It feels as if the recent announcement of a European Super League is something that was inevitable.
Since the late 1990’s, there has been talk of the creation of such a league, and even some failed attempts to turn plans into reality.
But at no point has the existence of a breakaway European football league for the elite been as close as it currently is, with contracts reportedly having been signed by the 12 clubs that have committed to participating, and press releases issued on behalf of the company incorporated to operate the league.
I still have serious doubts that it will commence as planned, if at all, due to the sheer weight of opposition to it by virtually every important ingredient of a successful football club.
Fans are overwhelmingly against the idea, and all of the players who have so far commented on the plans have, at best, expressed concerns.
As for the club managers, Jurgen Klopp was the first high profile manager to have been in front of the cameras, due to Liverpool having been in action last night, and he stands by comments made in the past that oppose the idea of a breakaway league.
It has been clear that senior figures representing the clubs did not involve players, management staff or supporter groups before pressing ahead with the controversial move, and with football’s governing bodies – both domestic and continental – threatening to ban clubs and players from existing competition, the whole move seems destined to fail.
If the European Super League is aimed at being a high class competition, featuring the best players playing for the biggest clubs, it can only work with the support of those players.
And if it is intended to attract high levels of interest from fans, from whom there will undoubtedly be an expectation of regular financial commitments, then the fans have to be on board, too.
The assumptions of the founding clubs is that the European Super League will operate alongside other existing competitions, and that teams will still compete in their own leagues.
But if national football associations react by blocking teams from playing in both, or if UEFA and FIFA insisted that players competing in the European Super League would no longer be eligible for their national teams, therefore being unable to compete at the World Cup among other tournaments, then it could be difficult to convince most of the leading players to remain at clubs that have instead chosen to play in the Super League.
With the majority of support confined to the boardrooms of the 12 clubs involved, the plans have attracted almost universal criticism elsewhere, and accusations of greed. But although the manner in which the League has been set up has led to justifiable anger aimed at those responsible, there is still some unease about the way in which certain parties have responded.
Take the major broadcasters, for example, who have themselves used football as a vehicle for substantially increasing revenues, and can hardly be credited with being on the same side as ordinary fans. The original Premier League TV deal was used by Sky as a way to significantly increase subscriptions for its under-performing pay-TV service, and as the amount paid for the rights to screen Premier League games has increased massively with each contract, so too has the cost to fans.
BT, meanwhile, secured an exclusive contract for screening live Champions League and Europa League matches, and this was also used as a powerful way to attract new subscribers to its media services. BT also has the rights to a package of Premier League matches each season.
Both major UK broadcasters involved in screening Premier League matches have routinely rearranged matches to suit their schedule, with barely an after-thought given to fans who actually have to travel to and from games.
And then there’s the Premier League itself, an organisation willing to hand power to the broadcasters to choose the day and time of matches that they’re permitted to screen live.
The Premier League have been tremendously successful in promoting the English top flight, and its marketing of “the product” has brought in huge revenues for clubs through lucrative TV and sponsorship contracts. Much of the money is distributed evenly among the 20 Premier League clubs, and that has helped many of the league’s most established participants to feature in Forbes’ annual list of the 20 most valuable football clubs.
In business terms, the Premier League is undoubtedly a huge success story. But while the Premier League and its clubs have benefited from ever-increasing riches that have poured into the game, there has been far less interest in protecting fans against spiraling costs associated with supporting their team.
Clubs themselves do, of course, bear most of that responsibility, and it might seem all too obvious to suggest that the ever-increasing pot of money paid out to the clubs through TV and sponsorship deals would make it easy to keep the price of match attendance and club merchandise to affordable levels.
Instead, the opposite has generally been true, and the loyalty of supporters remains something that the majority of clubs appear to advantage of when setting ticket prices or releasing a seemingly endless line of new kits, which have also rocketed in price over the past few years.
One of the reasons for the need to generate so much additional revenue is the proportion of income that is spent on player wages – along with bonuses and agent fees. Just as the past decade or two have seen clubs successfully fight for greater prize pots and an increased share of the lucrative TV contracts, the players have also managed to substantially increase what they are paid.
Such a willingness for the majority of clubs to hand out big contracts has not only increased the earnings of top players, but also led to inexperienced squad players at mid-table clubs being routinely paid sums of money that, only 20 years ago, might have been regarded as excessive even for trophy-winning captains.
Returning to the clubs involved in the European Super League, and it is clearly true that their actions are deplorable, and deserving of the wave of criticism that has been expressed – particularly from fans. Irrespective of what the owners of those clubs might argue to the contrary, it is clearly being done with only their own financial interests in mind.
But as unpleasant a situation as it is, there are far too many individuals and organisations operating in football who really aren’t well-placed to take the moral high ground, or to shout angrily about the greed involved.
Some have themselves sought to take as big a share as possible from the money flowing through the game, whereas others have helped facilitate a situation in which the continent’s biggest clubs are able to get significantly richer – and more powerful.
The latest attempts at a breakaway league may yet prove to be unsuccessful, but the intent of a handful of club owners have been made known to all and if a further attempt is to be avoided, it might be a good time for the authorities to look at how some of the power held by billionaire owners can instead be shifted towards to those who care most about the clubs and the wider game: the fans.