Talk of a European Super League has been around since the 1980s with many top football leagues in Europe afraid of such a competition forming. The UEFA Champions League, in its current incarnation, is the closest thing to a European Super League at the moment. When it was rebranded in 1992 from the original European Cup, it was felt that the competition would overshadow and potentially cause the end of domestic football as it is known.
Fortunately, fears of the Champions League ending domestic competitions proved to be unwarranted. Still, talk of a European Super League continues to be heard. In spite of the talk, there is still no definitive idea of what the European Super League would look like. Or is there?
What is a European Super League?
In 2018, Germany’s Der Spiegel reported on a European Super League after uncovering documents from Football Leakes outlining the competition. The idea was for the top European football clubs to break away from UEFA and start their own competition in 2021. The report by Der Spiegel sent shockwaves through football with clubs afraid they wouldn’t be a part of the competition and fans feeling that another tournament would be too much in the landscape of football.
Plans outlined by Der Speigel claimed a 16-team tournament would begin as early as 2021. The competition would be similar to the Champions League except UEFA would play no part in the European Super League. Teams would play in a group stage followed by knockout rounds to claim a Europea Super League champion.
The format of the competition would favour some of the strongest, biggest clubs in European football. Of the 16 teams contesting the competition, 11 would be labelled as “core founding” clubs. These 11 clubs would be guaranteed their places in the Super League for 20 years. The clubs would be “immune to relegation”. The other five places would be made up of teams that could be relegated from the competition.
It is claimed that a European Super League would usher in the end of the Champions League, the most popular cup competition in world football. It is also believed that a Super League would negatively affect domestic competitions as clubs would focus on the breakaway competition due to the amount of money at stake.
Which teams would play in the European Super League?
In the documents uncovered by Der Spiegel, a who’s who list of teams were listed as founding members. Those clubs included Barcelona, Real Madrid, Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Juventus, AC Milan, Paris Saint-Germain, and Bayern Munich. It is a list that features 11 of the most historic and currently, strongest clubs financially in the world.
According to the document, the five guest clubs in the competition would be Atletico Madrid, Borussia Dortmund, Inter Milan, Marseille, and Roma. The rotating guest teams could change from year to year as a secondary competition would be set up to provide promotion and relegation to those rotating clubs. In essence, the secondary competition would be similar to a second division league akin to the Premier League and the EFL Championship.
Why establish a European Super League?
Television money is a key ingredient in the European Super League recipe. Building a competition with the best clubs in Europe would eliminate the predictability of the Champions League group stage. A predictable group stage leaves fans uninterested in tuning into watch games which has plagued the Champions League in recent seasons.
Unfortunately, the biggest clubs in Europe do not see the forest for all the trees. They claim playing each other in the European Super League will increase revenue amongst themselves. The problem with the biggest clubs playing multiple times a season is that fans will become jaded to the matches.
The mere thing that has made the Champions League, and its precursor the European Cups, so great to watch is clubs earning entry into the competition. Look at the 2019-20 Champions League and the excitement it has brought to fans. Atalanta made it to the quarterfinals while teams such as RB Leipzig and Lyon eliminated two of the biggest teams in Europe – Atletico Madrid and Manchester City, respectively.
A revamped Champions League could be the way forward for clubs. However, even revamping the competition won’t completely end the talk of a European Super League.
Will a European Super League be established?
For years, the idea of a European Super League has been kicked around but only in the last five years has it really become something possible of occurring. One of the reasons the Super League has become more than just an idea is due to American businessman Charlie Stillitano. He is the founder of the International Champions Cup, a summer preseason tournament that invites the biggest clubs in European football to play matches in North America and Asia.
Stillitano spoke with leading English football club officials outlining ways to make even more money. The amount of money flowing into football that is up for grabs has made the biggest clubs sit up and consider founding Super League. Stillitano used the idea of the International Champions Cup as the basis for what the Super League could resemble.
Meetings between Stillitano and clubs went back to 2016. However, in recent years, the International Champions Cup has begun to see a decline in interest, especially in the United States. The preseason tournament first hit U.S. soil in 2013 with a smorgasbord of great football most North Americans had only seen on television. The high-point of the International Champions Cup came in 2014 when Manchester United and Real Madrid packed the University of Michigan Stadium with over 109,000 fans. Since then, attendances have decreased. According to the Guardian, in 2018, attendances for the summer North American tournament dwindled by 18.6%. The tournament has gone from attracting loads of attention to teams playing in half full NFL stadiums.
