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?
Well, the short answer is no. As of the 21st of April, eight of the 12 teams that were confirmed to be breaking away to create the European Super League have since withdrawn from the get rich quick scheme. Why? you might ask. The answer is simple, no club is bigger than its fans and when you make such a huge decision on a club that you own without consulting the fans then you will always end up with egg on your face.
Chelsea and Man City were the first two clubs to make a U-turn on their decision to leave the Champions League in favour of the European Super League following the adverse reaction of their own fans and the football community across the country. The results of the meetings between the remaining 14 Premier League teams and the government with the top officials from Premier League itself, may also have had a huge effect on the decisions of Man City and Chelsea, especially if the talks involved kicking ‘the sly six' out of all English competitions.
Soon after Chelsea and Man City decided to withdraw from the European Super League, rumours spread that both Barcelona and Atletico Madrid wanted to back out as well, while Man Utd, Arsenal and Liverpool's owners all appeared to be waiting to make any announcements themselves until the New York Stock Exchange close, which tells you everything you need to know about their owners. As expected, Liverpool, Man Utd, Arsenal and Spurs all released statements saying that they were withdrawing from the European Super League, but then again what else could they do with no fan backing and two of the original ‘dirty dozen' already changing their minds.
How did the other 14 Premier League clubs react?
Needless to say, all of the remaining 14 Premier League clubs that weren't invited to join the European Super League were less than impressed by the so-called ‘Big 6' deciding to break away without consulting them or considering the effects on the entire football pyramid that has been built up over the last 100-years to provide even the smallest of football clubs the chance of one-day competing alongside the best teams in the country for the most prestigious trophies in the land.
Everton, one of the most successful clubs in English football and with a large fanbase across the globe, stepped up first to call out the six English clubs of the ESL. The Toffees released an emotional, passionate, honest and heart-felt statemate that truly captured the feeling of fans across the country and made all Evertonians proud…
‘Everton is saddened and disappointed to see proposals of a breakaway league pushed forward by six clubs. Six clubs acting entirely in their own interests. Six clubs tarnishing the reputation of our league and the game.
Six clubs choosing to disrespect every other club with whom they sit around the Premier League table. Six clubs taking for granted and even betraying the majority of football supporters across our country and beyond.
At this time of national and international crisis – and a defining period for our game – clubs should be working together collaboratively with the ideals of our game and its supporters uppermost.
Instead, these clubs have been secretly conspiring to break away from a football pyramid that has served them so well.
And in that Pyramid Everton salutes EVERY club, be it Leicester City, Accrington Stanley, Gillingham, Lincoln City, Morecambe, Southend United, Notts County and the rest who have, with their very being, enriched the lives of their supporters throughout the game's history. And vice versa.
The self-proclaimed Super Six appear intent on disenfranchising supporters across the game – including their own – by putting the very structure that underpins the game we love under threat.
The backlash is understandable and deserved – and has to be listened to. This preposterous arrogance is not wanted anywhere in football outside of the clubs that have drafted this plan.
On behalf of everyone associated with Everton, we respectfully ask that the proposals are immediately withdrawn and that the private meetings and subversive practises that have brought our beautiful game to possibly its lowest ever position in terms of trust end now.
Finally we would ask the owners, chairmen, and Board members of the six clubs to remember the privileged position they hold – not only as custodians of their clubs but also custodians of the game. The responsibility they carry should be taken seriously.
We urge them all to consider what they wish their legacy to be.'
Aston Villa, Brighton, Burnley, Crystal Palace, Fulham, Leeds, Leicester, Newcastle, Sheff Utd, Southampton, West Brom, Wolves and West Ham all gave their own opinions in a manner of different ways, but all denounced the ESL and everything it stands for.
How have the ‘Super Six' reacted since officially withdrawing from the ESL?
As it is these days, each of the self-proclaimed ‘Super Six' have taken to social media to give their fans and the football community confirmation of their withdrawal from the ESL and here is how each club went about things on Twitter…
‘As reported earlier this evening, Chelsea Football Club can confirm that it has begun the formal procedures for withdrawal from the group developing plans for a European Super League. Having joined the group late last week, we have now had time to consider the matter fully and have decided that our continued participation in these plans would not be in the best interests of the Club, our supporters or the wider football community.'
Pretty cold and unapologetic I think you will agree.
Manchester City Football Club can confirm that it has formally enacted the procedures to withdraw from the group developing plans for a European Super League.
Great news, but couldn;t you have taken more responsibility or at least apologised?
‘Manchester United will not be participating in the European Super League. We have listened carefully to the reaction from our fans, the UK government and other key stakeholders.
