Fate of the European Super League will define the future of football

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FUTURE OF FOOTBALL Euro Super League GFXGoal

When assessing what the future of football has in store right now it is difficult to find many concrete answers.

Will the season finish? Will teams get relegated? What about the television and advertising revenue? Are teams going to survive in a post-coronavirus world?

The immediate future is uncertain but so too is the long term. For the past 30 years discussions have been lingering in the background over a potential European Super League before leaked documents, published in 2018 by Der Spiegel, suggested talks of a breakaway league were more fleshed out than ever before.

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The memos suggested a league of up to 18 European teams, made up of those with the strongest television presence. It would likely bring about the end of the domestic league structure as we know it. No need for Champions League or Europa League qualification anymore, with the continent's top clubs potentially waving goodbye to the competitions that made them.

“I do not agree much with the idea. Someone should explain to me,” Pep Guardiola told Ara last year. “If it happens we’ll kill the leagues. If Barca and Madrid go and they do not play against Espanyol, who will follow the league? The Spanish league will die. In England they are very intelligent, the grounds of the fourth division are full. England will not let this essence of local football die.”

Despite that potential for "death", City would almost certainly be one of the elite who would benefit should a Super League ever get off the ground. They would be joined by fellow English sides Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal. In short, it is a scheme to help the rich get richer with little to no regard to those further down the pyramid.

“Let’s be frank, owners in the Premier League from the United Arab Emirates, United States, China or Thailand don’t care about Walsall or Accrington Stanley - it’s collateral damage," football finance expert and lecturer Kieran Maguire told Goal. "If those clubs survive then fine, but if they don’t then the likes of [Roman] Abramovich won’t lose sleep over it. Neither will the Saudi investment fund that’s buying into Newcastle.

“It is very much geared towards the rich getting richer and an acceleration of the gaps between the existing elite and the rest.”

Pep Guardiola Manchester City 2019-20

To put the figures into context, the forecast in the leaked emails suggested a European Super League would generate "€500 million (£444m/$555m) plus” per club, per season. By way of comparison, Real Madrid received around €88.6m (£77m/$103m) from UEFA when they won the Champions League in 2016.

You can understand, therefore, why there is so much support from Juventus chairman Andrea Agnelli for the idea. The Bianconeri chief claims his backing of the European Super League is to maintain an interest in the sport in the future, but coincidentally his club would be one of a small number set for a big pay day.

“If we are not progressive, we are simply protecting a system that is no longer there, a system that is made of domestic games that will have little interest for our kids,” Agnelli said in 2019. Is that true though? Or is Agnelli just driven by dollar signs and a desire to attempt to get his club to be on a level with Real Madrid and Barcelona?

Take the Premier League. Attendance figures do not suggest that anybody is getting fed up of the format. Ask Liverpool, United, City, Arsenal or Chelsea fans at the start of the season which game is their biggest and they would not say a potential clash with Barcelona or Real Madrid in the Champions League.

Those nights are always special, but it is the deep-seated rivalries between domestic foes that has kept them thriving for so long. Does Agnelli really believe that by 2024, when the current agreed structure for European football comes to an end, fans will have become bored of their domestic leagues?

Andrea Agnelli

It is naive and unfair to think it would just affect teams in the top flight, too.

A Middlesbrough Supporters’ Group has written to UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin to express its concerns over the proposal of a closed European Super League. But why should Championship clubs or those even further down the pyramid care? Why does it matter to them if the ‘Big Six’ in the Premier League break away?

Money.

“If we take a division like the Championship, the reward won’t be as great for promotion to the Premier League, so therefore the present level of acceleration of wages will be reversed,” Maguire says. “Then there’s going to be reduction in revenue which will in turn mean a reduction of costs.”

And that will filter down through the leagues. The gap between the elite and ‘the rest’ will widen. Will the big clubs look to help those beneath them? It’s very unlikely.

While managers have been vocal in their anger against the proposals, with Jurgen Klopp saying he hopes it “never happens”,  there has not been the same dismissal from owners. Liverpool's owners FSG, for example, have been non-committal when asked about the proposals rather than dismiss them as their outspoken coach has done.

Liverpool owner John W Henry

“You would like to think that the clubs higher up would help those beneath them but it’s not going to happen,” Maguire admits. “All you need to do is look at the way the new TV rights were negotiated. All we will see is the owners of those clubs at the top wanting more money and they’re able to exploit the fact they are global brands.

“They’re only going to want to accelerate that gap rather than wanting to spread the money more evenly to make it a more competitive league.”

And what about the fans who will be forced to get their heads around what would be the biggest shake-up within football for generations?

“These proposals are totally counter to the principles of sporting achievement, and the knock-on effects would be disastrous throughout the game,” a spokesperson for the Football Supporters Association said. “The plans could force lower league clubs to the edge of the abyss, destroy domestic cup competitions, and pull up the drawbridge on teams with no European pedigree.

"It doesn’t matter how big or small your club is – these proposals would be massively damaging throughout the football pyramid. We’ll do everything in our powers to oppose them.”

The problem is that money talks within modern football. And while it is not a priority at present, clubs at all levels are going to take a huge financial hit due to Covid-19, and owners will be keen to listen to any way to turn that around.

Getting a European Super League off the ground remains a way off for the likes of Agnelli, but it only takes a handful of U-turns for the concept to start gaining momentum and become a reality.

As Guardiola quite rightly pointed out, the football league system as we know could well be dead in the not too distant future.