the space of 48 hours.
UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin said he had previously been reassured by Juventus chairman Andrea Agnelli that the Italian club would not be signing up for the new format.
However, when rumors of the major announcement began circulating, Ceferin said Agnelli began ignoring his phone calls.
“I thought we are also friends, but I was wrong. For me, it’s always better to be naive than to lie all the time,” Ceferin said, previously referring to those involved as “snakes.”
“Their chairman approved something and then ran away, and he’s still hiding probably somewhere, I don’t know where he is.”
To make matters even more awkward, Ceferin is godfather to Agnelli’s daughter.
Spending time together in their boardroom bubble has isolated these wealthy businessmen from the widely held belief that football exists for the fans and because of the fans.
What we saw in those 48 hours – and beyond – as the Super League project unraveled was a reminder to football’s power brokers that supporters should never be bypassed like this again.
On Tuesday, Chelsea’s fans gathered in protest outside of the club’s Stamford Bridge stadium, holding up the team bus as it attempted to make its way to the ground for their Premier League match against Brighton.
As crowds gathered, there was a moment – almost like the flick of a switch – when angry jeers turned to whooping cheers.
News had filtered through that Chelsea had announced it would be joining Manchester City in withdrawing from the Super League. Before long, all six Premier League teams had released statements saying they would no longer be part of the new project and the Super League was on its knees.
But it wasn’t just outside of Stamford Bridge, supporters of Tottenham, Liverpool, Manchester United, Manchester City and Arsenal had descended on their respective stadiums to make their feelings known.
Soon after, however, Atlético Madrid, Inter Milan, AC Milan and Juventus all announced they, too, would be pulling out, leaving just Barcelona and Real Madrid committed to the project. And committed they remain.
On Wednesday night, Real Madrid president Florentino Perez – who was set to be the Super League chairman – went on Spanish radio El Larguero and insisted that the proposal wasn’t canceled, merely on “standby.”
The following day, Barcelona followed suit and said it would be a “historical error” to pull out. Whatever vision those two clubs had for the prospective Super League, assuredly they didn’t just have 15 Clásicos per season in mind.
While the outcome was ultimately a win for football fans, news over this past week has understandably left a bitter taste in the mouth for many.
To end the week on a more positive note, we’d like to invite you to read this piece on Seán McCabe, football’s first Climate Justice Officer, as a reminder of the good that football can do in the world.