We remain committed to working with others across the football community to come up with sustainable solutions to the long-term challenges facing the game.'
Listened to the reaction from our fans? Why didn't you ask them in the first place? No apology once again.
We can confirm that we have formally commenced procedures to withdraw from the group developing proposals for a European Super League (ESL).
Chairman Daniel Levy said: “We regret the anxiety and upset caused by the ESL proposal. We felt it was important that our club participated in the development of a possible new structure that sought to better ensure financial fair play and financial sustainability whilst delivering significantly increased support for the wider football pyramid.
“We believe that we should never stand still and that the sport should constantly review competitions and governance to ensure the game we all love continues to evolve and excite fans around the world.
“We should like to thank all those supporters who presented their considered opinions.”
This ‘apology' almost feels like a slap in the face. What support for the wider football pyramid are you on about Levy? and if that were true why didn't the ESL show some evidence of this when announcing this shame of a breakaway league?
‘Liverpool Football Club can confirm that our involvement in proposed plans to form a European Super League has been discontinued.
In recent days, the club has received representations from various key stakeholders, both internally and externally, and we would like to thank them for their valuable contributions.'
Feeling this perhaps wasn't enough, the Liverpool owner then released this cringeworthy video message which is supposed to justify everything these clubs did and make everything alright again…
John W Henry's message to Liverpool supporters. pic.twitter.com/pHW3RbOcKu
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) April 21, 2021
We have saved the best for last with this one but the disappointing things for the Gunners faithful are that their owner has not attached his name to the statement directly.
The last few days have shown us yet again the depth of feeling our supporters around the world have for this great club and the game we love.
We needed no reminding of this but the response from supporters in recent days has given us time for further reflection and deep thought.
It was never our intention to cause such distress, however when the invitation to join the Super League came, while knowing there were no guarantees, we did not want to be left behind to ensure we protected Arsenal and its future.
As a result of listening to you and the wider football community over recent days we are withdrawing from the proposed Super League. We made a mistake, and we apologise for it.
We know it will take time to restore your faith in what we are trying to achieve here at Arsenal but let us be clear that the decision to be part of the Super League was driven by our desire to protect Arsenal, the club you love, and to support the game you love through greater solidarity and financial stability.
Stability is essential for the game to prosper and we will continue to strive to bring the security the game needs to move forward.
The system needs to be fixed. We must work together to find solutions which protect the future of the game and harness the extraordinary power football has to get us on the edge of our seats.
Finally, we know this has been hugely unsettling at the end of what has been an incredibly difficult year for us all.
Our aim is always to make the right decisions for this great football club, to protect it for the future and to take us forward. We didn’t make the right decision here, which we fully accept.
We have heard you.
The Arsenal Board
To be fair to the Arsenal Board, this is the most heartfelt statement of them all and contains an actual apology. However, all of these clubs still went behind their fans' backs and went against the rules of the Premier League and punishments must be handed out.
What is Next for the ESL?
This certainly feels like the final nail in the coffin of the idea of a European Super League, at least in my lifetime anyway. The fans have shown their opinion on the ESL and it truly feels like we can finally put to bed the 40-year rumours of the possible development of any kind of exclusive super league that only allows the rich to get richer and risks the future of all football traditions as we know them.
I'm sure these greedy clubs, especially in Italy and Spain, will try to form some sort of extra income via a new competition or by holding UEFA to random, but it won't have the support of true football fans and therefore it cannot exist in the longterm. These ‘big' clubs that have got themselves into trouble through overspending only have themselves to blame. Self off your most talented players and make money the honest and fair way just like everyone else has to.
In terms of punishments, the only thing these owners care about is money and it is vital that we punish the owners and not the players and managers that happen to work for these clubs by banning them from competitions or from playing for their country. Plenty of these managers and players came out against the ESL and they shouldn't be punished, especially as many of them didn't even know about the ESL until it was announced. However, some of these CEO were involved and should have known better, so seeing punishments handed out to these higher-ups would also be satisfying to the majority of fans.
What have we Learned?
If football owners didn't already know before the farce known as the ESL collapsed, no football club would exist without the fans that help build them into the clubs we know and love today. You can't make life-altering decisions regarding ‘your' clubs without consulting the fans and knowing you have the vast majority of their support. Trying to sneak your way into an ESL and hoping that the negative reaction will disappear over time is simply naive. It has been stated by a number of pundits on television and the internet that many of these foreign owners still have a lot to learn about the fans of these clubs. We don't give up, we will stand up and we will be heard.