Is A European Super League Now Our Best Hope?
May 22, 2019
With victory over Watford in Saturday’s FA Cup final, Manchester City took European football to a new precipice.
They didn’t do this on their own, of course, but there was a symbolic significance to the sight of Pep Guardiola’s men lifting a third piece of silverware in a single campaign, completing a clean sweep of England’s major honours.
The Premier League, and English football by extension, was meant to be the one place an all-conquering dynasty couldn’t be built. After all, before this season no team had managed to retain their Premier League crown in 10 years. Guardiola’s Man City side, however, have altered the landscape.
Add their success (five major honours in two years) to Barcelona’s eight La Liga titles in 11 years, Bayern Munich’s seven successive Bundesliga titles, Juventus’ eight consecutive Serie A titles and Paris Saint-Germain’s six Ligue 1 titles in seven years and it becomes clear that European football is facing something of a reckoning.
Never before has the gulf between the best and the rest been so vast. The rich are getting richer and their trophy cabinets are getting fuller. European football is unsustainably top heavy, leading to calls that a European Super League of sorts should be established. These, predictably, have not been met with universal approval.
Such a division, a European Super League or whatever it’s called after the naming rights are sold to a petrochemicals corporation or a Gulf airline, might be European football’s best chance of levelling the playing field, though. It’s an idea that might go against the grain of competitive spirit, maybe even against the soul of the sport, but we might be past the point of no return.
Just two weeks ago, plans for the restructure of the Champions League were leaked, with a proposal put forward that 21 of the 32 teams that participate in the competition every season will qualify automatically. This would follow on from another new format which only just came into play this season, handing four qualification places to Europe’s top four leagues.
Europe’s biggest and most powerful clubs are tightening their grip on the sport. They are intent on lifting up the drawbridge and UEFA are being held to ransom over the threat of a breakaway division, a concept that has been discussed for the best part of a decade. Lifting up the drawbridge might allow life to thrive once again underneath.
Domestic leagues would be revitalised, at least from a competitive standpoint. The Premier League without its top six clubs wouldn’t be the financial land of milk and honey it is now, but fresh sunlight would see new green shoots of growth appear from the scorched ground. The same goes for Europe’s other top leagues.
Ideally, the power of Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Juventus, Man City, PSG and all the other elite forces would be reigned in, curtailed through regulations that restrict spending. If football cannot be stopped in heading in its current direction, though, we must start thinking about how to preserve the sport with the cards on the table.
UEFA’s Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations were a trojan horse. Sold as a way to keep the European game inherently competitive, they instead reinforced the notion that those at the top are entitled to their place at the top. Everything that has happened over the past few years, the threat of an elite breakaway, the recently leaked plans for the Champions League, can be traced back to the implementation of those rules.
We as the football community find ourselves at a crossroads. What happens now will shape the sport for a generation to come. For too long, football’s elite have been allowed to do as they please and that has led us to this current juncture. Some of what has been done cannot be undone. However, there is still a chance that European football can be salvaged and it might come in the form of the thing feared the most. Rather than purely being a symptom of the damage done to the sport, a European Super League might help address some of that damage in a round about sort of way.
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Author: Graham Ruthven
Graham Ruthven is a football writer and broadcaster based in Glasgow, Scotland. He was written for the New York Times, the Guardian, Eurosport, Bleacher Report, Four Four Two, The Scotsman and others. He is also a football shirt aficionado and still maintains to this day that Dennis Bergkamp didn’t mean it