The prospect of an elite, closed and deeply controversial European Super League represents an existential crisis to the game which is unprecedented.
In what looks to be a fait accompli, twelve clubs have already confirmed that they have signed up to the ESL. Six of these, namely Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur, come from the English Premier League. Real Madrid’s president Florentino Perez is the chairman of the new organisation proposing the league, while Manchester United’s co-chairman Joel Glazer is a vice-chairman.
It will also come as no surprise then to see that there is already serious corporate money behind the venture. The newly formed SLCo had secured a commitment to underwrite funding for the competition in the range of £3.5bn, and JP Morgan confirmed to PA that it is financing the deal. Shares in the owners of the likes of Manchester United and Juventus have rocketed as a result of the news.
Conspicuous behind their absence are the giants of football from Germany, whose fan ownership model precludes direct control by investors. The ESL would never fly with their fanbase and they know it.
Amid all the bile and fury I could not and still cannot smell a sense of hypocrisy about the whole reaction. The fact that seven of the teams proposing the league are owned by multibillion pound consortia from overseas, mainly America, seems only now to draw remarks of how the “people’s game” is being stolen from the fans and grassroots by a handful of supremely wealthy corporate titans.
The derision was not there when clubs like, say Chelsea and Manchester City, were taken from mediocrity to the summit of world football by wealthy investors. Rather it was celebrated and triumphed.
Nor is this a condition unique to the upper echelons. Many of Yorkshire’s football clubs have been subject to foreign investment at some stage. Usually this comes from an investor who would have struggled to accurately place the club on a map or name their finest players but rather a calculation based on how much money their ownership or stake can extract from it. In many cases this has yielded success but it has also resulted in some high-profile disasters.
It is because of this that we all as football fans share in some of the blame for the ESL which was an inevitable destination upon the route the game has been taking for decades.
Millions of pounds for new stadia, the world’s best players and on the field success was never questioned but rather welcomed.
The reality is that the days of football being a grass roots institution evaporated quite some time ago. I would heartily recommend Adrian Tempany’s outstanding book And the Sun Shines
Now: How Hillsborough and the Premier League Changed Britain for a forensic detailing of how this process began. Tickets to a football match adjusted for inflation are still astronomically more expensive than when I first headed through the terraces at Middlesbrough’s old Ayresome Park ground 33 years ago. Homegrown talent is rare. Every footballing success has capital investment to thank and those with the deepest pockets enjoy the most success.
If you want a true voice of grass roots football look to those issued by the world’s first football club, Sheffield FC, following the ESL announcement. It said: “We would like to have it on record that Sheffield FC strongly opposes the formation of a new European Super League, and we maintain the opinion that it goes against everything that football stands for.” Wise words from a true institution.
Meanwhile, for all football fans, I am compelled to repeat the words coined in Aesop’s Fables more than 2,000 years ago: “Be careful what you wish for, it might come true”