“I see more a European league developing over time rather than one team going out of the country. The national leagues will survive but maybe in 10 years, you will have a European league,” prophesied the three-time Premier League-winning manager with Arsenal, Arsène Wenger, back in August 2009. His prophecy came to fruition last Sunday when the trinity of Real Madrid’s Florentino Perez, Juventus’ Andrea Agnelli, and Manchester United’s Joel Glazer announced the invention of a new European Super League.
As predicted by many in the early hours of Sunday, a statement from the “Super League” eventually arrived in the evening, claiming,
“Twelve of Europe’s leading football clubs have today come together to announce they have agreed to establish a new mid-week competition, the Super League”.
However, having received continued backlash from fans and the media and felt immense pressure from the world’s leading politicians and footballing organisations such as FIFA and UEFA, the authorities of this so-called Super League called the league off two days after the announcement of its creation, with almost every team withdrawing their names from the competition one after another.
What was the concept of this European Super League?
As mentioned in the joint statement released by the 12 founding clubs, it was going to be a mid-week competition, specially built to replace UEFA-managed competitions like the Champions League and the Europa League. The idea behind the tournament recorded the involvement of 20 best clubs (or the richest clubs) from across the continent — 15 of whom were thought to be playing as the founders of the league.
Although it said 15 in the official statement, we had come to know the names of only twelve founding clubs. Real Madrid and Manchester United were understandably the driving force behind the whole approach. Six clubs from England (Manchester United, Liverpool, Manchester City, Arsenal, Chelsea, and Tottenham Hotspur), three from Spain (Real Madrid, Barcelona, and Atletico Madrid), and three teams from Italy (Juventus, AC Milan, and Inter Milan) had signed up for the inaugural edition of this Super League.
Real Madrid president Florentino Perez was going to be the chairman of the new European Super League, with Joel Glazer and Andrea Agnelli becoming the vice-chairman. The likes of Paris Saint-Germain, Borussia Dortmund, and Bayern Munich had reportedly been proposed to join the rest in the cause; but, they refused the offer straight away.
The official statement stated that the league could start from August 2021, with the 20 participating clubs being divided into two groups of ten. The clubs involved were set to play nine home and nine away games each. The first, second and third on the points table were going to automatically qualify for the quarter-final stage, while the fourth and fifth-placed sides would lock horns in a two-legged battle to secure the remaining quarter-final berths. The two-legged knockout format was set to continue until the final, which was going to be held in a neutral venue. The governing body declared that they had expected to sum up a full season within May.
The 15 founding members of the Super League was never going to get relegated from the tournament irrespective of how poorly they were to perform in the tournament. The league was supposedly established in order to oppose a revamped 36-team “Swiss model” UEFA Champions League, which come into play ahead of the 2024-25 season.
How did the world react?
Oh, boy. In terms of reaction from the fans and other governing bodies, it was (and has been) an absolute hullabaloo. Fans were initially fuming, seething in actual anger, and claiming that this must be stooped. They were, of course, getting support from the leading footballing bodies like FIFA and UEFA. And the domestic leagues such as Premier League, La Liga, Serie A were also in the favour of UEFA, helping them oppose the concept of the new league.
Premier League, the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF), the Italian Football Federation (FIGC) had already warned that the teams interested in playing the Super League would have to break their way of their domestic league, meaning if Juventus were to play in the Super League next season, they would have to give up Serie A football — the same thing would have applied to the rest.
Things went bad to worse when UEFA confirmed via another statement that players playing in the so-called Super League could get bans from their respective national teams, meaning if Cristiano Ronaldo were to play in the scheduled European Super League, he would never get to represent Portugal in the international level. The same would happen to every player, who was set to play for a club in the breakaway League.
UEFA and FIFA, with the help of other confederations, were reportedly taking legal advice and finding ways to stop the teams from starting the new league. Footballers, from the former to the current ones, and managers had started to come out of their caves and voice their doubts on the matter. Leeds United’s players finished their pre-game warm-up wearing the jerseys imprinted “Football is for the fans!” on them ahead of their Premier League game on Monday night against Liverpool.
Banners in protest against the league that would apparently “kill football” were hung outside the clubs interested in the Super League. Juventus fans were no expectation, with the Juve ultras fixing a banner outside the Allianz Stadium in Turin that said, “Our history should not be muddied, bartered and commercialized. We are Juventus… No to the Super League. Shame on you!”
What were the consequences?
The rapid process of backing off started when Chelsea and Manchester City took an edge over others and withdrew their names from the league having gauged the severity of the situation. The rest of the Premier League sides involved in the act followed their lead, abandoning the new project and showing the white flag to the fans one after another. April 20, 2021 — it was a day when football was victorious as well as its fans.
