Have you heard the one about the European Superleague? Like Robocop or denim jackets, some ideas that weren’t even particularly great first time round in the 1980s are getting a revamp for the 21st century.
Once again the idea of a European Superleague is rearing its head, thanks largely to Juventus chairman Andrea Agnelli and the European Club Association.
You’ve probably heard it plenty of times over the years, and seeing as it’s never come to pass, you’re probably not that bothered by something euphemistically referred to as the proposed reform of European competitions. But the threat is real.
What are they after? Perhaps unsurprisingly, the primary motivation behind the proposal appears to be money, with many of the bigger clubs across Europe looking enviously at the worldwide television revenues secured by the Premier League.
On the surface, the idea of a 32 team Champions League, a 32 team Europa League and 64 team Europa League 2 seems to be a logical extension of the current system. The devil, of course, is in the detail.
The proposals would see a virtual end to automatic qualification for Europe’s top competition – eight teams would be ‘relegated’ from the Champions League to the Europa League each season, helping those self-appointed big clubs maintain a guaranteed source of income.
Only four domestic champions would enter each year, joining the four semi-finalists from the Europa League. And if your country’s quota of teams have avoided relegation, then there’s no Champions League football for you, despite your Premier League or La Liga title. In the name of ‘stability’, domestic performance becomes largely irrelevant.
Oh, and the original participants in the Champions League are to be selected, including criteria like ‘heritage’. We couldn’t have some of the European giants missing out because they’re not up to scratch on the pitch, could we?
An entirely predictable reaction to all this would be ‘good riddance to them’. Unfortunately, the proposed changes present a huge threat to the fabric of the domestic game, whether you’re a fan of a Premier League club, an EFL team or follow non-league.
When it comes to setting the fixture calendar, the order of priority goes: FIFA, UEFA, domestic leagues. This revamped Champions League would hoover up a slew of weekend fixtures – the proposal is for 14 fixtures before Christmas as opposed to the current six – meaning if you want to follow your team at home it’ll become a largely midweek pursuit.
The FA Cup would lose its replays and probably shift to midweek, too, and the League Cup, which makes up a significant portion of the value
of the EFL’s TV deal, would be under threat.
With a huge reduction in their TV revenue, the amount of money that the Premier League provides to the EFL through its solidarity payments would shrink, too, putting huge holes in the balance sheets of dozens of EFL clubs. Money for grassroots projects would likely diminish, too.
Combined with a reduction in the EFL TV deal, and the likely loss of the 3pm TV blackout, dozens of clubs could go to the wall.Embed from Getty Images
The good news is there’s almost unanimous opposition to the plans – the major leagues in Europe are all against it, but the Premier League, EFL, Bundesliga and La Liga have little say in the final decision. Ultimately it’s the 55 UEFA member FAs that will decide.
The irony of the Premier League clubs fearing a threat to their financial model by a breakaway league is something that’s not lost on us. The original market disrupters have become the establishment. But for once, fans, clubs and the game’s authorities are on the same page in their opposition.
The proposals are to be discussed again at a UEFA meeting in Nyon in September, and while the 2024/25 season seems like an age away, the reality is that decisions made over the next six to 12 months are ones that will impact the future of the domestic game in Europe.
Fans can have a say
This isn’t the first time that greed has threatened to undermine the traditional principles of league football, and it won’t be the last. But history shows us that these plans can be beaten – we defeated the Premier League’s proposals for a ‘Game 39’ abroad, and we can defeat this.
Fan groups in England and Wales have already unanimously opposed the proposals, agreeing to the following six principles:
- We believe that promotion and relegation should be based on sporting performance alone, from the bottom of the league pyramid to qualification for Europe.
- We are completely opposed to closed leagues and franchise football – teams should qualify on results, not through concepts such as ‘history’ or ‘heritage’.
- Weekends should be for domestic leagues, which includes maintaining the 3pm blackout on live TV broadcasts, to protect fan culture both home and away throughout the game.
- We want competitive leagues, and are opposed to even more concentration of wealth and the ongoing domination of the top of the league by a few fixed top clubs.
- Domestic football comes first, and we should protect the English and Welsh football pyramid and its cup competitions.
Football should share the wealth across the whole game.