Date: 29th April 2021 at 12:32pm
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The notion of a European Super League is nothing new. Talk of such a breakaway group has been around since the 1980s, with Europe’s biggest leagues always wary that clubs could one day go choose to go their own way. The creation of the Champions League in 1992 was actually viewed by some as the preamble for the ESL, as it had the potential to water down domestic football across the board.

While the Champions League is indisputably the most revered club competition in world football, such fears were thankfully misguided, as domestic divisions like the Premier League and La Liga have gone from strength to strength in the intervening years. Nevertheless, whispers of an eventual European Super League continued to rumble on in football, despite there being no real concrete plan to speak of…until now.

What is the European Super League?

The competition format that was introduced to the world in April of this year has roots extending back to 2018. That year, German outlet Der Spiegel first revealed the existence of tentative plans to form a European Super League, after they uncovered documents from Football Leakes. The idea was for the top European football clubs to break away from UEFA and essentially start their own incredibly lucrative competition.

Der Spiegel’s report put the footballing world on notice, making clubs who could be excluded from the ESL fearful that they would be left to watch from the sidelines. It also riled fans, who voiced concerns over the exclusionary nature of a European Super League, which would also effectively spell the end of the wildly popular Champions League tournament.

Which teams would feature in a European Super League?

We now know which 12 clubs were slated to compete in the European Super League as founding members. These select clubs would effectively be immune from relegation or removal from the competition, which turned out to be one of the biggest reasons for the eventual fan backlash.

Six teams from the Premier League initially agreed to join: Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham. Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid were the chosen clubs from Spain, with Serie A giants AC Milan, Inter Milan and Juventus making up the remaining three places. The ESL later revealed that this would be extended to 20 clubs, five of which would be invited into the competition based upon good domestic performances.

The founding 12-15 members would then have their places cemented in the league for around 20 years, meaning they couldn’t be removed no matter how badly they performed. It is claimed that the European Super League would spell the end of the Champions League, and could very well negatively impact domestic competitions, as clubs would begin to prioritise the ESL given the financial rewards on offer.

The notable absentees from the initial 12 members were European heavyweights Bayern Munich and PSG. Der Spiegel’s original report from 2018 specifically name-dropped the two clubs as favoured candidates to join, but it seems as if internal pressures ultimately deterred them from signing up for the European Super League. Keep up to date with the latest football fixtures from around the globe right here.

Why establish a European Super League?

Television money and giant broadcast deals are a key ingredient in the European Super League recipe. With just about every major European club involved in the competition, the league would be able to strike huge deals with media companies around the globe. The elimination of ‘lesser’ opponents – the likes of which we see in the Champions League group stages – was thought to be an attractive proposition for fans watching from home, as they would get to see the very best clubs playing against each other every week.

However, the counter-argument to this theory is that over time, fans will become jaded by only seeing the same teams play each other on a regular basis. Much of the allure when Real Madrid play Liverpool is in the fact that these two sides rarely ever meet – so seeing such a fixture on a regular basis would surely remove its shine.

A revamped Champions League could be the way forward for the major European clubs. However, even tweaking the blue-ribboned competition won’t completely end talks of a European Super League, as you can bet the concept will one day re-emerge under a different guise.

Could a European Super League still happen?

The answer at the time of writing is an emphatic no, but that could very easily change over time. By the 21st of April, nearly every club that had previously signed up for the league decided to withdraw, leaving the plan in tatters. As soon as the proposal was made public, a vitriolic response from fans and players alike rendered owners with no choice but to back down and grovel for forgiveness.

Soon after Chelsea and Manchester City decided to withdraw from the European Super League, rumours were circulating that both Barcelona and Atletico Madrid were on the verge of following suit. Meanwhile, Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool’s owners appeared to be waiting for the New York Stock Exchange to open before committing to any formal announcements.

As expected, all remaining Premier League clubs soon followed Chelsea and City’s example, withdrawing from the ESL with immediate effect. They were all left with little choice in the matter, after fans, players, pundits and even government ministers all coalesced to denounce the breakaway league.

What comes next for the ESL?

While the ESL isn’t formally dead and buried, this does very much feel like the final nail in the coffin for the project in its current format. The fans have well and truly spoken, meaning that, for the time being at least, we can put the debate to bed over whether such a concept could work in the modern game.

There will almost certainly be future attempts, perhaps from the likes of Real Madrid and Juventus, to try and secure a bigger slice of UEFA’s Champions League revenue for the big clubs. UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin now knows that club owners have serious intent when it comes to forming a breakaway league, handing the so-called ‘Dirty Dozen’ a tremendous amount of leverage in future negotiations.

In terms of punishments, it remains to be seen to what extent the rebel clubs will be held accountable for their actions. Bans from competitions seem unlikely at this point, but hefty fines and even legislation designed to limit the control that owners have over clubs might already be in the works – especially in the UK. The ESL ringleaders may have succeeded in changing football forever, but this is certainly not the outcome they would have been hoping for.

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