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Saturday, May 15, 2021

Explained: Those behind the American blueprint for the European Super League

A closed league is practically unheard of in European football circles. But the concept isn't new for the United States, and naturally, the American owners of the clubs found merit in the format.

Written by Shahid Judge , Edited by Explained Desk | Mumbai |
Updated: April 23, 2021 1:59:42 pm
A group of 12 elite clubs dramatically split European soccer by announcing plans to walk away from the Champions League. The 12 intended to create a breakaway midweek competition called the Super League. (AP Photo/Laszlo Balogh, File)

So far, nine of 12 clubs that had signed up for the controversial European Super League (ESL) have pulled out of the proposed tournament announced on Sunday. The withdrawing teams include all six English Premier League clubs, Inter and AC Milan from Italy, and Atletico Madrid from Spain.

The idea behind forming the Super League was to create a sure-shot big-money competition that would have 15 permanent teams and five additional qualifiers based on their performances in the previous domestic season. A closed league is practically unheard of in European football circles, where domestic club competitions have used the promotion-and-relegation system for over a century. But the concept isn’t new for the United States, and naturally, the American owners of the clubs, four of the 12 have American owners, found merit in the format.

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Real Madrid, Manchester United, Juventus and Liverpool were, reportedly, the four key forces behind the idea of the ESL, each with an individual playing a central role. Juventus, along with Real Madrid and Barcelona, are the only teams still signed up for the ESL.

Florentino Perez – Real Madrid President

The 74-year-old is reported to have come up with the idea of forming a Super League, of which he was named Chairman. He famously unveiled the Galacticos Era at Real Madrid, when at least one high-profile player would be signed every year. The list included the likes of Luis Figo, Ronaldo, Zinedine Zidane, David Beckham, Kaka and Cristiano Ronaldo, among others.

The strategy helped Real Madrid become a financial success, as the club cashed in on the marquee players to create marketing opportunities, especially in Asia. The only downfall was that Perez’s adamant approach came at the cost of team dynamics as key players were sold to make space for incoming stars. For example, Mesut Ozil and Angel di Maria were offloaded to make way for the likes of Toni Kroos, Luka Modric and Gareth Bale.

Perez also saw the potential of the Super League in which big teams would compete regularly. And even when the clubs started to pull out, he remained unmoved.

“The contract of the Super League is binding. Nobody can leave, we will all work together,” he told El Chringuito on Monday.

“Many important clubs in Spain, Italy and the UK want to find a solution to a very bad financial situation. The only way is to play more competitive games. If instead of playing the Champions League, the Super League helps the clubs to recover the lost earnings. When there is no profit, the only way is to play more competitive games during the week. The Super League will save the clubs financially.”

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Ed Woodward – Former Executive Vice-Chairman of Manchester United

Woodward decided to step down from his role at the club on Tuesday following the backlash it received when the Super League was announced. Though the club’s American owner Joel Glazer was appointed Vice-Chairman of the Super League, Woodward played a key role in the venture.

The Englishman has been associated with Manchester United for 16 years, since he joined to look after the financial affairs after the Glazer family took over the club in 2005. He has been criticised by fans for being unable to meet transfer goals set by managers, over numerous transfer windows.

Prior to joining United, Woodward worked as an investment banker at JP Morgan, which – it is believed – helped the Super League secure the banking company as a partner in the enterprise.

John Henry – Principal owner and Chairman of Liverpool

The American is an owner of an investment management company. He’s also the co-owner of Fenway Sports Group, which owns the Boston Red Sox baseball team and a NASCAR racing team in the US, along with Liverpool in England.

The 71-year-old, following the withdrawal of the club from the competition, posted a video on Liverpool’s media channel apologising to fans and taking full responsibility for the “unnecessary negativity.”

“I want to apologise to all the fans and supporters of Liverpool Football Club for the disruption I caused over the past 48 hours. It goes without saying but should be said that the project put forward was never going to stand without the support of the fans. Over these 48 hours, you were very clear that it would not stand. We heard you. I heard you.”

Andrea Agnelli – Juventus Chairman

Agnelli belongs to an influential industrialist family in Italy that founded the Fiat auto company and has invested in the likes of Ferrari and Alfa Romeo. The family also took ownership of Juventus in 1967. While Chairman of the club, 45-year-old Agnelli was appointed to the UEFA executive board and was head of the European Club Association (ECA) that looks into the wellbeing of over 200 top division clubs around the continent.

He resigned from both positions on Sunday, and took up a role of vice-chairman of the ESL. The Italian has now reconciled to the fact that the ESL may not happen after the withdrawal of nine teams.

“I remain convinced of the beauty of that project. But admittedly… I mean, I don’t think that that project is now still up and running,” he told Reuters.

American Leagues

The Big 4 of American Sports, National Basketball Association (NBA), Major League Baseball (MLB), National Hockey League (NHL) and National Football League (NFL), are all closed leagues with 30 to 32 teams, and do not allow new teams, or franchises, to enter or exit via promotion or relegation.

The same format applies to their domestic football competition as well, Major League Soccer (MLS).

The format, thus, doesn’t have repercussions for a team with indifferent results.

Super League blueprint Just like the American leagues, the 12 teams, along with three more permanent members that the founders hoped would join, would remain in the competition regardless of their results. An additional five teams would qualify to compete in the tournament based on their results from the previous season. If the results aren’t up to scratch, only those five teams may be removed the following year.

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