The European Court of Justice (ECJ) this morning ruled that Fifa and Uefa acted illegally in blocking the proposed European Super League (ESL) in 2021. The ESL was a ham-fisted attempted cash grab by a group of ‘elite’ clubs who despite operating in the world’s most lucrative football cartels, wanted more money.
Uefa responded today with a statement saying they updated their rules in 2022 to reflect European law and assert the football pyramid, although they don’t explain how they accommodate the ECJs central point that this is a restriction on trade.
None of that matters now. What happens next may not be the ESL, but you can be sure football is about to change more radically than it has since the introduction of the offside rule. It is inconceivable that this ruling will not lead to the breakup of the national league structures in their present format.
The ESL was opposed by virtually all football fans for one reason only – it subverted the meritocratic principle that football was built on. A group of ‘elites’ would never be relegated and would forever be assured a wealthy financial dividend. This was unnecessarily greedy and betrayed a lack of understanding of what the game is all about. The next proposed iteration may or may not make the same mistake.
US Bank JPMorgan Chase were to be the source of ESL funding. Such funders now seem twee. Since then, LIV Golf, the Saudi Pro League and the pending award of the 2034 World Cup to Saudi Arabia (they are the only bidder) has seen a wealthier-still actor invest in the sport.
What does any of this mean for you and me? On Saturday, Liv Football means 10 men behind the ball for 90 minutes, as Livingston try to resist Celtic’s attempt to win the league and compete again in the Champions League. The domestic environment feels like a sub-par preparation for the European objective.
In European football, meritocracy only really exist in the abstract sense that teams from Budapest, Vienna, Prague or Glasgow can theoretically compete at any level. In practice, a series of national cartels exist to deny competitors access to lucrative TV markets. In the UK, it is not even a national cartel, we have a dominant England and Wales regional cartel that denies access to competition from clubs in Scotland.
You and me? We are enjoying an unprecedented period (generations) of domination in Scottish football and the breakup of national cartels threatens this. So potentially fewer wins against Livi. But can you think of any club in the world with more potential upsides from the breakup of the national cartels?
The game we know was shaped more by the son of a French grocer who never played, than Pele, Cruyff or Messi. He was an administrator with a plan, they named the World Cup trophy after him. Oh for an administrator with Jules Rimet’s vision now.