Is A European Super League Possible?

Article by Yinka Aboaba.

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The idea of a European Super League was initially suggested in 1998 led by AC Milan who instructed marketing company ‘Media Partners’ to explore the viability of a potential league. The idea back in 1998 was for 32 teams to compete across two divisions and with a European Cup called the ‘Pro Cup’ in which 60 other sides would also compete.  However UEFA moved to quash any attempts to form a European Super League by appeasing Europe’s top clubs through extending the Champions League from 24 teams to 32 and by merging the UEFA Cup with the Cup Winners Cup, as well as by increasing the allocation of clubs that could reach the Champions League in the ‘Big three’ league (Italy Spain and England) from three to four spaces.

However, one of the major problems with any proposed plans is that the way the league would be formatted is so unclear. It was never clear in 1998 who would make up the 32 clubs that compete in the two leagues and how it would be chosen. There was a hint that it would be chosen at least to an extent on merit but it appears now any move would just involve teams in the European Club Association which is effectively a lobbying group for Europe’s most powerful and wealthy clubs.

Over the last few years many managers and football pundits have started to propose the idea once more, although UEFA chief Michel Platini has firmly dismissed it on numerous occasions. The Real Madrid chief Florentino Perez has been one of the most vocal advocates for the league, already indicated that he will push for the proposal unless UEFA accommodate the bigger clubs more.  Arsene Wenger has already predicted that the European Super League could prevail in the future due to the revenue pressure facing the largest clubs especially with the recent introduction of the FIFA Financial Fair Play Rule where clubs have had to be more stringent with their wages so that they do not make much of a loss.

It is evident that the clubs which would be involved in the Super League would consist of the G14 which was an organisation of some of Europe’s richest clubs that was disbanded in 2008, and has now effectively been replaced by the ECA.  A European Super League would clearly benefit these clubs from a financial prospective where they would be able to seize control of their own affairs by negotiating their own TV deals. This would give them significantly more revenue than they currently receive through UEFA, as rather than having UEFA negotiate TV deals for them and thus keeping shares of the profit to give to smaller sides the bigger clubs would now be able to monopolize potential TV revenue.

The memorandum of understanding which exists between clubs and UEFA runs out in 2014 and when this expires, clubs will no longer be legally bound to play in the Champions League or release their players for any international match. Any proposed move is not just about money. The ECA clubs are becoming increasingly unhappy by what they consider poor governance at both UEFA and FIFA, saying that they ‘run wild.’ The recent corruption scandal at FIFA being the case in point. The head of the ECA Karl-Heinz Rummenigge has spoken of a football ‘revolution’ to seize power from FIFA and UEFA who he perceives to lack legitimacy as a result of the aforementioned corruption scandal. Clubs also want a massive reduction in the number of international matches with just 12 over a two year period excluding international tournaments. This is opposed to the 11 international matches that are due to be played in 2012 not counting the European Championship.

With the deadline approaching, clearly something has to give.  Michel Platini is strongly opposed to the idea of a Super League as it would create a monopoly of big clubs at the expense of Europe’s smaller teams, something that is in direct opposition to what he has tried to achieve during his tenure, where he has, as well as by adopting the Financial Fair Play Rules.

Implementing such a controversial scheme would be extremely complicated on many fronts.  Due to the increase in the number of matches caused by the European Super League, there would have to be a reduction in the number of domestic games to compensate for it, which could destroy the domestic game as well as the hype surrounding local derby’s. Then, it would have to be decided who exactly would be able to compete; if they base it on revenue, some clubs could argue that this is not totally accurate and others could artificially alter their accounts to change the numbers. It would also suck money out of the domestic game which would lose its appeal as a result of higher profile games being played in the Super League. With regards to local derby’s its been mooted by some pundits that the league could include Celtic but not Rangers. It also remains to be seen how clubs not involved in the competition could be promoted up to it. Although it is said in many quarters that Peter Kenyon is working on a blue print to make it work.

UEFA is in a tricky position: clearly they stand to lose enormous amounts of money if the biggest teams decide to withdraw from their competition and have their own breakaway league.  Whilst they have been able to put this off, with the memorandum understanding expiring in three years it seems that it is the clubs which have the power at this moment.  Currently, there has been talk that the Champions League is of a higher quality than International football and the creation of a Super League would further highlight this and generate less interest on the International stage especially if ECA clubs withdraw their high profile players from international matches.

It would also squeeze out fans financially since clubs participating in the league would only do it to make more money and regular costly trips across Europe would only be afforded by the richest fans.  With more talk of a possible European Super League in the lead up to the memorandum deadline in 2014, UEFA is under-pressure to loosen their strong philosophy of ‘fair play’.

Whilst it is unlikely that a European Super League will come into fruition in the near future, UEFA will probably give more incentives to ensure that the biggest clubs extend their memorandum of understanding beyond 2014 which end ultimately end up squeezing out the smaller clubs as a result. Thus more than anything else the threat of a European Super League in its current phase is aimed at increasing the bargaining position of the ECA clubs within the UEFA and FIFA frameworks which was successful in 1998 and could possibly be successful again as these clubs look for increasing concessions. However with the rumours that Peter Kenyon is performing market testing on a proposed league the speculation surrounding it will persist unless UEFA and the ECA can strike a perfect balance. They are currently trying to do just that as Rummenigge recently played down the reports of a European Super League stating ‘our goal is not to break away but to find good solutions, not just for clubs, but for football.’ With this in mind one would expect UEFA to make some serious concessions to the World’s biggest clubs in the coming months.


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