When Real Madrid president Florentino Perez recently claimed young fans are losing interest in the game, he wasn’t just showing how out of touch he was with the very people who keep the game alive; He was unwillingly blowing a wide open hole in the European Super League’s very shallow concept.
The reasons for forming a European Super League were, as we were told, to give fans more fixtures between the world’s biggest clubs, with the world’s best players going head-to-head more frequently and, in turn, giving the fans what they truly want. Or that’s what they thought they were offering.
Instead, Perez’s claims (and belief) were understandably brushed aside by the very people he claimed to be speaking for.
Young fans showed, especially in England, that they’re quite content with what they’re getting at the moment, it’s just the owners they’re not happy with.
They may not be content with what their club is doing on and off the pitch, but the product of football isn’t particularly in need of heavy reform. It needs some reform, but not in the way in which fans are no longer at the forefront of what it stands for.
Perez and his group of greedy football club owners brought to the table the very thing football fans don’t want.
A competition in which money, money and more money is the only motivation for these clubs to be involved, more so than they are now.
Let’s not lose sight of the fact money is the very thing that football clubs give a damn about these days, especially Premier League clubs and those competing across Europe’s top divisions.
This will not have come as a surprise to many, but the disgusting nature in which it was proposed was unforgivable.
Broken down in simple terms, what these 12 clubs were trying to do was create their own footballing eco-system to ensure their long-term futures, at the expense of every other single club in Europe and their respective fan bases.
With their seedy plans, hidden behind a thin veil of claiming to be ‘the saviours of football’ they were quite prepared to put hundreds of football clubs out of business.
The ‘closed shop’ nature of the ESL pretty much said: “If you’re not privileged enough to be in our little club, then you may as well go and try and do something else because football is quite clearly no longer for you.”
What these clubs, and evidently Perez himself, didn’t plan for, was the fact football fans live and die off the fact football is open to everyone.
Yes, there will always be a handful of clubs who have more money than anyone else, but there is nothing more beautiful than the hope that your little club, which doesn’t have as much money and definitely doesn’t have the best players, has the opportunity to compete against the biggest and the richest, and can beat them over 90 minutes of football. Fair and square.
Obviously, Perez and his merry men fear this kind of level playing field. In England, the so-called top-six have been rocked in recent years by the emergence of Leicester as a disruptor in their space, and this season we’ve thrown our own hats in the ring by showing that maybe, just maybe, their little club isn’t quite as exclusive as they thought it was.
The rest of Europe’s super clubs, and England’s greedy six, cannot fathom that they may have a bit more competition.
The likes of Man United and Arsenal are already on their knees having underachieved heavily over the last decade, and now they’ve got to contend with Leicester and West Ham threatening to take their place. No wonder they wanted to protect themselves.
We were told the ESL was an alternative to the Champions League, which already does exactly what they claimed the ESL to be.
The very best teams on the continent, who boast the very best players in the world, competing to be Europe’s very best club every season. But obviously it’s not fair that some of Europe’s other successful, yet not as wealthy, clubs were also able to be involved.
The Champions League does indeed need reform, but it needs reform in the way that makes it fairer for those who have earned the right to compete in it, not to make the richest clubs even richer.
Fans realise that, and fans stood up for the sport they all love as a result. They won the battle in the end, with English clubs the first to realise they may have just underestimated the views and feelings of the very people they were claiming to be helping.
Put simply, fans couldn’t give a stuff about how many billions their club has or could earn in the future, but they do care about the rivalries, the away days, the euphoria of winning and overachieving, the heartbreak of losing and underachieving.
It’s all they want, but they want it while also being treated fairly by the clubs they hold dear.
So that’s why the reaction to the ESL was so strong. This had nothing to do with wanting what’s best for fans and everything to do with ensuring these very rich football clubs could continue to get richer. Exclusively.
From West Ham’s perspective, it’s great that we weren’t involved. But it’s funny that the stadium move was supposed to get us to that top table, the table in which we would’ve been invited along to join the greedy gang.
How lucky are we that the move hasn’t lived up to its tagline just yet. A world class stadium for a world class team sounds like a rubbish ESL marketing line.