The future of European football is in limbo after a Nov. 2 report by the German publication Der Spiegel detailed a secretive plan among a handful of the continent’s most powerful clubs to establish a “Super League.”
Unbeknownst to the typical American sports fan, European club football is, collectively, the most powerful and extensive sporting community in the world. According to the report, in 2016, football garnered more than $16.7 billion from global TV rights, more than twice as much as American football, which was second on the list.
The revelations in Der Spiegel’s article, an international conspiracy befitting a “House of Cards” script, blew the top off the footballing community.
With Leicester City’s famous 2015-16 English Premier League Championship standing as an extreme outlier, small clubs don’t stand a chance in Europe’s major domestic leagues. The Premier League, Italian Serie A, French Ligue 1, German Bundesliga and Spanish La Liga are dominated by the major clubs year-in and year-out.
Without Real Madrid and Barcelona, La Liga’s ratings would plummet. Sans Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, nobody would watch the Bundesliga. God forbid Juventus and Paris Saint-Germain leave Serie A and Ligue 1, respectively. Power in the Premier League is slightly more distributed among a traditional “top 6,” but still relies heavily on the likes of Manchester United and Arsenal — who were named in Der Spiegel’s report — to carry its ratings.
All these European giants are prospective members of the “Super League.” Under the proposal, the major European clubs would terminate all competition in their domestic leagues.
It must be said — the idea is immensely intriguing from an entertainment perspective. Watching PSG beat up on the rest of Ligue 1 gets old after awhile. On the other hand, seeing the Parisians clash with Real, Juve or Bayern on a regular basis would be wonderfully engaging theater. Why watch my Gunners rout Fulham 5-1 at cute little Craven Cottage when they could grapple with Barca at the raucous snakepit that is the Camp Nou?
But the “Super League” would rip asunder the fabric of European football. Its conception is indicative of how rampant corruption has become the norm for major clubs across the pond. The leagues do not control the footballing landscape — the foundational clubs do. And this has resulted in a major imbalance of power that threatens to throw the sport into a dark age of elitism and corruption. Many would tell you this train has already left the station.
The whistleblower in Der Spiegel’s report released troves of confidential documents on his infamous platform, Football Leaks. The site, now a thorn in the sides of billionaires across Europe, details inner financial workings and other sensitive information, such as racism and gambling allegations, of major clubs across Europe. John, which is not his real name, told Der Spiegel he hopes to help reinstate transparency in the football community.
“The people who truly love football and who constantly pay for it have a right to know how it really works. Football has spun completely out of control,” John said. “The Super League plans clearly show who has the say in the sport — rich investors and a few top clubs are bullying everyone else.”
The secretive push for a “Super League” is representative of a growing corruptive paradigm in European football. Domestic leagues and local fans no longer control or are even privy to the inner workings of the most prominent clubs. Everything is done under the table and behind closed doors — John said this culture has him terrified for the future of his beloved sport.
“Honestly, I don’t care if there is a Super League or not. What bothers me is the kind of secret deals that super clubs are making,” John said. “Everything happens in secret, there’s hardly any oversight, and there is no transparency — and that is the breeding ground for criminal activity.”
A “Super League” would be a helluva time. Perhaps it’s even viable if the major clubs can work out a relegation protocol and remain a part of their domestic leagues. But the backroom planning process revealed by Der Spiegel and John illustrates a tempestuous culture of elitism that will tear the football world asunder if it is allowed to fester.
Zach Joachim Executive Editor