In September 2017 UEFA President, Aleksander Ceferin, told the UEFA Extraordinary Congress that it was essential efforts were made to prevent a growing gap between large and small in European football. This season couldn’t have proved his point more perfectly.
Repetition at the top of the game
Manchester City, Barcelona, PSG, Bayern Munich and Juventus: Who would have predicted them as runaway league leaders before the season? Most of us, actually, from professional pundits to fans. And therein lies the problem. European football — at least at the domestic level — has become repetitive and boring, and there is little Ceferin can do to alter the current trend.
Now is as perfect a moment as any for Europe’s biggest clubs to reassess whether the current format works for them, nevermind UEFA. These clubs have simply outgrown the football structure in which they developed. We should be enthusiastic and optimistic about this fact, not ashamed or scared to talk about it. Football has reached the next phase of its sporting and professional development.
The 20 biggest European clubs need to break away from the governance structure of UEFA and form a European Super League (ESL). There is no other long term viable solution. Ceferin said that it was imperative “to ensure that smaller teams can continue to compete in the big league…to keep the dream alive for all”. For a multitude of reasons, this just isn’t a realistic option, nor, frankly, should it be. The most obvious issue is that the biggest clubs would never agree to meaningful curbs on salaries or transfer expenditure. Moreover, UEFA’s current Financial Fair Play Regulations make no sense and I challenge anybody to explain them succinctly over a pint.
This issue requires fans of ‘smaller’ clubs to be honest too (disclaimer: I am a Blackburn Rovers fan). Fairy tale stories like Leicester are exactly that — once in a generation. My argument is that I’d rather watch a generation’s worth of top quality ESL football at the expense of seeing one Leicester every 20 years.
Fans want it, even if they can’t admit it
It ultimately comes down to what product consumers value more. I know for a fact it’s harder to get a seat in the pub watching a Champions League semi-final than it is watching West Ham vs Stoke. The data are already in, fans want an ESL, they just don’t want to admit it. The majority of clubs are in the same position, for fear of being accused of ‘lacking ambition’.
We ought to ask ourselves what ‘ambition’ really means in today’s game. Striving to finish a ‘gutsy’ 14th in Premier League on a shoestring budget, year after year? That sounds more like the definition of insanity. Ambition should be about cultivating the best form of art possible. In Europe, we are blessed with some amazing football institutions, who currently meet a couple of times per year, at-best. Why are we depriving ourselves of this top quality product?
Imagine an ESL where one season Barcelona could finish top, but next season flirt with the bottom end of the table. Would that mean relegation? No, any meaningful ESL would need to be closed league, similar to the National Football League (NFL) in the United States. It works for the NFL and there is no reason it couldn’t in Europe.
Rejuvenated domestic landscapes
What about the likes of Leicester and Blackburn Rovers? They would find themselves competing in a domestic league, minus the likes of Manchester United and Chelsea. For any nostalgic fans desperate to relive European glory, I’d be open to retaining the Europa League for these clubs, with the possible re-introduction of the Cup Winners’ Cup too. Clubs like Newcastle, Aston Villa, and Everton should welcome the chance of actually winning trophies in such a scenario.
There would undoubtedly be challenges for these domestic leagues in the initial stages, but ultimately they would become more competitive competitions, and I think fans would eventually warm to this mix of domestic and ESL football. There would be a clear brand distinction between the two products, catering to the varying tastes of fans.
Before you dismiss the idea of an ESL, count the number of games you’ve enjoyed in the past season that didn’t include either the team you support or one of the clubs listed below. If the number is lower than five, then consider this a wake-up call.
European Super League (prospective membership)
- Manchester United
- Manchester City
- Real Madrid
- Athletico Madrid
- Bayern Munich
- Borussia Dortmund
- Inter Milan
- AC Milan