The European Super League (ESL) is a breakaway of Europe’s top footballing clubs to new European competition. Twenty of them will be playing each other every week in two groups of ten teams, followed by knockout stages. The announcement comes amidst plans from UEFA for a revamped Champions League, the existing European competition, which proposed an increased number of teams (and subsequently more games) mainly in an attempt to appease the elite clubs who have now broken away.

There is no doubt that news of the ESL has shaken up the footballing world, with almost all fans and governing bodies strongly against the new competition. But, is it really as simple as money destroying the beautiful game?


Fans no longer at the centre of the game

The ESL involves mouth-watering levels of money, much higher than the numbers seen with the existing Champions League. The English clubs involved (Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur) would normally make between £40-80 million for winning the whole Champions League. This time, they are projected to make almost three times as much just for competing every season in the ESL, along with approximately £300 million at the very start. Combine that with TV rights, and it is easy to see why the ESL would be backed by those only in it for the money.

But that’s just it — football was never meant to be a business. It was created by the working class, for the working class, to bring people together in a way that transcends geographic or cultural differences.

The truth, however, is that football hasn’t been this way for decades. The fact that three of this year’s Champions League semi-finalists (Paris Saint-Germain, Manchester City and Chelsea) have owners in the oil business is just one indicator. The handing of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar respectively, and season ticket prices steeply rising are a couple more.

Are they just afraid of losing their ‘hard-earned’ profits?

For this reason, I don’t quite agree with existing football institutions claiming the moral high ground in this debacle. Broadcasting organisations, like Sky Sports and BT Sport, came down heavily on the ESL; claiming they have destroyed the game and left the fans for nothing.

But the prices to watch football through their channels have been rising since the inception of the Premier League, fleecing loyal fans since 1992. Why do they get to shame the ESL for locking them out of the profits, if DAZN ends up receiving the rights instead? I am sure Gary Neville does hold the strong opinions he expressed on Sunday night, but would Sky have allowed him to express them if they had received the rights instead?

As for UEFA and FIFA, the former allowed clubs to break Financial Fair Play rules and escape strong sanctions. Meanwhile, FIFA’s ex-President, Sepp Blatter, had numerous corruption allegations that led to his resignation six years ago.

None of these footballing institutions care one smidge about the fans, however much they claim to. The owners of the clubs breaking away to the ESL have shown similar conduct, which is perhaps why Arsene Wenger predicted the creation of a Super League in 2009. The club I support, Liverpool, tried to increase ticket prices to £77 and tried to take advantage of the government’s furlough scheme during a pandemic; all the while plotting an enormous paycheque for themselves. The fact that loyal fans of these clubs have been described by the ESL’s founding clubs as ‘legacy fans’ — while they look for ‘fans of the future‘ — was the final nail in the coffin for many.

The magic is disappearing fast

The new competition is proof that football has simply become a business model, paid for by the unrelenting passion of the fans. However, beyond the money, the emergence of ESL presents problems that will undoubtedly affect this passion if things go ahead.

For starters, the reason why competitions like the Champions League, and to a greater extent the World Cup, are so special is because of how rare they are. The build-up of excitement for the biggest and best displays of footballing talent is unrivalled, and this is what the ESL risks taking away. Playing the top clubs every week would make big matchups, like Liverpool vs Barcelona, dull and mundane. When they last played in the Champions League, it was just the opposite.

Also, the immunity from relegation for the founding clubs is of course to favour them financially, made possible by the owners being made chairmen of the ESL. The effect of this means that clubs have less incentive to perform well each season, and 15 of the teams will remain constant. This locks out the majority of other clubs from having a chance in the competition which, again, is part of the magic of the existing Champions League. There is very little possibility of an underdog story — unless we’re counting Arsenal and Tottenham as underdogs!

So yes, while it is true that money has been ruining football for decades, this latest despicable iteration of opportunism means the clubs’ owners have shown their hand. Some of them are already starting to back out after passionate backlash from fans, and I can only hope this means more reforms to get the beautiful game back to how it was.