It has been a year since the European Super League was launched. At the time, it seemed like a bizarre, ill-conceived and poorly promoted project. Within 48 hours, he appeared effectively dead as fans took to the streets in protest. Chelsea, then Manchester City, withdrew timidly. Liverpool owner John W. Henry delivered a strange and mournful address, acknowledging he had misjudged the mood. There was a brief moment when it looked like football might be heading for a reset, that something other than commercial concerns might become a consideration. It seems very naive now.
The Super League has not disappeared; it’s just that it’s being introduced gradually and under the auspices of UEFA. The new Champions League format to be adopted from 2024 will see the format of eight groups of four replaced by the so-called Swiss model of 36 teams: each club will play 10 other teams once, with the top eight progressing through the Last 16 and next 16 enter playoffs for the remaining eight slots.
The claim is that the Swiss model will lead to fewer dead rubbers, although it is not yet clear how significant the benefit of avoiding the knockout round will be. Granted, any real danger to the bigger clubs will be minimal, adding four more games to already packed schedules. The current format tends to lack drama; the new format looks like even longer work before knockouts. But the bigger issue is who will fill the four extra spots in the group stage.
The European Club Association said late last month it would push for two of those places to be awarded to teams with the highest UEFA coefficient who had not otherwise qualified. Pause to think about it. These are immensely wealthy clubs that have devised a structure through which the wealthy get richer. The national leagues of Germany, France and Italy have already become monopolies. Spain has a duopoly that only grotesque mismanagement sometimes opens up at Atlético Madrid. England’s broadcast rights are slightly fairer, but it could soon be a duopoly. And yet, far from thinking that anything has gone wrong, far from wondering how to make tournaments more competitive, these clubs want more protection and more guaranteed income.
Oh, you had a bad season? Never mind: here’s a free ticket to the hugely lucrative Champions League to help get you back on your feet. Failing under these circumstances would be nearly impossible; despite so many elites being so badly managed, you think Manchester United might just take a chance. Villarreal and Atalanta may not attract huge followings, but their performances have enriched the Champions League in recent seasons, proof that there is more to football than who has the most money.
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And that, of course, explains why UEFA has been relatively lenient with rebel clubs, why penalties imposed have been largely suspended, to prevent future escapes. Not because UEFA had actually found a backbone and was going to act for the good of the game as a whole and to protect the rights of all its members, but because they wanted to profit from elite competition, they- same.
It can also be noted that Florentino Pérez’s claim that the dozen founding Super League members have signed binding contracts is true for everyone but Inter. What this means legally is unclear, but it means that in addition to Real Madrid, Barcelona and Juventus – the three clubs that continue to insist on the Super League happening – Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool , Manchester City, Manchester United, Tottenham, Atlético and AC Milan are also technically bound by this contract.
This is partly because the withdrawal process was complicated by a legal action in Spain to determine whether UEFA constituted an illegal monopoly under EU law, which itself end to the disciplinary measures taken by UEFA against the three rebel clubs. It may be academic in terms of the Super League, but it is very important for the future of UEFA and underlines the absurdity of the game’s regional legislator also organizing competitions from which it seeks to profit (the FIFA has the same uncomfortable dual role).
But whatever that result, the big clubs won. Four countries have provided all but one of the finalists since 2004, and that exception is Qatari state-owned Paris Saint-Germain. And yet, this domination is not enough. Yet the elites demand the safety net of coefficient-based guaranteed slots. And what is a super league, a store closed under another name.
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