The rise and fall of the European Super League has been many things: laughably incompetent, transparently greedy and utterly incendiary, to name a few.
Take your pick. The wealthiest people (barely) associated with soccer — namely, football club owners — introduced their latest money-making scheme into the world and watched it melt away like an ice cube in an industrial furnace.
12 of Europe’s elite clubs (the football world should continue to name and shame them: Manchester United, Real Madrid, Liverpool, Juventus, Internazionale, Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham, AC Milan, Manchester City, Barcelona and Atlético Madrid) announced last Sunday night the formation of a new, exclusive so-called “European Super League” that would allow the clubs’ owners to pocket potentially billions of dollars in revenue and control membership year in and year out.
Those teams would be guaranteed revenue from the league and an almost exclusive place in the spotlight, altering previous systems of redistribution which benefited smaller clubs and leagues across Europe and provided the opportunity for those smaller clubs to rise to their own moments of glory, to chase that effervescent dream of a magical European night in the Champions or Europa League.
Five or so teams might earn access based on their previous performances, a number which pales in comparison to the current UEFA Champions League in which all 32 participants are granted entrance based on their prior campaign.
These 12 teams share a collective valuation of $34.36 billion and revenues of $6.196 billion. Together, these clubs account for more than 60% of all European Championships or top division titles won in their three respective countries.
Apparently, that type of wealth and success just doesn’t cut it anymore. I guess I should ask for more at Christmas.
What is hilarious and baffling besides this fountain of unabashed avarice is not just its complete and immediate downfall, but also the lack of understanding of how football exists.
Doing away with the possibility of relegation, of failure, of hard times and hard losses eliminates an intrinsic aspect of competition. Victory means nothing without the prospect of defeat — In the protest of Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola, “It is not a sport where success is already guaranteed.”
But the very idea that only a few should dominate continuously and without question is not sustainable. It stifles innovation, ingenuity and growth through overt monopolization. It ignores the fact that greatness comes and goes. It ignores the fact that greatness — that football — can come from anywhere.
It is the diversity of leagues and clubs that allows the greatest players to rise from nothing and come from nowhere. Without those players, the biggest clubs are nothing, and without systems of equity and distribution in place, how can those players ever have an opportunity to succeed? How could football possibly survive?
Too many of the players who make the sport what it is now are the products of the competitive structure that the European Super League sought to destroy. Does N’Golo Kanté become a World Cup winner without starting his career at Boulogne? Would Kevin De Bruyne be one of the best midfielders on the planet without a youth career at Genk? Does Virgil Van Dijk lead Liverpool to glory without stints at Groningen and Southampton?
Denying football fans the sheer multitudes which have made football and which should continue to make it is to deny the sport itself. The short-sighted Super League clubs tried to capture their status in amber, to freeze the world as they would see it and deny us the future. Trapped in that prison of the present, focused only on the few, we would be utterly deprived of the diverse and diffuse nature of football. Their failure is as necessary as it is relieving.
The failure of the Super League, however, is not a victory. Football, which should be for the fans and communities who give it passion and life, is still deeply commodified. Many of the so-called owners and leaders who attempted to shatter the sport are still in power and are still garnering ludicrous profits. Their failure will not diminish that greed. The wolves are still waiting, mouths salivating.
We live in a society where sustainability means nothing in the face of greed. Sports are no different. Though the stakes are entirely different — the future of our passions versus the future of our very society — the fact remains that in this world, those with wealth and power will seek their own gain irrespective of integrity and history.
They will destroy that which they can in order to satisfy their apparently insatiable appetite, at least as long as they are allowed to. To build a sport, to build a world, which is truly sustainable, that power and control must be shattered.
This is football. The goal is not profit, but rather the posts and nets at the end of the pitch. It is the players, the coaches, the fans and the people themselves who have football’s best interests at heart. It is to them that the future must be ceded and it is their ideas that must dictate tomorrow.
Jasper Kenzo Sundeen covers football. Contact him at email@example.com.