As the world of soccer figures out how to recover from a pandemic-induced hiatus, will those at the top try to consolidate power in a European Super League?
In crisis, for those who have the self-absorption to seek it, there is often opportunity. So while most see the global coronavirus crisis as reason for despair, there are undoubtedly others who hope to use it to their own benefit. One wonders if there are soccer clubs, particularly those at the elite level, thinking this way.
The sport has never before been in this sort of position. This is an unprecedented situation. There is no protocol or precedent to follow, with every major European league and competition either postponed until further notice or suspended indefinitely, and from that has come a sense of chaos.
A collective brainstorm of how to move forward has ensued with no suggestion too outlandish. The Premier League has even discussed playing its remaining fixtures of the season in China, according to reports. So how long will it be until someone proposes the establishment of a European Super League?
This is a concept that is mooted every so often, but with the recent Champions League reforms and pressure applied on UEFA by the European Club Association (ECA) hinting that a closed shop competition formed by invitation only to the continent’s biggest clubs might not be long in appearing on the horizon.
Juventus chairman Andrea Agnelli has positioned himself as the most public advocate of such a proposal. There are doubtless others in the European game who wish to push through a European Super League, but the Juve chief is one of the few willing to express his true opinions on the subject.
“Roma has contributed a lot in the last couple of years in maintaining the Italian rankings. They had a bad season and out. It is protecting the investments and costs [of clubs],” Agnelli recently argued in favor of guaranteed Champions League places for clubs that can offer the most financially. “If we are not progressive, we are simply protecting a system that is no longer there, a system that is made of domestic games that will have little interest for our kids.”
There would be no place for teams like Atalanta in the competition Agnelli envisages. There would, broadly speaking, be no place for romance, certainly not the kind that has come with Atalanta’s run to the quarter finals of this season’s Champions League. Clubs from smaller leagues and countries would be locked out too.
With all domestic leagues currently up in the air, Agnelli and anyone else who wishes to join him in his crusade of self interest might see this as the perfect opportunity to table a proposal that would otherwise be unpalatable. The lack of any reliable revenue for the foreseeable future could leave some clubs desperate. In that desperation some hasty decisions could be made.
Increasingly it seems that European soccer is edging closer to a moment of reckoning. The rich continue to get richer while the rest are left to fend for themselves. This trend can be traced back to the creation of the Champions League in the early 1990s, when the elite level was opened up to primarily benefit those with the greatest influence, not necessarily those who deserved it. With that the landscape shifted.
Agnelli has suggested more than a few ways to move that landscape further, including converting soccer’s current transfer market into a trade system similar to the one used by the NBA and other American sports leagues. The Juventus chief might well be hoping that by putting so many different ideas, some more farfetched than others, forward the prospect of a European Super League is no longer so objectionable.
Nobody can yet be sure of how European soccer will look once this is all over. Seasons have been left unfinished, titles unclaimed and international tournaments postponed. And this is before the legal and logistical nightmare of contracts and compensation is even considered. Everything is up for grabs and there are people like Agnelli, and others, who wish to grab in their own self interest.