When the list of the most controversial topics in football is ranked, the European Super League will not be far from the top position. The football world was stunned on the 18th of April, 2021 at the announcement of a new European competition called the European Super League (ESL or Super League in Short).
Although there was a prior discussion about the competition, many people did not take it seriously. Maybe, they did but did not see it being implemented.
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What Is the European Super League?
The European Super League or ESL is a supposedly new European competition with 20 teams. 15 out of the 20 teams are termed “founding Clubs.” They are Barcelona, Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid, Juventus, Inter Milan, Ac Milan, Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester United, Manchester City, Tottenham, and Arsenal.
At the time of the announcement, Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, and PSG had not given their consent to the new competition.
The 5 other clubs in qualifying matches to join the 15 founders of the competition.
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The Format of the European Super League
As earlier stated, 20 teams make up the competition. These 20 teams are split into two groups of 10 each. The 10 clubs in each group play against each other at home and away.
The top 3 in each group qualify for the quarter-final stage of the competition. The fourth and fifth-placed teams compete for the remaining 2 spots in a two-legged play-off.
Furthermore, the teams in the quarter-final play each other in a two-legged play-off until the final. The final is staged in a neutral venue.
The competition was scheduled to start in August till May (every season). Also, matches are scheduled for mid-week just like the UEFA Champions League.
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Why was The Super League Created?
There are several reasons why the ESL was created. However, one obvious reason is the huge revenue involved. Clubs expect to earn €3.5 billion to alleviate the impact of COVID-19 and improve infrastructure.
Also, clubs could earn as much as €250 million from T.V rights. Most importantly, winners of the competition earn about €400 million. With the aforementioned figures, clubs whose finances were rocked by the pandemic will be relieved of it.
More so, these figures exceed by far what is obtainable in the UEFA Champions League. For Instance, winners of the Champions League earn about €20 million as prize money. While the total revenue accruable is about half of the €400 million a European Super League winner earns.
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Differences between The European Super League & The UEFA Champions League
Although, the European Super League is played in mid-week, and matches after the group stages are two-legged knock-out matches. There are some major areas of difference compared to the UEFA Champions League.
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All the teams participating in the UEFA Champions League ‘earn’ their place in the competition. Either they qualify via their position at the end of their domestic league season. Or they qualify by emerging as champions of the competition or the Europa League in the previous season.
It is not so with the European Super League. 15 out of the 20 clubs have guaranteed spots in the competition. Their status as ‘founders’ guarantees them such an automatic spot.
Group Stage Format and Participating team
The European Super League has just 10 teams split into two groups of 10. While the UEFA Champions League has 32 teams split into 8 groups of 4.
The top 2 teams from the 8 groups in the UEFA Champions League, qualify into the round of 16 of the competition. While the third-best teams join the Europa League.
There is no second-tier competition for the ESL or European Super League. Therefore, the top 3 teams qualify for the next stage while the fourth and fifth-placed teams compete for two other spots.
Unlike the UEFA Champions League, the next stage is the quarter-final not the round of 16.
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Criticism of The European Super League
At the announcement of the European Super League, fans were unanimous in their condemnation of the competition. It was not just fans, clubs who are not part of the setting joined too.
The major criticism against the competition is the fact that it guarantees spots for teams. Whether they lose or win, they have a place in the competition. For many, this negates the fundamental principle of competition that football represents.
Also, many accused the participating teams of greed and disregard of other teams in Europe and their domestic leagues.
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Major Critics of The European Super League
Criticism came from far and wide. Within and outside the football community, people stood against the competition.
Notable Government Officials against The European Super League.
The U.K government and even Prince Williams, Duke of Cambridge added their voice too. In his words:
‘Now, more than ever, we must protect the entire football community. I share the concerns of fans about the proposed Super League and the damage it risks causing to the game we love.’
The Prime Minister of the U.K promised: ‘to make sure this doesn’t go ahead in the way that it’s currently being proposed.‘
Criticism From the Football Community
Manchester United legend, Gary Neville did not mince words when he called out Manchester United owners for giving their consent. He called them “scavengers” and referred to other clubs as “greedy”.
While Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp disapproved of the competition. The former said:
“It is not a sport where the relation between the effort and the success, the effort, and the reward, does not exist. It is not a sport where success is already guaranteed or it is not a sport when it doesn’t matter where you lose.”
Chelsea fans congregated outside Stamford Bridge in protest against the European Super League. They even called for the resignation of members of their club’s board of directors.
Also, Leeds United wore a pre-match t-shirt when they faced Liverpool a few days after the announcement of the competition. The shirt read on the front: “Champions League EARN IT” and on the back, it read: “Football is for the fans.”
Condemnations came from far and wide including on various social media platforms. Even players such as Jordan Henderson, James Milner, Raheem Sterling, Mezut Ozil, Luke Shaw, Marcus Rashford, and Bruno Fernadez condemned it.
Reports suggested that Jordan Henderson called a meeting of all Premier League Captains to deliberate on how to get rid of the Super League.
Also, various Football Associations released statements in condemnation of the competition. Some threatened to throw clubs involved out of the domestic league. UEFA and its President were not left out of the boat either.
The President launched a scathing attack at Juventus President, Andrea Agnelli and Manchester United Chief Executive, Ed Woodward. The former is the Vice President of the European Super League and Florentino Perez the President.
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Effect of Worldwide Criticism of the ESL
Following the worldwide condemnation from the football community and beyond, the ESL collapsed. The 14 non-participating teams in the Premier League even held a meeting where they vowed to sanction the 6 participating EPL teams.
A few hours later, Manchester City announced their withdrawal from the European Super League. A move welcomed quickly by UEFA. Chelsea followed suit and in no time the other four teams in the EPL withdrew from the competition.
Arsenal tendered an unreserved apology and acknowledged their participation in the competition as a mistake. While Chelsea admitted their involvement in the competition is against the “best interest” of the club and the football community.
Clubs in other leagues withdrew from the competition too.
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Immediate Reaction From UEFA And The Super League President
While clubs withdrew from the European Super League (or ESL), the President of the competition remained adamant. According to Florentino Perez, the European Super League is “on hold.” This suggests that he retained the belief that it will go on. If not now, then later.
Meanwhile, UEFA unveiled a new plan for the UEFA Champions League. From 2024, the competition will be expanded from 32 to 36 teams. Also, the group stages changed from 8 groups of 4 to a single league format. Teams play 10 group stage matches (5 home and 5 away) against 10 different opponents.
Furthermore, the top 8 teams qualify for the round of 16. While teams in the 9th to 24th position play against each other for the remaining eight places in the round of 16.
From then on, the competition takes its usual format of two-legged play-off until the final.
Final Thoughts on The European Super League
The effect of the COVID-19 pandemic reached the hooks and crannies of the world. Almost all football club’s finances were rocked. Hence the creation of the European Super League or ESL.
Notwithstanding, segregating a few teams for financial relief via the European Super League is controversial. More controversial is the fact that the competition favored a few. That is why 75% of the teams are given automatic spots.
Of all the critics of the European Super League, the statement of the British Prime minister is striking. The part where he said the Super League cannot continue in “the way that it’s currently being proposed” suggest the format is the problem and not the competition itself.