A friend of mine who has lived on-and-off in the US watches their sports, but he is clear: the biggest US sport, American football, has vastly less significance to that society that football does across most of Europe. In every city, town and village across Europe people gather in often miserable stadiums to bond with their neighbours and the generations gone before them. Football defines us, in many cases more than our nationality does.
But look at US sports, even basketball and baseball, who are forever trying to compete with football, the money flowing through these industries is disproportionately high compared to the European game. And it is not just the flow of money – it is the profits.
Without fear of relegation, or the need to perform in order to reach the profitable stages of competition, clubs can retain significant profits. Sure, the players earn lots, but it is the shareholders who make the real money from sport in the US.
If you look at European football purely as an industry, you will come up with a plan that looks pretty much like the breakaway European Super League (ESL). The ESL has the potential to propel the value of shares (when traded in quantity) in each of the proposed 15 permanent members (only 12 have so far committed, leaving space for Bayern Munich, PSG and Borussia Dortmund) by a factor of 10. Your billion euro club is now worth 10 billion euros. Do not for a second think you can appeal to their sense of tradition or decency. I have never met anyone who has chosen not to become 10 times richer and none of these club owners are going to buck this trend.
Uefa has slowly eradicated meritocracy in the European game by conceding territory to these clubs for much of the last 20 years. It was never going to satisfy them, all it did was rob European giants from small countries of a chance of competing at the highest level.
And while this proposal is for a midweek competition, be clear, Manchester United do not ever want to play Burnley on their weekends. A game like this provides no commercial value, in fact, playing small English clubs denies them the opportunity cost of playing Real Madrid at the weekend. A proposal to leave domestic football is in the post.
Sepp Blatter used to throw around that hoary old phrase “the football family”, which seemed empty until this week. The response across the game has been universal, impressive and surprising. The EPL, FA, Uefa, Fifa, national associations, the European Club Association and clubs across Europe were forthright in a combative response. The football family found its voice.
The current landscape does not suit fans like me (or you, if you are reading this). We lost an era of great clubs from small nations because our TV markets are not as valuable as other TV markets. Titans became filler depending on which side of a border their home ground sat, it was that arbitrary.
Our ambitions are limited to hanging onto coattails of clubs who 20 years ago had scarcely won a domestic title; never mind won admiration and respect across Europe. I want to see this changed and a return to meritocracy, where well-run clubs across the Continent can aspire to great things again.
The sovereign wealth and hedge funds that are behind this move will have run through every scenario. This is a time to be a sports contract lawyer. There will be money on the table to see them through some turbulence. The rest of the football industry have legal and commercial options. Fifa, Uefa, the ECA, the FAs and leagues of the ‘big five’ leagues must act in unison; a contractual obligation to block and ban would be a handy first step. The game needs leadership of the Jules Rimet calibre.
It was Albert Einstien who said “every crisis in an opportunity”. Most of our clubs need an opportunity to break free of the hegemony of these predatory clubs, so maybe Einstein’s fifth law would be ‘Football needs a crisis’.
Bring this decade’s long slide into the pockets of the hedge funds to an end. I want a European Super League, but one based on merit, open to great and innovative clubs, that would inspire kids across the Continent to dream about winning the European Cup for their team the way I did once.
As an addendum, back in November 2004 CQN published a Plan for a European League. The online version perished on our move away from Blogger, and I’ve not read it in 15 years, but here it is.