When Europe’s biggest teams thought of breaking off and forming their own separate ‘Super League’, it seemed a very unwise idea, but it turned out to be one we needed.
It exposed the rot in football, the dangers it is vulnerable to, the hypocrisy that has blinded ethical and moral values, the futile search for the game’s lost soul, and the undesirable stakeholders and elements that the game has to kick out.
The threat of rich teams forming a Super League and breaking away from their national and continental associations has always been lurking. In 1998, The Independent reported that a private Italian sports management company called Media Partners had proposed the breakaway super league to 12 European clubs.
Media Partners had enticed the clubs with a pay-out of Sh112.5 billion, a figure that dwarfed the Sh30 billion UEFA Champions’ League generated in the 1997-98 season, of which participating clubs shared Sh15 billion.
Recently, joining the Super League seemed to guarantee clubs more control, money, and power over European football. However, UEFA managed to convince the clubs against pursuing the project by announcing reforms to the structure of the UEFA Champions League. UEFA also promised the clubs they will be more involved in determining the future of European football.
The reforms done by UEFA to the Champions League at that time saw the competition expand to 32 teams from 24. That restructuring awarded more slots to top-ranked nations while also creating space for smaller countries. UEFA also made changes to its lower-tier competitions by merging the UEFA Cup and the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup into one tournament.
Despite the clubs’ U-turn, talks of the formation of a European Super League has not gone silent, just yet. In July 2009, Real Madrid president Florentino Perez added his voice to the prospect of forming a European Super League. His sentiments then came when he was returning as the Spanish club’s president for a second time.
At that time, Perez had unveiled the second Galacticos era following Real Madrid’s signing of Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema. The establishment of a European Super League would have been an upgrade to his vision. Having stars players was not enough for Perez. He wanted his stars players competing in a league of star clubs.
Perez’s words lingered in people’s ears for a while. One month later (August 2009), former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger was quoted by the Guardian saying the formation of a European Super League will be actualised by 2019.
Wenger said there are voices within the game who will scheme to form a super league if rules become so restrictive.
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The differences between 1998 and 2021 exposed the hypocrisy that has blinded moral and ethical values in the sport.
So, even though nine clubs, excluding Barcelona, Juventus, and Real Madrid, have pulled out of it, the dark cloud of their involvement in it will hang over them for some time. It is good to keep in mind the words of Florentino Perez – the Europen Super League will be back.
Michael Kirwa is a former League and Competition Administrator at Kenyan Premier League