What is the European Super League?The European Super League was a proposed soccer club competition to be contested among a select group of 20 soccer teams from across Europe’s biggest domestic leagues. Founded in April 2021, the European Super League aimed to rival the UEFA Champions League, which has been Europe’s premier domestic soccer competition since 1955. The format of the planned league would have seen the 20 teams split into two groups of 10, in which each team would play against every other team in their respective group in home and away ties. The ensuing knockout stage, contested from the quarter-finals stage onwards, would have taken place as two-legged ties, before a single final game at a neutral stadium.
The leadership of the European Super League organization was fronted by Florentino Pérez, chairman of the organization and current President of Real Madrid. In the initial press release to announce the formation of the league, the organization claimed that the league would bring together “the world’s greatest clubs and players to play each other throughout the season”, while also supporting the economic growth of European football. There is no doubt that the clubs within the European Super League would have stood to profit handsomely from their participation, with Founding Clubs earning themselves 3.5 billion euros to support infrastructure investment plans and all Super League clubs receiving 10 billion euros in solidarity payments during the initial commitment period. Moreover, with millions of fans expected to have tuned in to watch the new tournament, potential revenue from media and sponsorship deals would have also reached into the billions of euros.
The Founding ClubsThe European Super League was initially established by 12 European clubs, including the “Big Six” from the English Premier League, as well as three clubs each from the Spanish La Liga and Italy’s Serie A. These clubs regularly rank among the most valuable soccer brands worldwide and many lead the way in terms of fan base and annual revenues. The league organizers hoped that three more clubs would have joined the competition, thereby establishing 15 “Founding Clubs”. These clubs would have been permanent fixtures in the competition, while the remaining five teams would have qualified annually based on performances in the previous season. While some reports suggested that other European clubs, such as Paris Saint-Germain, Borussia Dortmund, and Bayern Munich, declined the invitation to the Super League, Florentino Pérez claimed that these teams were not invited to be Founding Clubs.
A closed shop - or open for business?Following the league’s creation, the Founding Clubs faced intense criticism for their involvement in this planned competition. Many pointed towards the unfairness of the “closed shop” nature of the league, where the Founding Clubs would remain in the competition regardless of performance. This is in contrast to the UEFA Champions League, for example, for which teams must qualify based on their performance in their domestic league in the previous season. Interestingly, despite the Founding Clubs including some of the powerhouses of European soccer with dozens of Champions League titles to their name, four of the teams have never won a European Cup or Champions League.
The beautiful game or the bottom line?A further accusation leveled at the Founding Clubs was that the owners put their business interests ahead of the tradition and integrity of soccer in Europe. Some of these owners are among the wealthiest owners of sports teams worldwide and their planned participation in the European Super League was seen by some as a way to add to their wealth, rather than the owners having the best interests of their club and their club’s fanbase at heart. In fact, during an April 2021 survey in the United Kingdom, some 89 percent of soccer fans believed that the league was formed for financial gain, while just three percent believed that it was formed as a result of a desire on the part of the fans.
Reaction from the world of football and beyondThe European Super League was widely condemned by the rest of the footballing world. UEFA, the administrative body for soccer in Europe, released a joint statement with the English Football Association, the Premier League, the Spanish FA, La Liga, the Italian FA, and Serie A, in which it threatened to ban those clubs participating in the European Super League from their domestic competitions. Players and pundits alike also expressed their displeasure, stating that the move was purely based on greed and would ruin the game for the fans. Even the UK Government condemned the move, with Boris Johnson threatening legislation to stop the competition going ahead. Public support for the league was also very low, with 68 percent of soccer fans in the UK strongly opposing the competition, a figure which rose to 79 percent among fans of Premier League teams not in the “Big Six”. With 56 percent of soccer fans in the same survey stating that they would not be interested at all in watching the European Super League, it seems that the proposed new league did not get the immediate fan support that the founders had hoped for.
What is the latest situation?As with many things in the world of sport, things move in a fast and unpredictable way. On April 20, 2021, following extensive backlash from fans and the footballing world, the Big Six clubs from the Premier League all signaled their intention to withdraw from the competition within hours of each other. The following day, Atlético Madrid, Internazionale, AC Milan, and Juventus officially announced their withdrawals, leaving just two Founding Clubs - Barcelona and Real Madrid - still involved with the project. While Super League vice chairman and Juventus FC chairman Andrea Agnelli subsequently announced that the league could not proceed following these withdrawals, Florentino Pérez defiantly claimed that the project was merely "on standby".
The long terms effects of this fallout, however, remain unpredictable. While UEFA president Aleksander Čeferin welcomed the rebel teams back into the "European football family", it seems many will not be so quick to forgive and forget. The very idea of the Super League was seen by many fans as a betrayal of the traditions of soccer and cynical move by rich owners to bolster their personal fortunes. As such, 73 percent of UK soccer fans believed that the owners of the clubs should be the ones punished for any involvement in the European Super League. However, some 32 percent felt that the clubs involved should be deducted points in their domestic leagues, a move which would have a significant impact on the players, the manager, and the fans. With the UEFA also announcing its own revamped European competition on the back of the European Super League’s initial announcement, it seems that, one way or another, the face of European football is about to change forever.