IIt is a measure of the remarkable cultural weight of football that the plan to create a separatist European Super League (ESL) has dominated the media since it was announced on Sunday night and provoked a furious response not only in all corners of the world of the football. but from 10 Downing Street and the Elysee Palace.
The ESL would be a midweek competition between a closed and self-selected circle of the best clubs, essentially a replacement for the current UEFA Champions League. The 12 founding members include six from England and three from Spain and Italy, who say they will continue to participate in their national leagues. They expect the new league to make huge digital revenues, which will remain theirs alone, without the hassle of sharing Champions League streaming money with the rest of European football or submitting to UEFA regulations. The lack of rise and fall of this enchanted circle, combined with these income streams, is designed to ensure that your privileged position is secure in perpetuity.
It hardly needs reiterating why this is such a ghastly idea: the already corrosive imbalance in most European national leagues will be further exacerbated by this loot grab. The vision of any ruling elite making inequality impossible to eradicate is despicable, but in the face of the central mythology of football, equal playing field and sporting opportunities, it is an act of cultural desecration. No less is his careless destruction of 65 years of European football as a grand, inclusive, continental narrative and shared ritual experience.
Even so, and despite the huge wave of opposition that arises from government ministries, the European Union, football associations and leagues, fans and their organizations, this type of football policy is not going to go away. What changes in European football have brought us to this stage?
ESL has its roots in the plans first put forward by Silvio Berlusconi, then owner of AC Milan. in the 1990s. They have resurfaced from time to time, then as now, deployed by the biggest clubs as a threat to UEFA, ensuring that European competitions put an increasing share of the money in their pockets. But this time around, the clubs seem to have crossed the line.
This outrageous announcement may be the product of a kind of prisoner’s dilemma, in which several actors who do not trust each other end up making a bad collective decision for fear of being left out. Some of these big clubs, like Barcelona, with a debt of around one billion euros, are especially desperate for funds. But there are deeper trends at play that reflect the pathologies of contemporary capitalism as much as elite football.
First, European football, like everything else, has become much more unequal, with income concentrated in fewer and fewer nations, leagues and clubs, while many redistribution systems have been eliminated or reduced. One consequence of this inequality is that a handful of the best clubs dominate their national leagues, and now they feel that only an elite European league suits them. Like many of the world’s ultra-rich, they cannot accept that the way to solve the problems created by extreme inequality is simply to reduce inequality, rather than lock themselves in a sheltered bubble with their plutocratic peers.
Second, the last decade has seen a sharp rise in the role of investment banks, venture capital and hedge funds in football, as investors and club owners. JP Morgan are the bankers of the ESL; AC Milan is owned by an American hedge fund, while Fenway Sports Group, the owners of Liverpool, are cut by the same pattern. For these investors, and the billionaires who own Juventus, Spurs and Manchester United, there is a relentless determination to increase profitability and eliminate risk: as a member of the board of directors of one of the separatist clubs in the Premier League. told Sky Sports, the owners believe that their “main job is to maximize our income and profits. The general good of the game is a secondary concern ”. But all of these owners are already fantastically wealthy; If profit was your goal, there are less destructive ways to achieve it. They pose as the custodians of their historic clubs, but in fact they are simply rentiers and saboteurs.
Third, there has been considerable politicization of club ownership. Berlusconi turned his ownership of AC Milan into a political move and a successful bid for the Italian presidency and prime minister. Roman Abramovich has used Chelsea to rid himself and his fortune of the deadly politics of Putin’s Russia. Manchester City and PSG, who have so far refused to join the ESL, are the symbolic axes of the foreign policy of the UAE and Qatar. The Gulf states don’t need football money, but they have other goals that are best served by the absence of public regulation, be it from national football associations or UEFA.
While these changes help explain the motivations among these clubs, the decision to actually act on them is a reflection of two more changes, both more clearly expressed by the impact of the pandemic. For some time, audiences and revenues for European football have shifted from local to global, while the character of the day has oscillated between real and digital. The emptying of the stadiums and the miraculous resilience of audience interest, in the eyes of ESL clubs, has decisively shifted the balance towards global and digital. In the amoral calculus of the banker and the oligarch, there is no longer a need to prioritize fans in stadiums, nor the deep local and national histories that have brought them there: capital is confident that a global digital product will earn more than it will. that loses. .
Nothing is inevitable and opponents of these plans have some serious options. FIFA and UEFA could ban these clubs and their players from participating in international competitions, football associations could expel them from their national leagues, fans could organize, protest and refuse to attend. But all of us, so far, have not complied with these types of threats.
We have already allowed this cabal of billionaires to own and warp the game for some time. This particular circus may still fail, but the economic and political changes that made it possible will still be with us. Now we have to do more than bluff and settle for a commitment to an expanded Champions League. We must rewrite the rules, remake the institutions, and reevaluate our role as fanatics, because we all collectively allow them to contemplate this tactic and believe that they could get away with it.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism