The European Super League has returned – Uefa is just calling it something else | Uefa

ANDt is probably a source of minor encouragement that the Ricketts family – currently on the shortlist of potential buyers for Chelsea – have promised sceptical fans that they will not join a European Super League. Perhaps, by way of further commitment, the Ricketts will spurn other competitions that do not exist. Chelsea will never play in a future Anglo-Italian Cup. Chelsea wants no part of the Makita Trophy. Chelsea will never enter Pop Idol.

Of course, prospective owners always arrive with a lavish manifesto of pledges and blandishments, lest anybody guess what they actually plan to do once they get through the door. Mike Ashley arrived at Newcastle promising “fun and trophies”, although crucially he never actually specified who for. Meanwhile, Ken Bates would probably have received a far cooler welcome from Chelsea fans in 1982 had he disclosed that within a few years he would be plotting to electrocute them with barbed wire fences.

And so it is probably wise to treat the words of the Ricketts family – currently in smiling PR overdrive after some of their number were revealed to have said some extremely racist and homophobic things – with a few teaspoons of salt. In a way, their pre-emptive rebuff to a European Super League is less a concrete policy and more a form of robotized self-branding. Hello, fellow football lovers. We hear there is a “Super League” you dislike. We too dislike this thing, whatever it is. Be friends?

With the threat of insurrection apparently seen off, we can now chortle at the forlorn attempts of Barcelona, ​​Real Madrid and Juventus to reanimate the original defunct Super League concept, like lonely men continuing to insist that the punctured blow-up doll sitting next to them in Prezzo is, in fact, their real girlfriend. And yet, with a devastating deftness, the Super League has indeed returned. They’re just calling it something else.

Chelsea's Ben Chilwell, Reece James, Kai Havertz and Tammy Abraham celebrate with the Champions League trophy.
Chelsea’s Ben Chilwell, Reece James, Kai Havertz and Tammy Abraham celebrate with the Champions League trophy.
Photograph: Manu Fernández / Reuters

Last week, Uefa accelerated its plans to expand the Champions League from 32 to 36 teams from 2024, with two of the four additional places awarded to historically successful teams who would otherwise have failed to qualify. Based on current league positions, that would mean Roma and Arsenal, although Manchester United would also have a chance to qualify by finishing fifth in the Premier League.

And really it is these sorts of clubs that are the intended beneficiaries here: the former giants fallen on hard times, superclubs enduring a poor season, not really good enough for the elite but invited in anyway. One proposal would see big teams able to secure Champions League football by winning the FA Cup. Had this rule existed ahead of the 2016 Cup final, for example, Manchester United would have been able to earn Champions Leaguequalification with a victory. Their opponents Crystal Palace would not.

This was, in essence, the foundation stone of the Super League. It was a way of ensuring that whatever calamity befalls them – pandemic, mismanagement, financial catastrophe, appointing Ronald Koeman –Europe’s biggest clubs must never be allowed to worry about Champions League qualification again. Look again at the Super League proposals – a 180-game group stage, guaranteed berths for historical giants, the knockout stages played in a condensed four-week window at the end of the season – and what is striking is how little they differ from the changes currently being set in motion.

The real impetus behind the reforms has been the European Clubs Association, currently under the chairmanship of Paris Saint-Germain president Nasser al-Khelaifi. Khelaifi did a rare round of interviews last week, and two major themes emerged from them. First, his unashamed envy of the American sports model with its closed shop, its sprawling and splurging fixture list, its fluff and razzmatazz. “How do we make each match an event?” he asked. Well, traditionally you sell some tickets, turn on the floodlights and start the game with a whistle. But maybe we’re just not thinking outside the box enough.

Paris Saint-Germain's Neymar with president Nasser Al-Khelaifi during training
Paris Saint-Germain president Nasser Al-Khelaifi (right), with Neymar at training, is the chairman of the European Clubs Association. Photograph: Benoît Tessier / Reuters

The other theme was an utter disdain for the idea that underpinned the resistance to the Super League: that football fans themselves might want a say in the running of their game. “Barcelona,” Khelaifi scoffed to the BBC. “A fan-owned club with a € 1.5bn debt. Does that work? ” And it was here, between the lines of well-rehearsed corporate babble, that the true purpose of Uefa’s power grab resides. They weren’t opposed to the Super League on principle. They were just annoyed it wasn’t theirs.

The real tragedy of all this is that none of it needed to happen. For the first time in decades, the big clubs were not operating from a position of strength. Public and governmental anger at the breakaway was at its height. If ever there was a moment to reform the financial model of European football, to break the stranglehold of its biggest clubs, this was it. Instead, they have been rewarded for their sedition by getting virtually everything they wanted in the first place: a virtuous circle of perpetual growth and guaranteed windfalls.

Indeed, this is largely why the Ricketts family and others are clambering over each other for a slice of the action. No pitfalls, no jeopardy, no checks and balances: just a license to print money for eternity. You will not see any protests about this. Fans will not take to the streets in their thousands. Boris Johnson will not be addressing this in Parliament. This is why incremental change – a game being eaten away by a thousand tweaks and reforms – is so much harder to fight. For the most part, people barely even notice it happening.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.