The European Super League is a concept that rears its head every couple of years, usually around the time discussions about changes to the UEFA Champions League’s format are taking place.
Some of Europe’s most powerful clubs, eager to push for a bigger slice of the money generated by the continent’s premier competition, appear keen to remind us that there is always the lurking potential for a breakaway competition – a situation whereby the biggest teams take their ball and go off to play among themselves.
Whether such a seismic power-play ever materialises remains to be seen. But it’s fascinating to consider what a European Super League would look like if it did come to pass.
For example, how many teams would be in it? While there’s the possibility of US-style conferences, it feels more likely clubs would adopt a traditional league approach. With that in mind, you would envisage a maximum of 20 teams taking part – after all, that’s how many sides are in the Premier League, which is the largest top division of any major European nation.
Then there’s the issue of what criteria determines eligibility for entry. Do you need a history of Champions League success or will years of domestic dominance suffice? Should there be a spread of teams across Europe or is it better to have more teams from the most prominent leagues?
With so many questions and permutations, Football Whispers have put together a suggested 20 team European Super League, that could go some way to satisfying all the requirements of a pan-continental competition…
- 1 1-3: England – Liverpool, Manchester United and Chelsea
- 2 4-6: Spain – Barcelona, Real Madrid, Atlético Madrid
- 3 7-9: Italy – Juventus, Milan, Internazionale
- 4 10-11: Germany – Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund
- 5 12: France – Paris Saint-Germain
- 6 13: Portugal – FC Porto
- 7 14: Netherlands – Ajax
- 8 15: Belgium – Anderlecht
- 9 16: Greece – Olympiacos
- 10 17: Turkey – Galatasaray
- 11 18: Russia – CSKA Moscow
- 12 19: Ukraine – Dynamo Kyiv
- 13 20: Sweden – IFK Göteborg
1-3: England – Liverpool, Manchester United and Chelsea
It goes without saying we can only include a finite number of teams from each country, with three seeming a reasonable limit if we are to make this a competition that includes clubs from a variety of UEFA nations. This causes a bigger problem for England than most, because all of the Premier League’s ‘big six’ would believe they deserve inclusion.
Things become more controversial when we assess who should get the final place though. A new Super League would surely insist on a city as high profile as London having some kind of representation, making this a straight shootout between Chelsea and Arsenal (sorry Spurs fans). The ‘new money’ owners of Manchester City would undoubtedly be outraged, but it would seem foolish to ignore everything the capital has to offer.
While Arsenal feel like a more historic superpower, their European record and Premier League performances over the past decade leave a lot to be desired. That opens the door for the Blues – with a Champions League, two Europa Leagues and two Cup Winners' Cup trophies to their name – to be included.
4-6: Spain – Barcelona, Real Madrid, Atlético Madrid
Spain feels more straightforward. A combined 18 European Cups make both Barcelona and Real Madrid a shoo-in, while it’s hard to find a ‘bigger’ team outside of that duo than Atlético Madrid.
Sevilla may question why their five Europa League victories don’t warrant a place amongst the elite (and it would probably be preferable not to have two teams from the same city), but Atleti just pip their rivals to Spain’s final spot.
7-9: Italy – Juventus, Milan, Internazionale
In contrast to Spain, we don’t have a single club from the Italian capital here. Roma are a solid Champions League performer, but they’ve only won Serie A twice in the post-war era (as have rivals Lazio). Neither of them can compete with the European giants of Juventus and Milan, even if the latter’s powers could be on the wane. Inter’s 18 league titles and three European Cups make them hard to ignore too.
10-11: Germany – Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund
For one of the world’s top footballing countries, it’s strange there aren’t more than two teams who instinctively feel elite. Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund are the nation’s premier sides, but who else comes close? Borussia Mönchengladbach? Schalke? Bayer Leverkusen? They’re all good teams, but perhaps not European Super League level.
12: France – Paris Saint-Germain
The glamour of France’s capital and the wealth of Paris Saint-Germain’s Qatari owners make Les Rouge et Bleu an obvious candidate, despite only winning one continental trophy in their history – the Cup Winners' Cup in 1996.
