So read the headline of the Spanish newspaper El Pais yesterday morning, in response to the announcement by Europe’s most wealthy football clubs that plans are in place to form a breakaway European Super League, the ESL.
Sunday’s long-expected announcement confirms what everybody already knew. 12 top clubs – including six from the Premier League – have already signed up, with three more expected to join them. You can guess the likely suspects.
These 15 clubs will have automatic membership of the new league, with five more joining based on actual merit. These clubs will play home and away fixtures in the league, followed by a knock-out structure to conclude the competition, with a final held at a neutral ground, as is the case with existing European competitions.
What is the rationale behind this latest proposal?
The initial joint statement from the Super 12 gives the game away: “The formation of the Super League comes at a time when the global pandemic has accelerated the instability in the existing European football economic model.”
This opening declaration goes on to say that the new competition will “provide significantly greater economic growth”.
If this sounds more like a business statement than a sports-based one, you would be correct.
This is about generating huge additional sums from fans and TV – all aimed at maximising the profits for the rich few.
The suggested model is equivalent to the closed-shop franchise system used for professional team sports in the USA, with no promotion or relegation to worry the money men. This removes the inconvenient problem of having to have a good season on the pitch to get into elite Europe-wide competitions – albeit at everybody else’s expense.
Consider the two-faced statement from Real Madrid president Florentino Perez, the first chairman of the ESL. Perez asserted that the new competition would “help football at every level…”
“Football is the only global sport in the world with more than four billion fans,” the Real Madrid boss continued, “and our responsibility as big clubs is to respond to their desires.”
What Perez really means is: The new competition will help football boards enrich themselves at the top level, making use of the fact that the game has four billion customers waiting to be further exploited.
This is a competition that will solely respond to the desires of the big club owners. These 15 teams (or brands) will always be in the competition, come what may – and to hell with the rest.
Hostile reaction has come in thick and fast – not only from UEFA and FIFA, but also (more importantly) from fans and their organisations.
Football fans can see where this is leading. After all, this is a road that the professional game has been travelling down for a long time.
Protest banners have already started to appear on social media from fans around the country. But few expect those at the top to listen.
The hand-wringing and insult-shouting from UEFA is particularly dishonest. Indeed, this body had been set to announce a not-dissimilar reformatting of the current Champions League, aimed at heading off threats of a breakaway.
This plan never saw the light of day, however, due to a failure to find a format that would guarantee the inclusion – merit or not – of the big clubs. This lack of a guaranteed income source became a major sticking point. And for once, the normally slippery UEFA officials couldn’t find a way around this.
With financial giant JP Morgan bankrolling the ESL, the rich clubs could see where the money was.
UEFA’s gripe is that they will be out of pocket when it comes to palm-greasing. They certainly are not worried about the fans’ concerns anymore than the ESL organisers are.
The whole history of football over recent decades has been heading this way: turning the game from a mass spectator sport with roots in the communities into a multi-billion pound operation for wealthy investors.
First we had the introduction of live-screened games – just a few at first, then more and more with the arrival of satellite TV. Then we had the establishment of the Premier League, aimed at maximising TV income for those at the top, whilst reducing the trickle of cash to the lower leagues.
In Europe, we had the replacement of the three European cup competitions with the useless Europa League – now to have a second division, or ‘Conference’, as they call it from next season – alongside the Champions League itself.
The latter involves actual champions, plus a load of others – the “rich mates”, as one reporter put it at the time.
These bloated TV-friendly competitions were then spread over three days a week, rather than just one.
All this did not go unnoticed in company boardrooms. Money began to flow into the coffers of a few elite clubs. Huge corporations – and even countries – started buying clubs.
Matching this at every step were the major media companies. COVID-19 was a godsend for them. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, every game in Europe and the Premier League has been screened live: total football, seven days a week. This has opened a door that will not be easily closed.
The ESL will now be looking closely at what deals they can magic up with the television companies – especially the Americans, with the lucrative US market up for grabs.
At every stage, working-class fans and communities have been pushed further and further away. For football’s bosses, we are just walking credit cards; extras in a reality TV show.
The Tory government is talking about new legislation to block the ESL. But even if they succeed in scuppering these plans, we can guarantee that they won’t kick the billionaires out of football; nothing fundamental will change.
The fact is that we cannot rely on big business politicians or establishment figures to save our game. Instead, as Gary Neville has suggested, football fans should organise protests and boycotts immediately. And a grassroots campaign to kick capitalism out of football must be launched.
Maybe the league will go ahead; or maybe a deal will be brokered with international football organisations in order to keep existing competitions going – but certainly with critical changes that will leave us with something pretty similar to the private members’ club that is the ESL.
The losers, of course, will be us: ordinary football fans.
Expect other aspects of the game to change also. TV companies have already complained that games between-or-involving the top clubs attract higher viewing figures, and therefore greater advertising income. They will want ‘something’ done about this.
The elitist US-style format of the ESL may also provide a model for the next incarnation of the Premier League itself. Indeed, this has already been floated before.
FIFA is also rumoured to have a world club tournament in the works, aimed at cutting across UEFA.
Kick out capitalism
Real Madrid’s president claims that the ESL plan is about ‘saving football’. But why is football in danger? Because of the damage caused by capitalism. Upping the ante with more greed will only seal football’s fate.
The move to establish the ESL is just the next step in the process of profit destroying the ‘beautiful game’; the latest example of the corrosive influence of capitalism on football.
As with every other walk of life and sector of the economy, the result of capitalist competition is monopolisation and a concentration of wealth in the hands of a super-rich few.
Football is already being run by bodies riddled with corruption, cronyism, dodgy deals, and a total indifference to the interests of the fans. No wonder that when the FBI started looking into corruption inside FIFA some years ago, they found it easier to understand FIFA’s workings by comparing it to the Mafia. They certainly act like a bunch of gangsters.
The war now breaking out between UEFA, FIFA, and the new ESL is a war to decide how to divide up the spoils; to decide which group of rich bloodsuckers benefit from what is coming next.
This is not sport. It is big business, run under the ruthless logic of the capitalist system.
We need to kick capitalism out of football. The ESL, Premier League, UEFA, FIFA: It is all about making money and nothing else for these people.
The only league tables that interest these parasites are those in the company spreadsheets – profit and loss. They have no interest in the spirit or traditions of the game, as is proven by the guarantee against relegation in the ESL.
Instead of this destruction and profiteering, we must demand that clubs be brought under public ownership, run by-and-for fans, players, and local communities.
We say: No to the ESL! No to the bureaucrats and bosses running football! No to capitalism! Boot them all out to save our game!