The Times came up with a great headline last week about the European Super League. Something about the clubs “selling the soul” of the game. Yes, the Murdoch companies complain about football’s soul being sold. And then, on a soon-to-be former Murdoch company, Manchester City obliterate Southampton. A luxury gap, if you like, so big that there is an uncompetitive imbalance.
Football may eat itself if there isn’t a breakaway. Maybe football has already eaten itself and this is just the belch afterwards.
The clubs believe the public wants to see the top sides face each other on a Saturday. There’s little evidence to support that. A quick look around the Champions League fixtures and half-empty stadia are commonplace. Except in the grounds of those clubs who won’t be part of the Super League, of course.
But never let an inconvenience like reality get in the way of the marketing buck. Clubs convinced themselves long ago that broadcasters were their gods and took their money. But it wasn’t enough, rising wages and lessening rewards for the owners corral the game into the pen of greed.
Now, owners from far off lands want to take the game global. It’s global already but the Premier League’s 39th game warned of the future and La Liga is fighting for it. The Spanish league wants to play two games abroad, but fans don’t want it, players either. Clubs not invited to take part shun the opportunity but will be fervent supporters of the idea when their turn comes.
Football’s authorities are the Rennies to bring relief. But only until they serve up a different main course which brings on another bout of indigestion. Theirs isn’t a benevolent opposition; it’s born of the pain of missing out on their cut of the pie.
Leaving The Good Behind
Nothing surprises me anymore about the decisions made in smoke-filled Skype calls and WhatsApp groups. The notion that there should be a set group of clubs which are safe from relegation appalls me, even if I know that at some point Arsenal would suffer that fate.
Relegation and promotion are the antitheses of American sport and enough owners come from that side of the pond to persuade others its a really good idea. Greed does the rest.
The conversation would be swift; “With guaranteed participation for 20 years, each club will be so rich and so able to pluck the best players from the rest of the world, that you won’t get relegated anyway.”
A midweek Super League is a different matter. Do away with the Champions League and have two or three divisions, conferences, whatever you want to call it. Then find out who the best teams are. But this idea is to replace domestic football.
It won’t be long before they tinker with the format and conditions of entry. How long before clubs become franchises? London Arsenal and London Chelsea. Then they merge the two, becoming London who faces Madrid and Milan. Not Arsenal, Chelsea, Real, Atletico, AC or Internazionale but the cities themselves. Manchester too; united in name but nothing else. A faux pride.
Just a short hop to becoming commodities. Luxury, food, energy; I’ve seen the future. William Harrison wrote it and Norman Jewison brought it to life. We’re about to live it.
It means nothing to me though. Reared and raised on the rise and fall of the likes of Northampton, Carlisle and Wimbledon. A vague meritocracy which was always distorted by money. Maybe if the elite left and formed their own league, it would be more competitive…
Grandmother For Sale: One Owner…
If it comes to that, Arsenal won’t mean anything to me. Kroenke can take the club into Europe, be part of a marketeers wet dream. I suspect the energy which drives the formation of an ESL will appeal to a younger generation.
The structure as it is now works for me, even if the reality leaves a bad taste in the mouth. A moderately competitive domestic game, European club football the reward; a good theory eroded by the insidious grip of greed.
But football’s heart is always at the grassroots, in the fans who watch the game at every level and the players for whom it’s more than just a job. Not in the owners who care nothing for anything beyond the balance sheet. Where a player’s worth is no more than a line on a spreadsheet.
Football without a local rivalry is nothing. Imagine life of having Chelsea as the only derby match. In time, the derby will be Paris Towers or Manchester Rain as the London Royals take to the road.
If that’s a bit too dystopian for you, don’t ignore the threat posed by this generation of club owners. They aren’t guardians of the game or custodians of our clubs. Asset strippers, carpetbaggers and malevolent billionaires; none of them hold football’s interests at heart, only their own.