Kenyans do not like being left out of trending topics and what’s been pushing headlines since Sunday is the European Super League. But what does it mean for your weekends hangout at the neighborhood local?
All football fans know that the crème de la crème is the Uefa Champions League. Yes ‘We are the champions’ you can hear the theme song in your head. Well it’s not if a group of elite football teams have their way.
European football was thrown in shock after a consortium of the 12 biggest clubs in the continent declared that they are planning to walk away from the UEFA competitions, specifically the Uefa Champions League, in order to set up their own, closed shop “European Super League (ESL)”.
The ESL is meant to be a mostly closed league for these clubs to compete amongst themselves with marginal promotion and relegation, thus assuring revenues and profits for years to come.
The clubs in question are from England; Manchester united, Manchester City, Liverpool, Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea; from Spain, Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid; from Italy, Juventus, AC Milan and Inter Milan. No clubs from France or Germany have announced they will join the ESL, but PSG and Bayern Munich have undoubtedly been invited to the party.
Rumors of the ESL happening have been swirling in Europe for decades, indeed in 2009, Arsene Wenger, the former Arsenal manager, predicted that it would happen in ten years. Why now? The Covid pandemic has led to clubs suffering billions of euros in losses, as football games are played in empty stadiums and finances dwindled due to lack of travel, pre-season tournaments and the like. Clubs are in debt, and ESL and more money to cushion their malfeasance and terrible footballing decision sounds like a very good idea.
How does this affect the avid football fan in Kenya? So far, nothing has happened, but the first rounds of this mega fight are taking place in the court of public opinion. European leagues, player unions, fan support groups, UEFA and FIFA have all come out against this plan, with some expressing stronger objections than others.
If it comes to fruition, this ESL will change the UEFA Champions League as we know it forever. The biggest, most glamorous, successful and largely most supported clubs in Europe will exit the competition, seriously weakening its glamour, allure and marketing power. This is why it is the UEFA that is coming out most strongly against the ESL so far.
Some of these ESL clubs, especially the London and Italian-based clubs have been very poor on the pitch in recent times. Arsenal is marooned in ninth place in the English Premier League after playing 32 games. Spurs just fired their own coach after a season of underachievement and regression. No Italian club made to the UEFA Champions League quarter finals this season despite Juventus having a massive wage bill and employing star striker Cristiano Ronaldo.
A closed shop ESL would ensure these clubs can keep making terrible footballing and management decisions while earning billions of pounds/euros, a blank cheque if you will.
Is this likely to happen? Most football pundits such as Gabriel Marcotti, Tariq Panja and others agree that an ESL is not likely to happen next season, which is set to start in August, after the Euro competition. There are likely to be many judicial and other legal challenges by aggrieved parties, protests by fan groups will take months and have an impact too, while this issue will also come up in the parliaments of Britain and Spain, where football is of vast economic, cultural and political ingredient of the economy.
However, the bubble has finally burst. Football clubs have been morphing from being community based, social institutions and fan-focused in Europe, to becoming marketing driven, financial multinational corporations with global reach and outlook, with an idea that fans are more of paying consumers than part owners and shareholders. Today’s happenings are barely the final nail on the coffin.
For the football fan in Kenya, who supports Manchester City, Manchester United or Arsenal because of their global appeal and historical success and glamour, an ESL is probably not as big a deal as it is for the England or Italy based fan that supports Atalanta or West Ham, for which this power and money grab could have serious footballing repercussions.
However, who knows where it all ends? Already, there are rumors that the African cup of nations and African world cup qualifying groups take place too often and inconveniences these clubs. If these clubs can walk away from UEFA, who is to stop them from insisting that they won’t release the likes of Sadio Mane and Aubameyang for future AFCON competitions?
More than a battle for ESL or UEFA Champions League, this is a battle for the soul of football, for the right of fair competition, solidarity and the fact that big football clubs should not ride roughshod over the smaller clubs, countries and fans.
Every football fan in the world should condemn it, be worried by its brazenness, and hope that this cynical money grab fails. Otherwise, the beautiful game is lost at the professional level forever.
Unless you are in it for the betting.