José Mourinho’s sacking by Tottenham Hotspur this morning pales into insignificance. Few will talk about this. Not because it was inevitable (it wasn’t), not because it doesn’t matter (it does), not because there’s an immediate replacement (there isn’t). The formation late last night of The Super League dominates football corner — and so it should. We knew money was the axis on which football turned. What we didn’t know was quite how little bargaining power football fans and football players had. We all know now.
The emergence of The Super League threatens to make elite football a closed shop, a cartel. The English ‘big six’ of Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham make up half of the 12 sides included. They all released statements explaining their decision to form a new no-promotion-no-relegation breakaway league, describing themselves as “leading European clubs.” But it is hard, with all due respect, to view Arsenal, Spurs and Inter Milan as three of the continent’s “leading clubs.” Arsenal haven’t reached a Champions League quarter-final since 2010; Inter haven’t won Serie A since the same year. Spurs last won the First Division in 1961.
What will Leicester City feel about all this?Embed from Getty Images
It is very satisfying that supporters finally seem to have found a topic on which they are not completely divided. And it is perhaps inevitable that unanimous agreement comes in opposition to such a detestable plot. On this, supporters are united: football is a competitive form of entertainment and its people will never endorse a cynical attempt at turning it into nothing more than heartless big business.
Prime ministers, presidents, confederations, football associations, FIFA and UEFA have all condemned the tournament. FIFA and UEFA have said that they intend to prevent Super League players from ever competing in their competitions again. They look set to stick by that conviction. Quite apart from no more Champions League, that could well mean that some of the world’s best players could no longer compete for their countries in World Cups or European Championships.
Incredibly, this could spark the end of international football as we know it. Certainly, it is the implosion point of modern football. “Harry Kane will just move then — he loves playing for England too much.” A nice thought. If only his next destination was in his hands. Far from it.
What is most disgusting is the clubs’ and The Super League’s mention of financial struggles during the pandemic as a motivator to get the paperwork signed along the dotted lines as soon as possible. It is fans who have suffered most during this pandemic. No live football to attend, no beer gardens to meet in, no grassroots football to play, hiked prices of following their team on paid TV services. If fans of the ‘big six’ needed one final reminder that the owners of their beloved football clubs don’t care one bit about them, this will more than do.Embed from Getty Images
With Florentino Pérez as its chairman and Stan Kroenke and Joel Glazer as vice-chairmen, it will feel personal to many who support the clubs that these spineless men own. Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund and PSG are said to be among the few who have declined the offer to join. Their fans, by contrast, will be proud at the strength their hierarchies have shown. After all, the evidence here shows it’s immensely hard to turn your back on levels of prize money never seen before in the sport.
A lot of the angst will come from supporters who — perhaps without admitting it — will be wary that this might actually work out for the 12 clubs. The worry is that they could become stronger than ever, that The Super League may perpetuate football’s ‘us and them’ reality. The majority will wish for this to crash and burn as soon as possible. Only time will tell whether it does.
It’s too early to say what the sanctions will be, whether this will be a success, and what it will mean for football at the highest level. This was bound to happen to sport one day, and it was bound to happen to football first. But the hierarchies of these 12 clubs must ask themselves this: what is sport supposed to be if not competitive and meritocratic? Depressingly, their answer won’t direct their actions either way.Embed from Getty Images
So, to all 12 clubs, go ahead. Form your JP Morgan-financed Private Members’ Club. But don’t think we’ll forget this. Although, presumably, you don’t care whatsoever whether we forget or not. The Super League’s impact on the rest of the football world is just collateral damage in your eyes.
While they’re all having their artificial party, everyone else will be over here. And when The Super League edges closer to its inaugural edition, when one eye is half-watching its ribbon-cutting moment, the real football world will remind itself to stick to watching real football with real promotion and real relegation and real passion.