Juventus’ authorities were the ones who had decided to hold their ground and check the temperature of the water first. Sensing it was hot enough to boil down their whole ministry, they subsequently released an official statement. It was a statement that confirmed Juventus’ withdrawal from the Super League. However, it was also a statement that proved how desperate Andrea Agnelli was to play in the league built for the elites of European football.
Speaking on Wednesday morning, Agnelli said:
“I remain convinced of the beauty of that project, of the value that it would have developed to the pyramid, of the creation of the best competition in the world, but evidently no. I don’t think that project is now still up and running.”
But why is he still “convinced of the beauty of that project”?
Why was Andrea Agnelli desperate to join this elitist league?
Three names that came out on the same night as the footballing world left stunned by the idea of the new Super League includes Real Madrid’s Florentino Perez, Manchester United’s Joel Glazer, and Juventus’ Andrea Agnelli — three protagonists.
Following this confirmation, people who had already been exasperated at the news of the breakaway league went on to condemn Andrea Agnelli, the president of the Bianconeri, in the worst possible way. In the aftermath of the announcement, Agnelli stepped down from the chairman position of the European Club Association (ECA), which ultimately led to UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin calling him a “snake”.
“I have never seen a person lie so many times and so persistently as he did,” said Ceferin, having felt betrayed by his former ally. Juventus fans were disgusted as well. They know Andrea Agnelli, as Andrea Agnelli knows Juventus like his palm. Andrea’s family has been the owner of Juventus for around 100 years. He grew up hugging the pillars of the club. And then, he came up to betray the followers of the club he admired and supported since his birth. It was like a fairy-tale to the Juve zealots.
But is Andrea Agnelli the culprit here? Yes and no. We all know the damage done by the never-ending COVID-19 pandemic. We all can calculate the sum of money Juventus have had lost since they started playing football behind closed doors. We all understand the financial crisis that Andrea Agnelli and his management team are finding themselves in. The European Super League could have proved to be an escape route from that economic enigma.
The Super League was understood to be bankrolled by US Investment bank JP Morgan. The new tournament was launched to help the participants earn a ridiculous amount of $400 million per season — this would have, of course, helped the top European sides ease their financial burden.
Having produced gross revenue of €621.5 million in 2019, Juventus recorded a loss of €39.9 million last season amid the pandemic situation. John Philip Jacob Elkann, the current chairman of Fiat, the chairman and the CEO of Exor, and the cousin of Andrea Agnelli, owns a property worth €172.6 billion. And in 2019, Ferrari, a Fiat Group-owned company, generated an impressive revenue of €3.7 billion singlehandedly.
It might sound harsh to some but Football is a business at the end of the day. And Agnelli, coming from a reputed business family, would love to make a meaningful profit out of the club he runs. Therefore, as you can see, the contrast between the numbers that his cousin produces from Ferrari and Andrea Agnelli pockets from Juventus is broad. Accordingly, Andrea might have dreamt of bridging the wide chasm by joining the European Super League and hence still remains a friendly mouthpiece of the idea.
Why would it have been wrong to play in the Super League?
If you have felt sympathy for Agnelli after reading the last paragraph of the last point, I would advise you to hold your emotion. Although the proposed Super League would have provided significant aid to the participants (mostly the elites of Europe), it had all the ingredients to endanger the competitiveness in Football.
The European Super League was formed for the rich clubs to become richer. As the governing body of this newly formed league admitted, the 12 founding members in the ESL were also willing to play in their domestic leagues. But if so, there would have been no equality as the teams, who were to accumulate $400 million irrespective of their position in the Super League, would have an advantage over the teams not playing in the Super League. An element of imbalance would take shape as the rich would continue to be richer and the less-rich clubs would continue to miss out on those additional $400 million, which would be morally erroneous.
The structure of the league also carries several questions. Some have also indicated that this new league was trying to implement the formation found in franchise-driven American sports such as NBA, NFL, and Major League Soccer (MLS). The owners of the founding clubs would have been uninterested in putting money or rejuvenating a squad since there was not going to be any relegation at the end of a campaign. And the owners of the member clubs would always know that the money was going to arrive at the end of the season.
Talking about the players, the likes of Paulo Dybala, Paul Pogba, Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Kevin de Bruyne and more would have missed out on representing their countries in the international stages, especially in the upcoming Qatar World Cup in 2022. The only good thing that this Super League might have brought is money, which, as the saying goes, is the root of all evil. In all, the proposed Super League was diabolical and was doomed to fail from the first day.