After years of rumors about the biggest soccer clubs in Europe conspiring to put together a monster league, the thing finally walked out of its castle and showed its face – The European Super League Unmasked.
On Sunday, it was announced that 12 of the game’s most well-known clubs would be creating something called the Super League.
On its face, the Super League intends to be a new competitor to the Champions League, though its effects are sure to reach much further, shaking the very foundations of soccer, threatening to fundamentally reshape the game as we know it, and calling into question core principles at the heart of sports in general.
WHAT IS THE SUPER LEAGUE?
As laid out on its website, the Super League is a proposed new continental tournament.
It intends to pit 20 of the biggest clubs from across Europe against each other in a season-long tournament that will start with a group stage and then advance into a home-and-home knockout bracket to crown a winner.
The Super League is in many respects almost identical to the existing Champions League, and in fact even more closely resembles what the new Champions League will look like once the changes to that competition goes into effect.
The critical difference between the Champions League and the Super League is in how teams gain entrance into them. In the Champions League, contesting clubs qualify for the tournament primarily via finishing in the top spots of their domestic league the season prior.
That’s where the “champions” in Champions League comes from: It is a tournament comprised of the champions and near-champions of Europe’s individual leagues, itself having evolved from the European Champions Cup, which only included the literal champion of the continent’s domestic leagues.
The best teams earn the right to compete with the best teams by beating their competitors, thereby either gaining promotion to the next higher league or maintaining their position in the highest tier, while the worst-performing teams are sent to the next league down to make way for the newly promoted ones.
The Super League’s “qualification” process is much different. “Qualification” for the 20-team Super League won’t be based on on-the-pitch success, won’t be earned every season with blood, sweat, and goals; instead, it will be guaranteed to the 15 signatory clubs that will found it, with five other teams selected by some as-of-yet-unexplained qualification mechanism.
The vast majority—though, importantly, not all—of the 12 clubs that have already signed onto the Super League are the same clubs that are always in the Champions League, but their path of getting there in the Super League will be completely different.
Of the 12 teams that have already agreed to be in the Super League, six are from England (Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Tottenham), three are from Spain (Atlético Madrid, Barcelona, Real Madrid), and three are from Italy (AC Milan, Inter, Juventus).
The thing that has inspired the creation of the Super League, boils down to only two things: money and power, Europe’s biggest clubs don’t feel like they currently get enough of either, and so they’re trying to build the Super League to get more of both.
In the current system, qualifying for the Champions League is enormously important financially. There is an incredible amount of money in competing in the tournament, primarily in the form of broadcasting rights revenue that is split between the clubs that make it, plus the in-stadium income teams make from selling tickets to what are the very biggest games of the season.
Clubs need that money to pay their best players their astronomical salaries, and to pay mountainous transfer fees to acquire more great players, which then ensures continued access to the Champions League’s riches to keep the good times rolling.
In the other direction, failure to qualify for the tournament makes paying big salaries and transfer fees much more difficult, and it often makes Champions League-caliber players want to leave your club for one that can offer the big stage and salaries. All of this makes the Champions League a massive reward, but also a massive risk.
And it’s that risk that the big clubs behind the Super League want to eliminate.
Those clubs don’t like the fact that qualification for the Champions League is so difficult and competitive, and they find it unfair that they, whose star players and globe-spanning fan bases and historical pedigrees lend the Champions League much of its allure and prestige and popularity, have to risk their asses every season to qualify against some nothing club like West Ham United.
Why should West Ham, which is currently on track to qualify for next season’s Champions League, get to swoop in and suck up the tens of millions of dollars on offer there? Especially when a club like Liverpool, which historically has played a much bigger role in making the Champions League what it is, and would bring the tournament way more eyeballs and interest and money than West Ham, might miss out, and could potentially lose a star player or two because of it.
Wouldn’t it be better, the big clubs’ argument goes, if we had a tournament that gave most of the money to the clubs that actually created it? Romanticism aside, isn’t there more fan interest in Liverpool vs. AC Milan than West Ham vs. Atalanta, and shouldn’t the sport be structured in a way that guarantees those fans the things they really want?
Under the current system, a club like Manchester United can sign all the superstars it wants, so long as it can pay the bill (and United can afford anything), and if it builds a team that wins, nothing is stopping it from winning every Premier League and Champions League and FA Cup trophy from now to eternity.
But if instead of putting together a good team, the Red Devils waste their money on an in-over-his-head manager and can’t convince great players to join them and spend years as the game’s laughing stock, having every advantage imaginable and yet still not being good enough to qualify for the Champions League, then the only one who should have to pay for that is Manchester United, not West Ham!