TMany of you with a taste for these things will have noticed the irony: A competition designed to eliminate promotion and relegation in perpetuity somehow managed to ditch half of your teams in a single night. One by one the scions of the European Super League fell, like pastry chefs scorned in a televised baking contest: first the award-winning custards from Chelsea and Manchester City, then the rest of the English clubs late Tuesday night, then the Atlético de Madrid and both. Milan clubs on Wednesday morning. Goodbye then, Super League. You promised a more agile and focused vision of football, and you achieved it by launching and archiving a full tournament in three days.
Naturally, there is a tendency here toward schadenfreude, the urge to rejoice and delight in this triumph of the popular will over the cold hand of big business. The main protagonists have been humiliated. Ed Woodward at Manchester United already paid for the fiasco with his work. Juventus president Andrea Agnelli was forced to bury his favorite project on live television. Even JPMorgan Chase, the investment bank that was funding the company, has paid a price: Its corporate sustainability rating has been lowered by Standard Ethics from “adequate” to “non-compliant.”
And then there are the apologies: the pleas of executives asking for forgiveness from the very people they had recently ignored. “I want to apologize for the disruption I caused,” Liverpool owner John W Henry said in a pre-recorded video, as if this was all a major misunderstanding, like changing the Wi-Fi password or accidentally ordering a lewd birthday. pie. In a drug addicted culture of public shame, it may be tempting to regard this as punishment enough. We have listened. We will reflect. This is a learning moment for all of us. Anyway: as you were.
This was certainly the mood that emanated from UEFA on Wednesday, with President Aleksander Ceferin magnanimously welcoming the rebels into the fold and calling for “unity”. And given the sheer chaos of the past few days, the emotional exhaustion of fans who feared their tie to the game could be severed forever, the thirst for closure will be strong. After all, soccer has a remarkable capacity for amnesia. There is always something next: another story, another scandal, another round of encounters to choose from. But there are multiple reasons why “getting back to normal” just won’t cut it here. This idea, this specific scheme, may have died. But the cartel lives on, as are the circumstances that created it.
They will come again. Maybe not this season, not even this year, but someday. And when they do, they will have learned a thing or two. They will have learned that if you are advertising a 15-club break, it might help to have those 15 clubs lined up in advance. They will have learned the importance of a public relations strategy, or even just a constant stream of distraction and misinformation to make mistakes and divide their opponents. They will have learned that it may not be the best move to send Real Madrid president Florentino Pérez, 74, on television to talk at length about the wishes of young people. This break may have collapsed. The next one will be no laughing matter.
Unless we do something about it right now, when the big clubs are at their weakest and most regretful. We can argue over what might be an appropriate sanction for an aggressive hit attempt across the global game, but one thing’s for sure: Europe’s dirty dozen must not be allowed to simply return to their domestic routines or resume their residency at the top of UEFA. club competitions (now easily skewed even more favorably in their direction). Above all, now is the time to get vindictive.
Point deductions, suspensions, expulsions, glaring fines, transfer garnishments – none of these should be taken off the table at this stage. A two-year suspension from European competition for all 12 clubs would be a good start (even if Arsenal seem well equipped to impose their own exile). In the medium term, UEFA should consider reversing its ill-advised Champions League reforms that were driven in large part by the threat of a big club breakout. Now that the threat is extinguished, there is simply no reason for an expanded 36-team group stage with additional matches for the continent’s elite. To leave him in place would be to reward the Separatist clubs for their sedition.
At a broader level, the response must be led by the government and governing bodies, whose inaction has allowed deep inequalities to develop within the game: between elite clubs and those lower down the pyramid, between the five major leagues and the chasing group, among the elite clubs. club owners and the men and women who support them. The prime minister has certainly spoken of a good game about stricter regulation and giving fans a greater voice in how their clubs are run, perhaps even imposing a Bundesliga-style model of fan ownership. But for a government far more concerned with chasing the next incumbent, talking is currently all 11 years of Conservative rule have produced.
And really, what is required here is not simply legislative but cultural change, a realignment of soccer’s toxic addiction to private equity, venture capital and the dogma of perpetual growth. It’s been both heartwarming and maddening to witness Gary Neville’s gradual disintegration on Sky Sports over the past few days, the apoplectic fury of a man who has just realized that billionaires like to make money. Heartwarming because his passionate opposition to the separatist league gave the resistance a resounding rallying point. Maddening because his tone of shock contradicted the fact that he has had a front row seat in the last three decades of carnage. Like you were in the room when the Glazers came in. You witnessed firsthand the rise of the petro-billionaires. What part of this, exactly, surprises you?
In a way, Neville’s elegant outrage is emblematic of the broader awakening that seems to have occurred in recent days – a common recognition that for millions of people around the world, the game no longer works for us. Happens; we look at it; we write or talk about it later; we may even have entertained ourselves. But any sense of pride or ownership in the process has been steadily eroding over the years. Broadcasters determine the party roster, and little digital lines determine whether or not the goals exist, and macroeconomics determines who wins the trophies, and faceless billionaire owners determine who is bought, loaned, hired, and fired. , and what your stadium looks like and what to do. Charge you for the privilege of visiting it.
None of this is new. What is new is the energy and vigor of the last few days, the strange convulsive energy that has galvanized football in the face of this existential threat. Something seems to have stirred in us since Sunday night: a clarity of thought, a breadth of purpose, a reminder of what we love and appreciate most about this stupid game. An understanding that even in the age of billionaires, soccer can be more than just a useless forum for discussions and jokes.
Imagine if the coalition of fans and players and politicians and media who fought against the Super League could be harnessed in the cause of anti-racism, or a greater competitive balance, or a more responsible ownership model, or an end to the accumulation of young players. . , or genuine pressure on Qatar and its dirty World Cup.
Remember this anger. Remember how the Glazer family, Sheikh Mansour, Roman Abramovich, John W Henry, Stan Kroenke, and Joe Lewis made you feel. Remember how, in the face of almost unimaginable wealth and power, in the midst of a pandemic, a broad base of “inherited” soccer lovers rallied together in resistance. A better game is within our grasp. A better world is possible. We cannot waste this time.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism