The announcement Sunday of a plan for a dozen top European soccer teams to form a breakaway “Super League” is nothing short of a sporting revolution.
To find something similarly impactful in the U.S., one would need to look back to the creation of the American Football League in 1960 to compete with the NFL and the subsequent agreement that brought about the Super Bowl in 1966 and the complete merger of the two leagues in 1970.
All the formation of the American Basketball Association and the World Hockey Association did, ultimately, was add a few teams to established leagues.
The Super League would completely alter how European soccer operates.
And, like most revolutions, it will not proceed without a battle.
What is the European Super League?
It’s meant to be a supplementary competition to each club’s domestic league, similar to how the UEFA Champions League operates now.
The difference is that the core ESL teams would not have to qualify to compete, as they do now. Under current Champions League rules, for instance, the top four Premier League teams qualify each year to enter the Champions League group stage.
With the Super League, the 15 founding members would be involved annually, with five teams able to qualify on an annual basis. The standards for qualifying have not yet been explained.
Super League teams
- Manchester City
- Manchester United
- Tottenham Hotspur
- Atletico Madrid
- Real Madrid
- AC Milan
- Inter Milan
There are six from England’s Premier League: Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, and Tottenham Hotspur. There are three from Spain’s La Liga: Atletico Madrid, Barcelona and Real Madrid. And there are three from Italy: AC Milan, Inter Milan and Juventus.
Notably, there are no teams from Germany’s Bundesliga as yet identified, although Bayern Munich is the reigning Champions League winner. And there is no representative from France’s Ligue 1, although Paris Saint-Germain is involved in the 2021 Champions League semifinals.
The identity of the other three founding members has either not been established, or it has yet to be revealed. Given how poorly the secret of the Super League’s Sunday night announcement was kept, it seems likely that those spots are being held in case particular clubs change direction.
Why are there no teams from Germany in Super League?
Hans-Joachim Watzke is CEO of Borussia Dortmund, which qualified for Champions League in nine of the past 10 seasons. He quickly announced that the club had “rejected” the Super League plan. He also said Dortmund and Bayern — Bundesliga winners in each of the past eight seasons and clear favorite to win a ninth straight — had “100 percent compatible views” on the subject.
Given the consequences of this decision, it felt a bit presumptuous to take his word for that. After all, we’re talking about what is essentially a revolution in European soccer.
Bayern still has not issued a statement on the subject. Its Twitter account on Monday was focused entirely on the club’s attempt to secure another Bundesliga title.
But its chairman, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, reportedly will accept a position on the UEFA board made vacant when Juventus chair Andrea Agnelli resigned following the Super League announcement. That would appear to confirm Bayern’s intent to remain committed to Champions League.
Why is the Super League happening?
Money would be the easiest answer. Guaranteed involvement in a lucrative competition that would, by definition, be competitively prestigious is an obvious lure for all involved — as well as that the 20 clubs would not have to share revenue with myriad teams involved in Champions League’s qualifying rounds and UEFA itself.
Champions League payouts total an estimated $2.4 billion annually. The Super League clubs expect they’ll generate more. J.P. Morgan has agreed to underwrite an initial $4.2 billion, according to Al-Jazeera, with a possibility that outside investors will be offered the opportunity to participate.
The increased revenue would come at a time when soccer clubs have experienced significant revenue declines because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Gates have been eliminated or limited throughout the 2020-21 domestic and Champions League seasons. Because of quarantine restrictions, some Champions League games have been played in neutral countries in empty stadiums.
How will the Super League work?
The 20 teams will be split into divisions of 10, with each team playing home and away against the nine opponents in its division. The top four teams in each division would advance to a playoff round of quarterfinals, semifinals and final.
That would mean a total of 21 Super League games for the winner and runner-up.
Teams in the current Champions League arrangement play 10 games if they reach the final. Under the renovated Champions League plan announced Monday, that would expand to between 14 and 16, depending on how a team performs in group play.
The Super League plan likely would further impact domestic cup competitions, particularly one such as England’s Carabao Cup, because of the physical demands on players.
How will this impact Champions League?
As it stands, particularly with the top German clubs committed to remaining in Champions League, the competition figures to continue, albeit in a compromised form.
Remember, though, that even with nearly all the UCL’s best performers over the past couple of decades coming almost exclusively from the breakaway clubs (and those who most obviously declined to join), the Champions League is a continent-wide competition that involves clubs from 54 nations, including Georgia, Montenegro and the Faroe Islands.
All of those national associations and the clubs they represent figure to be damaged by the separation.
What could stop it from happening?
It’s possible, though unlikely, that the clubs could listen to the ardent supporters already lining up against this abdication of tradition. There is a report that Chelsea fans will protest outside its home stadium, Stamford Bridge, on Tuesday. A group of Liverpool fans posted a black sign with white lettering on a gate at Anfield stating, “SHAME ON YOU, R.I.P. LFC, 1892-2021.”
But the club owners will depend on fans’ love of their clubs and the sport to supersede such conserns and displays.
The only thing that could stop this is a legal defeat. UEFA is warning of legal action, and the founding owners of Super League are promising the same.
How could it impact the World Cup?
UEFA president Alexander Ceferin declared on Monday, “The players that will play in the Super League will be banned from playing in the World Cup and Euros. They will not be allowed to play for their national teams.”
UEFA might be able to constrain its member nations from including Super League players on their national teams. That would mean England doing without such players as forwards Harry Kane and Marcus Rashford, midfielder Jordan Henderson and defenders John Stones and Harry Maguire.
But to keep, say, Christian Pulisic from playing for the United States in World Cup qualifying and, if successful, at Qatar 2022, FIFA would need to issue a similar mandate.
What are proponents of Super League saying?
They are not easy to find.
The Super League’s official announcement is about the best one can do.
“We will help football at every level and take it to its rightful place in the world,” Real Madrid president Florentino Perez said in the Super League statement. “Football is the only global sport in the world with more than four billion fans, and our responsibility as big clubs is to respond to their desires.”
Manchester United co-chairman Joel Glazer has been installed as vice chairman of the Super League.
“By brining together the world’s greatest clubs and players to play each other throughout the season, the Super League will open a new chapter for European football, ensuring world-class competition and facilities, and increased financial support for the wider football pyramid,” he said.
Regarding the potential damage to other European teams, from the official release: “The new annual tournament will provide significantly greater economic growth and support for European football via long-term commitment to uncapped solidarity payments, which will grow in line with league revenues.”
What’s wrong with the Super League?
We could fill the whole article with this.
They are outraged by the impact of such a competition on the “pyramid” philosophy that exists in European soccer: teams can play their way up through the pyramid through the system of promotion and relegation. As they see it, all league positions are earned by performance, and that ultimately includes the Champions League and the less glamorous Europa League.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson: “We’re going to look at everything that we can do with the football authorities to make sure this doesn’t go ahead as it’s currently being proposed. I don’t think it’s good news for fans. I don’t think it’s good news for football in this country.”
Portugal and Real Madrid legend Luis Figo: “This greedy and callous move would spell disaster for our grassroots, for women’s football, and the wider football community only to serve self-interested owners, who stopped caring about their fans long ago, and complete disregard for sporting merit. Tragic.”
Former Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson: “A piece of nonsense … it has done the reputation of clubs no good and has, in fact, alienated a great many supporters. It sells them right down the river, and you can’t disregard your fans and customers.”
German World Cup champion Mesut Ozil: “Kids grow up dreaming to win the World Cup and the Champions League, not any Super League. The enjoyment of big games is that they only happen once or twice a year, not every week. Really hard to understand for all football fans out there.”