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Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Explained: Why are clubs abandoning the European Super League?

The elites of European football would continue to work on this and generate a more appealing and fan-pleasing version of it. ESL’s creators would regroup, and no doubt come back.

Written by Sandip G , Edited by Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: April 22, 2021 7:44:16 am
ESLA man cycles past banners outside of Anfield Stadium which protest against the club's decision to join the European Super League. (AP photo)

Just two days after the elites of European club football decided to join a breakaway Super League, to hoard the revenue they think they truly deserve, the grand scheme fell apart after mounting outrage from the football fraternity. A refreshing landmark moment as it was for the game, the scrapping of the plan should not hide the grim reality that the present Champions League structure is not entirely flawless.

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How did the European Super League unravel?

There was unrelenting opposition from former coaches, players including legends, and pundits. Heads of nations and ministers dismissed the idea as counter-intuitive. In England, the royal family expressed their plain resentment. The fans, braving the pandemic, streamed onto the streets. They gathered at Anfield with banners that read: RIP Football, RIP Liverpool. Midfielder Jordan Henderson, said on behalf of the squad: “We don’t like it and we don’t want it to happen. This is our collective position.”

Kenny Dalglish, a club legend and non-executive director, implored the owners to “do the right thing”.

Before their game against Brighton, fans gathered in front of Stamford Bridge and blocked Chelsea’s team bus from entering the stadium, forcing club legend Petr Cech to intervene as tensions threatened to simmer and boil over. The FA’s chief executive, Mark Bullingham, bolstered by the UK government’s backing, said his organisation would take an uncompromising line with the rebel clubs.

ESL protest Chelsea fans protest outside Stamford Bridge in London. (AP photo)

Did heads roll?

Manchester United CEO Ed Woodward resigned. Chelsea Supporters’ Trust is calling for Chelsea chairman Bruce Buck and CEO Guy Laurence to leave the club. Fans of Liverpool and Manchester City too want their CEOs to be sacked as they had conspired for the rebel league. Unable to withstand the torrent of ferocious backlash, the big six of EPL announced their withdrawal one after the other from Tuesday evening. Though ESL is not officially called off yet, its founder and Juventus chairman Andrea Agnelli admitted that it’s unfeasible to continue with the project. “To be frank and honest no…  I don’t think that that project is now still up and running.” He, however, maintained that he had no regrets about floating the concept.

Why do the ESL teams consider the Champions League flawed?

Though the structure of the Champions League allows remote and undistinguished teams in Europe to rub shoulders with some of the giants of the game, the system has inherent flaws. Revenue distribution is non-commensurate to revenue generation. The Big Five leagues of Europe — England, Germany, Italy,  Spain and France — account for 74 percent of the 19.7 billion euros generated by leagues across the continent.

Yet, they get only around 1.3 billion euros from UEFA, according to a Deloitte report.

But with just three automatic spots available for leagues in the Big Five, there is no guarantee that they would even qualify for the league. For instance, for next year’s Champions League, it’s most likely that three of EPL’s big six would miss out (Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal). Even if there is a romance about Leicester City or West Ham United qualifying for the Champions League, the big-spending powerhouses would suffer financially. Even if you qualify, there is not much financial windfall unless you win the Championship, or at least reach the final.

What kind of money are we talking about?

Liverpool, the 2018-19 winners, earned around 90 million euros, including prize money from the Champions League. But if they were to play in the Super League, they would have earned 15 million euros without even factoring in the prize money. Besides, where they finished in the league would have no bearing on their appearance in the ESL.

Even before the tournament’s start, each of the 15 founder clubs will share a 3.5 billion euros pot to support their infrastructure investment plans. They would further receive a “welcome bonus” worth up to 300 million euros each. This is easily more than the 90 million euros a Champions League winning team would muster. As for media rights, ESL was seeking €4bn a year, a billion euros higher than what the Champions League is earning.

Is it only a matter of finance?

Not quite. There is a widespread belief that the presence of teams from far-flung leagues has diluted the overall competitiveness of the Champions League. The qualification of token teams has angered some of the elite clubs. For instance, while North London rivals Spurs and Arsenal did not qualify for the Champions League last year, yet there were teams like Red Bull Salzburg from Austria, which conceded 17 goals, and Midtjylland from Denmark and Ferencváros from Hungary, all of who were clearly short of European mettle. There has been the odd upset or two, but not sustained brilliance from any of these teams. These teams, the admirers of the ESL, argue are just there to make up numbers. To validate their point, in this century, only one team outside the top five leagues in Europe has won the Champions League (Porto in 2004).

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Is the ESL dream over?

It was not an overnight design. As early as 1998 European powerhouses had planned such an enterprise. So, it would not be shunned overnight either. Agnelli has vowed to “reshape the project” and remains “convinced of the beauty of that project.” The elites of European football would continue to work on this and generate a more appealing and fan-pleasing version of it. ESL’s creators would regroup, and no doubt come back.

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