Sunday 15 September 2019

Talk of Euro super league is greed on a grand scale

'The European Super League concept is almost uniquely for television.' (stock photo)
'The European Super League concept is almost uniquely for television.' (stock photo)

Sam Wallace

In the Bundesliga, Bayern Munich have won the past six titles, although they are doing their best not to this season. Juventus have won the past seven Serie A titles. Barcelona and Real Madrid have won 13 of the past 14 La Liga titles. If one was seeking a clue as to why these leagues might have lost value in the eyes of broadcasters then perhaps these cantankerous old clubs could start by looking close to home.

The revelations in Der Spiegel of plans for a breakaway European super league - the oldest trope in the modern football apocalypse scenario - show these venal, greedy clubs as they really are.

Not content with having ransacked their own leagues they want the whole of Europe too and when it comes down to it, the problem is always the Premier League. It is the new money too, the fossil fuel billionaires of Manchester City and Paris St-Germain, but it is the power of the Premier League they fear most.

English teams do not need a European Super League. Their supporters do not want it. The Premier League has raised £8.3bn alone for 2019 to 2022 and could go as high as £9bn, a 20 per cent uplift on the previous deal. Bayern are part of a four-year Bundesliga rights cycle from 2017 to 2021 that will earn around €3.6bn for Germany's top two divisions.

After years of spending, Barcelona and Real Madrid are approaching a financial crisis. Madrid have had to sell players over the last two summers to stay in profit. Barcelona announced last month a net debt of €157m but, when all their obligations are taken into account, it comes to €490m. They need a new model to survive and, short of selling the clubs out from under their members, a European super league is a strong alternative.

Juventus are in a league that yields less than €1bn in domestic television rights a year. AC Milan finished sixth in Serie A last season and will vote for anything that rescues them from the mediocrity of the last five years.

No one should condone Manchester United and Arsenal having a role in the whole sorry business. They were named among the core seven but they do not need this any more than Liverpool, Manchester City, Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur or the rest.

The Premier League has proved itself to be the league the world wants. Unquestionably flawed it might be but much more preferable to the monstrous, sealed-off greed festival being proposed.

The European Super League concept is almost uniquely for television. A competition for which you gain entry by virtue of "television presence", as the American radio presenter Charlie Stillitano, mystifyingly at the centre of all this, outlined in his leaked email. It is made for an audience out of sight, in different time zones, an idea that appeals to cash-hungry famous clubs who live beyond their means. It cares nothing for the ancient rivalries of the domestic leagues or thousands of fans who follow the old pilgrimage trails to familiar stadiums every weekend.

No one wants it. None but the club presidents and chief execs who cannot admit in public that maybe their great team have taken too much of the domestic share over the years and devalued the league. Or that perhaps their own vainglorious spending has tipped their club over the brink. Men who do not have the honesty to admit to the fans of clubs such as Real Madrid and Bayern that perhaps they might have to lower their expectations.

The top English clubs have been able to resist, led by the Premier League and its executive chairman Richard Scudamore, who has pulled them together to make the best of their league.

The Premier League is imperfect but it remains the most egalitarian of all. It has a trickle-down mechanism that no others have. When Scudamore leaves later this year, who will take his place? Because left to their own devices, it feels like they one day might do something foolish.


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