MARTIN SAMUEL: The European Super League is a despicable, plastic competition that threatens the existence of English football, but there is hope… What if we all turned our backs? We are in this TOGETHER
- English football’s Big Six have signed up to join a controversial breakaway league
- Both fans and pundits have reacted furiously to their ‘criminal’ and ‘greedy’ plans
- It would be a plastic competition, watched by plastic fans, of plastic clubs
- You don’t want to watch it? Well do something about it – the backlash can kill it
There was no little irony in the fact that, as football was outlining its response to the shameless closed shop that is the European Super League, one of its elite members was scraping an injury-time draw at home to Fulham.
Still, at least we can safely predict who is coming 12th among the self-appointed Big 12. And for Arsenal, let’s face it, that is a step up. Right now, they are the ninth best team in England alone, although that becomes the 11th best team if those below win games in hand.
That is what permeates this entire despicable episode. The utter contempt the protagonists have for the rest of the game. For the fans, especially, but for the clubs, the players, the coaches, the history and traditions; for the wider good, for the national team, the football pyramid, for everything that football has meant to communities and society stretching back across two centuries.
Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham are the six
It’s just money to them. It’s just one big revenue stream. And in making this move, Arsenal think they are so much better than the likes of Fulham, or Leicester, or West Ham, or Leeds, or Aston Villa. They just don’t like having to prove it. And if the European Super League comes to pass, they won’t.
A plastic competition, watched by plastic fans, of plastic clubs. Forget the past, forget the Busby Babes, or the treble, forget Istanbul, or the doubles. These might as well be new clubs, in a new league, and newly moulded, in plastic.
A league that no one else can get into, a league that you cannot get out of no matter how useless you are. The end of meritocracy. That’s plastic. A plastic closed shop that only the shallowest glory hunters would find distracting.
That is why the venture capitalist owners of Arsenal, Manchester United and Liverpool so love it. They know the price of everything and the value of nothing, as Oscar Wilde had it. He was defining cynicism, of course. He could have been defining Messrs Henry, Glazer and Kroenke, and their lousy acolytes.
Think also of the professionals caught in the middle. Do you think Thomas Tuchel signed up for this? When he arrived at Chelsea, do you think he dreamed of winning a league that had no merit attached, that possessed no history, that was manufactured by Stateside opportunists to suck football dry, based on a frozen moment in time?
Manchester United icon Gary Neville blasted the proposed plan as an ‘absolute scandal’
Like Jurgen Klopp, like Jose Mourinho, like Pep Guardiola, Tuchel would have been drawn to England by its competitive domestic league, drawn by the challenge of competing against Europe’s greatest and best teams.
Not in a competition shorn of clubs from his own nation, of Paris Saint-Germain, of any team from the east, of any emerging challenger like Atalanta or RB Leipzig, of any promising young coach, of drama, of upset, of storied names like Ajax, Celtic and Benfica.
God, it sounds bland. The same cabal of co-conspirators, endlessly repeating the same dull match-ups, shown to a distant, global audience on trumped-up pay-per-view.
Who wants to watch that? You don’t? Well do something about it. It was the backlash from the ordinary supporters that killed the 39th game proposal, and it can kill this too.
The moment the clubs realise how isolated they are, how unpopular this league would be, the extent it would alienate the important, local, fanbase, then they have little option but to rethink.
UEFA’s Champions League is under serious threat of a breakaway league of the top teams
Yet this requires focus. On social media on Sunday, there was far too much childish one-upmanship. Tottenham a big club? Arsenal a member of the elite? Ha ha. It’s bigger than that. This matters.
This is about the essence of sporting competition. It’s not just another pile on about oil money or Russian oligarchs, or 60 years without a title. This threatens the existence of English football, its thrilling capacity to change, to evolve.
That is what makes it special. The emergence of Leicester as a force. A season in the sun for West Ham. The fact that a big six into a top four doesn’t go creating a thrilling sense of jeopardy each season.
That is why this is the most-watched league in the world: because those at the summit must be good. And in the European Super League, that simple fact will no longer apply. There will be no consequence for failure, no incentive to improve. A club can stagnate and it will make no difference.
It is not about excellence, or the raising of standards. This is a league that rewards mediocrity, in which the protagonists do not have to be ambitious, just greedy enough to want in.
European giants Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern Munich have stood up to the proposal
Manchester City and Chelsea were the last to sign up and were believed to be the most reticent. And that’s probably true. If it was up to City and Chelsea a European Super League would probably not be on the table because it is a proposal driven by pure avarice, and those clubs have owners whose motivation is more than wealth.
They want glory, they want prestige; and they have to be on the inside to get that. But it doesn’t excuse them. City have spent years in opposition to the closed shop and then, at the first opportunity, signed up for one. No doubt they feared being outside when the drawbridge was raised, again.
But that is no mitigation. Join the resistance instead. There are always practical reasons for collaboration, but you can’t have it both ways. City have forfeited the right to be set apart from the cabal after this. Paris Saint-Germain turned out to have more moral fibre. Bayern Munich, too. Who would have thought it?
Actually, there’s an idea. UEFA should award PSG the 2020-21 Champions League right now. Expel the other three semi-finalists, Real Madrid, Chelsea and Manchester City, who have all plotted against the interests of UEFA and European football.
Same with the Premier League. The Big Six, all gone. Leicester and West Ham battling for the title, Everton, Leeds and Aston Villa coming up on the rails. Cancel the Carabao Cup final, because why should the EFL present a trophy to one of two clubs whose greed threatens to destroy their crown jewel competition, the only reason they sit at the broadcasters’ table.
Manchester United’s American owners (L-R) Joel and Avram Glazer have backed the plans
And turns out Leicester versus Southampton was actually the FA Cup final. Won’t happen, but wouldn’t it be interesting if those at the top were so bold?
This breakaway only works by not being a real breakaway at all. By staying in the domestic leagues but making the most prestigious end of the European market a closed shop and seizing all the money.
That is what is most revolting. The naked entitlement of it. We want the best of what you’ve got — but you can’t have anything that we’ve got. Have cake and eat it. And have your cake and eat that, too. As a group, they are disgusting.
Yet there remain chinks of light, of hope. It was reported in Italy on Sunday that streaming network DAZN, owned by Len Blavatnik’s Access Industries, who have the rights to Serie A, were one of the prime movers behind the European Super League.
Within hours of this, the following statement appeared: ‘In relation to a report by Corriere dello Sport today, this and related reports are false. Neither DAZN nor Mr Blavatnik are in any way involved or interested in entering into discussions regarding the establishment of a Super League and no conversations have taken place.’
Juventus president Andrea Agnelli (above) is understood to have been instrumental in the plan
Were DAZN unnerved by the general sense of revulsion? Did they fear losing customers? And would a similar concern affect other potential broadcast partners? If Sky feared rejection over such an alliance, if Amazon or Disney had little confidence in the take-up, might they too shun this plastic competition and its ghastly inhabitants?
And then where would it be? Supported by £4.6billion of JP Morgan’s money, payback reliant on projected broadcast revenues.
What if we all turned our backs, supporters and media? Face it, most of the press — from newspapers to television and radio — would have no more interest in reporting on a closed shop, than you would in following it.
So we are in this together. And, in that respect, we are not like them. Those clubs, the Premier League’s big six, Europe’s preening big 12, went into a global pandemic in which, more than ever, the disparate strands of society were required to pull as one.
And this is what they came up with? This abomination, this antithesis of sport’s life and soul? Sadly, it was. Sadly, this has been their sordid game from the start. A plague on all their houses.
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