Why we should never forget the European Super League

It would ultimately be the fans who helped shut down the ultimate cash grab that was the ESL.

In 2009, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger made a prediction that there would be some sort of European league developed within ten years. He said, “I’m not 100% sure what I’m saying, but I know some people behind the scenes are pushing for this project.”

Wenger’s prediction was off by two years.

On April 18th, 2021, 12 of the biggest soccer clubs in the world announced that they’d be joining together, alongside three undisclosed teams, to form the European Super League. The announcement was rightfully met with scorn and condemnation from across the globe, as the ESL, if it had actually gone through, would’ve ripped the very heart and soul out of the sport itself, sacrificing valiant underdog stories like Leicester’s 2015 Premier League title or Porto’s 2004 victory in the Champions League final for cold hard cash.

 As we all know, the ESL was dead within two days, and UEFA is preparing to throw sanctions at the clubs involved (Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Tottenham, both Manchester clubs, both Milan clubs, Juventus, both large Madrid clubs, and Barcelona) for attempting to break away. Let’s break it down as simply as we can and then pass some judgement along. 

 The Super League was announced, and everyone hated it. Pundits and players across the globe, from PSG’s Ander Herrera to Fenerbahce’s Mesut Ozil to the entire Liverpool squad, condemned it as what it so transparently was: a move for more money that would only benefit the 12 clubs involved and leave UEFA, and the rest of Europe, in the dust. Football was no longer about the romance of an underdog and tight competition; rather it was all about making profits and the owners who needed them. 

 It’s also worth mentioning that clubs made strong statements against it. Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, and PSG had all refused an invitation to join, and publicly denounced it. West Ham and Everton accused the English Big 6 of betraying fans across the nation; Italian clubs Atalanta and Cagliari called for Milan, Inter, and Juventus to be banned from Serie A.

Even politicians got involved, as Tory Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Labour leader Keir Starmer both put out statements vowing to stop the ESL from happening (legitimately bridging the Labour-Tory divide in England). French President Emmanuel Macron supported UEFA’s stance on the ESL (which we’ll get to later), as did Italian PM Mario Draghi.  

 Dropouts began within two days. Manchester City and Chelsea reportedly only joined to not be left out and were never really in favor of the ESL; they left within 30 minutes of each other on April 20. Atletico Madrid (who were threatened that if they did not join, Sevilla would be asked instead) and the Milan clubs would also leave on the 20th, and by the 21st, the rest of the Big 6 would leave, with Juventus, Real Madrid, and Barcelona remaining.

 The president of the ESL was to be Real Madrid president Florentino Perez. Perez decided to say some pretty insane things in the press, including that fans aged 16-24 didn’t have the attention span to watch a full 90 minutes of soccer and that matches might have to be shortened in order to appeal to them; that the teams involved had binding contracts and couldn’t leave unless they wanted lawsuits; that there would be a trickle-down effect from the ESL to teams not involved; and that the ESL would be “better for everyone”, namely that small teams would get more money. To make things short, big man Florentino is chatting you-know-what as nothing he’s said makes sense nor would work at all; hell, his team’s manager, Zinedine Zidane, refused to defend him when asked about his statements.

 It’s also worth mentioning UEFA’s hardline stance on the issue. President Aleksander Ceferin wasted no time gathering up a joint declaration from the FA, IFA (Italy), and RSFF (Spain) which declared their intent to prevent the Super League from happening; he also said that any clubs involved would be banned from all competitions, whether they be domestic, international, or European, and that players on ESL teams could not represent their teams at international level if they played in the league. For once, UEFA got something right, and I personally believe their public statements played a major role in encouraging players to speak up against the ESL and for clubs to back out. 

 The ESL should never be forgotten, and not because it was some visionary idea to bring the sport popularity in new markets. It should be remembered for the unified response against it, with fan protests across the globe garnering support (bar the ridiculous one in Manchester which caused the postponement of Manchester United-Liverpool) against a heinous idea that fortunately fell apart.