What does the International Champions Cup have to do with a European Super League? Well, other than Stillitano being associated with both, the new competition would be very similar to the glorified friendlies played in North America under the International Champions Cup banner. Instead of being friendlies, the games would be for silverware, however. Regardless, seeing the same teams year in, year out would grow tiresome.
Bayern leading the break away
According to Der Spiegel, Bayern Munich chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge is one of the key figures behind the Europea Super League. After reports emerged tying his name to the league, Rummenigge denied involvement with the concept. Rummenigge may not be innocent of his involvement in the idea of leaving UEFA. It is believed he used his power and position at the European Club Association to pressure UEFA into reforms allowing more financial benefits for Europe’s richest clubs.
Sources have likened the European Super League to North American professional sports league such as Major League Baseball, the NFL, and NBA. These sports leagues are all closed leagues in which there is no promotion and relegation. The teams in each league are members for life and regardless of their wins and losses, are not removed from the league.
A Super League in football would provide even greater financial reward to its members. If the top clubs in Europe are allowed to play one another multiple times a season in a league or tournament format, the television money would be significant. Live gates would also see large sums of money made by teams.
Compared to the Champions League, a Super League would put the continent’s biggest clubs against each other more often. It is believed the Super League would be on par with the NFL and NBA in terms of the television rights deals available. The Champions League is the most watched sporting competition in the world and a European Super League pitting the biggest teams on the continent against each other on a regular basis would certainly overtake the current competition in popularity.
What would happen to the Champions League?
In the plan that was published in Der Spiegel from the documents the newspaper uncovered, there was no mention of UEFA or its cup competitions, the Champions League and Europa League. The European Super League could experience legal issues if it were to attempt to end the Champions League. However, with the biggest clubs in Europe moving to the proposed super league, it is likely the Champions League would fall by the wayside.
The Champions League’s only alternative would be to find a way to co-exist and potentially run alongside the new competition. There is no clear idea about what would happen to the domestic competitions such as the Premier League, Bundesliga, La Liga, Serie A, or Ligue 1. Most likely, the teams in the European Super League would play in those domestic competitions as well.
UEFA have fought to preserve its role in European football and its competitions previously. At the turn of the century, Italian firm Media Partners, looked into the idea of a Super League. To combat any potential formation, UEFA ended the Cup Winners’ Cup and further expanded Champions League tips. Individuals within the game have championed the idea of a European Super League over the last decade-plus. Real Madrid president Florentino Perez believed the proposed league to be a great plan. Arsene Wenger believed there would be a European Super League by 2020. Former Celtic manager Gordon Strachan even claimed Scotland’s biggest clubs – Celtic and Rangers – would be a part of a 38-team, two division European Super League.
A European Super League will kill football
The biggest proponents of a European Super League seem to be the continent’s richest clubs who would benefit most financially from the competition. It would be a money machine for big clubs to simply take cash out of whenever desired.
For clubs outside of the European Super League, the competition would be a major slap in the face. It would create a gap between rich and poor like never before. In many ways, it would be like when Major League Baseball squashed independent clubs in the United States forcing smaller clubs to be feeder teams to the big-league franchises. It is likely teams outside of the European Super League would be forced to be feeder clubs providing talent to the super rich.
For an example of the impact the European Super League would have on football, one just has to go back to the early 1990s. In 1992, the Premier League played its first season after the first division clubs broke away from the established top flight. Why? They wanted more money and control. Yet, the difference between the Premier League’s formation and a European Super League is the latter competition would render every other competition meaningless.
National domestic competitions in England, Germany, Spain, France, and Italy would exist but in a downgraded form. How many football fans would watch the Premier League without the Manchester clubs or Liverpool? The product offered by the Premier League, Bundesliga, La Liga, Ligue 1, and Serie A would be a poor one indeed. Especially with the Premier League potentially losing a handful of teams to the European Super League, the product offered to English football fans would be hit hard.
Of course, it all depends on just what kind of European Super League would be created. This is something that is debated. Although the Der Speigel report indicated the competition would take over for the Champions League, a European Super League that takes teams from their domestic top flight competitions would be even more detrimental to the game.
A European Super League in which the same clubs continually contest the tournament would make all other football competitions pointless. It wouldn’t be long until leagues and clubs folded due to the lack of money available. It is up to the big clubs to ensure the smaller ones remain in existence.
Football in Europe could be at a crossroads. Manchester City’s successful appeal against banishment from the Champions League shows that UEFA’s power to police teams is fragile. A European Super League could be close to fruition, and you wouldn't bet against it happening within the coming years.