• April 19, 2024

The Audacity and Greed of the Super League

We have largely subscribed to the appreciation of greed, and yet the announcement of the creation of a European Super League on Sunday still caused a shock. The Super League has been described as a new, closed competition made up of many of the biggest and richest clubs in European football, including Real Madrid and Barcelona in Spain, and Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United in England. The idea was that these twelve “founding clubs” – along with up to eight other bankable teams – would take part in an annual tournament that takes place alongside their regular playing time. In contrast to the Champions League, the holy tournament in which the best teams from the European domestic leagues compete against each other, the founding members of the Super League are guaranteed to qualify regardless of how they perform domestically.

The reaction to the Super League has been devastating almost everywhere. When details became known on Monday, fans and former players lamented the obvious money theft: the twelve founding clubs each generated revenues of around four hundred million dollars. Despite the lip service officials paid to other, less fortunate clubs through “solidarity payments”, the point of the Super League was clear: to anchor a permanent, immobile ruling class based not on performance but on brand awareness. Nations with less visible leagues like the Netherlands, Portugal or France would be at a disadvantage forever. Ander Herrera, a passionate, hardworking Spanish midfielder who currently plays for Paris Saint-Germain, was one of the first to speak out against the idea. “I fell in love with popular football, with the football of the fans, with the dream of seeing my team compete against the greatest.” he wrote on Twitter. In contrast, the Super League would be “the rich who steal what the people have made”. (PSG in particular, a very wealthy club, refused to get involved in the Super League. German clubs work on a community ownership structure, which probably explains why Bayern Munich, the reigning Champions League winners, and Borussia Dortmund allegedly overtures from the Super League.)

The launch of the Super League proposal was really amazing. There were few details about how the other teams would be selected in the competition. The conversations took place in secret and seemed to contradict the express wishes of many fans. It seems that players, coaches and managers have not been consulted either. Alex Ferguson, former Manchester United manager and one of the most respected and influential personalities in world football, called the Super League a “departure from seventy years of European club football”. On the Monday before Liverpool’s league game against Leeds United, Liverpool coach Jürgen Klopp has repeated his opposition on the idea of ​​a members-only competition, admitting that the news of the Super League surprised him. There were stories of tense Zoom calls as club officials explained the reasoning behind the proposal to unimpressed players. UEFA and FIFA, which oversee the Champions League and World Cup, threatened to ban Super League participants from their competitions. Chelsea fans demonstrated outside their stadium, Stamford Bridge, releasing torches and blocking traffic. Slowly players from Super League clubs like Liverpools are playing Jordan Henderson, Manchester United Luke Shawand Manchester Citys Kevin De Bruynebegan to express their opposition. Then, on Tuesday afternoon, Chelsea withdrew from the Super League, followed by the five other English clubs that originally signed up as “founders”. One of the Super League’s architects, Ed Woodward, announced that he would be stepping down from his role as Executive Vice Chairman of Manchester United. Woodward’s exit seemed particularly noteworthy. He was unpopular with fans, an embodiment of the new generation of football managers more about marketing than about sport. The Super League started on Wednesday morning suspended his plans move forward.

I saw Manchester United against Burnley on Sunday when the Super League launch plan was released just before half-time. I have roots for United, which means I have little moral authority to decipher inequality in football. We put together a group of well-paid players from England, France, Portugal, Sweden and Brazil. This is shamefully one of the many reasons I keep watching the team: they have the resources to rise and fall in spectacular ways. The American owners of United, who also own the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, were at the center of the proposal for the Super League. By comparison, Burnley is a perennial underdog. The logic of the Super League was that a globally recognized club like Manchester United will always play a role and that Burnley will absolutely not play a role. But Burnley has built a reputation for being a tough opponent who comes around on a low payroll, fueled by a gritty, collective spirit. Manchester United vs Burnley is not a glamor match. Burnley is a team we should beat, even if we rarely do. It was a goalless draw after forty-five minutes and United were fortunate enough not to lose a goal.

A 2020 poll found that younger fans were more open on the idea of ​​a Super League as older, and some observers have speculated that the owners of the Super League’s founding clubs were betting that long-time fans weren’t worth worrying about because they’d run out over time anyway. The future lies in global fan bases, not local ones – what critics call “AmericanizationFrom football. The Super League was a brand leverage exercise where the “best” teams are the ones with astronomical Q-scores, the biggest Twitter followers, and the most Instagram likes, with whom the most partnerships Wines, Kitchen and bathroom parts, and Pasta brands. Here, “best” means those with the most marketable collections of Superstar players, even if the players don’t always know what to do with each other on the field. They are “best” in the sense that they can charge their fans the highest prices at the gate, but they can also provide additional levels of access with their own cable channels, digital networks and websites translated into multiple languages. They are “best” when it comes to credibly claiming to have the most fans in the world, especially in emerging markets like China and the United States.

Fans won on Tuesday, an indication of how their sense of ownership of clubs and their traditions can be mobilized in ways that seem quaint and provincial in the American context. But the Super League is an idea that will return, likely with more adept sales management. Relations between the mutineer clubs and those left behind are being repaired, at least for the time being. It was a bitter irony that opposition to the Super League meant targeting UEFA and FIFA, organizations guilty of corruption and mismanagement. It seemed like a question of whether you believe a cabal of breakway billionaires could ever really regulate itself. Nobody believes the current iteration of professional football is that fair as it could have been decades agoBefore the lucrative use of broadcast rights established the English Premier League, it brought hundreds of millions of dollars into the game. My own fandom reflects the game’s increasingly global reach. Today, the biggest clubs routinely influence the future of their leagues, and their perceived stature is rarely questioned. As brands, they are often too big to fail. But sometimes they still have to suffer the shame of not being very good on the pitch. This is still permissible for all errors in the system for romance and unlikely winners, such as Leicester City’s 2016 Premier League title. The outrage over the Super League was about more than just mood and tradition. It was the fact that these clubs isolated themselves from risk. It went against the idea of ​​competition.

Risking the heart is what makes sport worth watching. My strongest memories of football fandom are moments of fame and shocking disappointment. (Full Disclosure: I bought some shares in Manchester United once to crack a joke.) I remember beating Chelsea in the 2008 Champions League final. As a screen I used a screenshot of the crying Chelsea captain John Terry to save for a while. But I also remember those humiliating loss to third division club MK Dons in 2014 and to the Champions League final in 2009 and 2011, when United was destroyed by Barcelona. I first admired Herrera, the midfielder, when he played for Athletic Bilbao, a Spanish club in the Basque Country that prioritize the recruitment of Basque players. When United faced Bilbao in the 2012 knockout stage of the Europa League, it was a battle of recruitment philosophies: United was only tied to its paperback; Bilbao was bound in principle. Be run off the field of Herrera and his compatriots this spring was particularly humble. In other words, there are no “best teams”, only those who are the best on a given day.

Manchester United finally beat Burnley on Sunday thanks to a deflected shot from a talented teenager named Mason Greenwood. Arsenal and Tottenham drew their games last weekend. Liverpool left on Monday to the delight Leeds social media manager. The next day, hours after his fans’ demonstration, Chelsea moved to the sixteenth Brighton. It seemed to underscore the arbitrariness of calling these teams the best. Football fans watch the game because anything could happen. You might see a goal that transcends the boundaries of reason, or a rich team brought to their knees. As you watch an unlikely hero score a winning goal and bring fame to a small, obscure club and town, you may even feel that just because someone is at the top doesn’t mean things are like that forever will stay. This is what Tuesday felt like for fans around the world.

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