Much like in Germany, none of the teams bidding to challenge PSG’s domestic dominance feel like they’re Super League worthy. Nantes, Monaco and Marseille all have a claim, but we’re only going with one French side in our 20 team division.
13: Portugal – FC Porto
We’ve got the opposite problem with Portugal. The standard of the Primeira Liga is too low to warrant two Super League outfits, but both Benfica and FC Porto have the kind of European pedigree that other clubs can only dream of.
While it would be desirable to have a team from Lisbon taking part, Porto just edge it thanks to the recency of their achievements. Two European Cup wins and two UEFA Cup / Europa League trophies since the 1980s can’t be matched by Benfica, who haven’t won a continental competition since 1962.
14: Netherlands – Ajax
Not too much of a debate here, Ajax are the Netherlands’ most successful club domestically and in Europe. PSV Eindhoven are their closest rivals after lifting the European Cup in 1988 but, in truth, they can’t really lay a glove on the honours de Godenzonen have accumulated over the years.
15: Belgium – Anderlecht
Can we really overlook Brussels, the unofficial capital of Europe? With Belgium looking like an up and coming power on the international stage, it feels like they should be represented – that’s despite question marks over the current standard of the Belgian Pro League. With 34 domestic titles, two Cup Winners’ Cups and a UEFA Cup triumph in 1983, Anderlecht appear the best candidate.
16: Greece – Olympiacos
Both from a commercial point of view and as a sporting competition, any Super League should be a healthy cross-section of European football’s major leagues. With that in mind, the remaining teams on our list are primarily included to ensure that every region under UEFA’s watch has some representation.
Olympiacos may never have lifted a European trophy, but they’re regulars in the Champions League and have won a staggering 44 domestic titles. Their closest rivals Panathinaikos are way behind Erythrolefki with ‘only’ 20 league championships to their name.
17: Turkey – Galatasaray
We want some regional rivalry in our newly formed Super League, so what better way to do it than by adding a Turkish side to take on their Greek counterparts?
While Fenerbahçe and Beşiktaş both have impressive histories, Galatasaray’s UEFA Cup victory in 1999/00 etched their name onto the consciousness of football fans across the continent. They’re a team worthy of a spot at Europe’s top table.
18: Russia – CSKA Moscow
The wealth in post-Communist Russia would surely be too much for any new competition to ignore, but there are three teams who could make a case for deserving Super League inclusion. CSKA Moscow and Zenit Saint Petersburg have won one UEFA Cup apiece, while Spartak Moscow have the most domestic championships.
There’s no obvious candidate, but CSKA are a successful outfit on both fronts – they’ve won the Russian Premier League the most times since the turn of the century, and are just four behind Spartak’s ten titles.
19: Ukraine – Dynamo Kyiv
The battle between traditional powerhouses and new money continues in Ukraine, but this time it’s historic giants Dynamo Kyiv that come out on top. Challengers Shakhtar Donetsk may have had the better of things in recent years (winning 12 of the past 15 Ukrainian titles and lifting the UEFA Cup in 2008/09), but it’s going to take them some time to match Kyiv’s illustrious past.
Dynamo hold the record for Soviet Top League and Ukrainian Premier League titles (13 and 15 respectively) and won two Cup Winners’ Cups in 1975 and 1986. We want that kind of pedigree in our Super League.
20: Sweden – IFK Göteborg
A controversial one to finish. It’s fair to say that Scandinavian teams haven’t set European football alight in recent years, but in order to be truly inclusive a team from Sweden, Norway or Denmark should take the final place in our closed shop of continental sides.
FC Copenhagen have been Champions League group stage regulars over the years and are the region’s premier club based on current UEFA coefficients. But what if we go back to a time when money was distributed more evenly between European nations? In the 1980s when the likes of Scotland’s Aberdeen and Belgium’s KV Mechelen were lifting Cup Winners’ Cups, Swedish club IFK Göteborg were a force to be reckoned with.
Blåvitt won the UEFA Cup twice and even reached the European Cup semi-finals in 1985/86 and 1992/93. That kind of history shouldn’t be forgotten, and it’s the reason why Göteborg are team number 20 in the Football Whispers European Super League.