If an event holds no true competition, is it really a sport? Sport is defined as having competition. Competition is an event or contest in which people take part in to establish superiority or supremacy. So, by this definition, is the European Super League (ESL) truly a sport? Supremacy and superiority are not defined by competition, they are ultimately decided by wealth within the ESL. Competition and fairness are at the root of sport, and certainly in the root of association football. The football league pyramid is testament to this. A team in could currently form, climb the pyramid and one day challenge in Europe. Fairness may be debated in today’s game with wealth and facilities playing a huge part, however the ideology remains. With Leicester City winning the Premier League in 2016, and both Leicester and West ham battling for European places this season, the dream is still alive. If anything, the ‘big six’ is at its most vulnerable for years in today’s climate. This is truly the motivation behind the ESL, ‘big six’ owners do not want fairytale stories, they want their own pockets to be lined each year with lucrative fixtures and events. In this article I dive deeper into the psyche of these owners, as well as giving my honest opinion on the current proposals for the ESL.
In my recent article investigating Erling Haaland and the media I looked at the difference between arrogance and confidence. I described arrogance as ‘confidence that is false to reality’, and a belief in a ‘license to behave in ways that are superior to others’. Never has something been more appropriate to the current situation we see with the emergence of the ESL.
The individuals creating this league show an extreme level of arrogance. Their confidence is devised from something that is essentially not their achievement. No one attributes Liverpool’s recent premier league title to John W. Henry; however, this decision to join the super league alludes to the fact he perceives any triumph as his, not the clubs, and definitely not the fans or players. Of course, owners have a massive impact on success in a football club, however they do not become the football club. John W. Henry is not Liverpool Football club.
Each of these owners are running their clubs as if they have license to behave in ways superior to anyone else. As if their clubs are ultimately superior to any other club, despite Arsenal (‘a super club’) currently residing six places below Leicester City in the premier league. Arrogance leads to attributions of success that are far from the truth, this is widely evident with each of these owners.
Never has it been so clear that fans make football. With clubs across the country struggling due to lack of gate receipts, and even players complaining about playing in empty stadiums. The COVID pandemic has taught us that we need fans. So why have these owners evaded the fans?
From a psychological point of view, the rich are far less likely to spend time socializing. Poorer people are also much more emotionally connected to those around them. The richer someone becomes, the more detached they become from society. Simply put, for the mega-rich owners of these football clubs, time and money is not a worry. They are not empathetic enough to understand the worker who works for a day just to afford a ticket to a game. They cannot comprehend the price of a flight to an away day in Barcelona. They just see the revenue they receive from champions league nights. As one anonymous director said;
‘our primary job is to maximize our revenues and profits, the wider good of the game is a secondary concern.’
Ultimately, these owners are all savvy businessmen who view their football club as a business not a football club. They see an opportunity to make profit and cannot turn it down. Florentino Perez perfectly described his detachment from the game in his comments on the ESL. He stated that they will ‘save football’. His statements projected that the youth of today are not engaged in football. As an employee of an academy football club, I can categorically state this as untrue. Prior to the pandemic the number of children in academy structures in higher than ever, ticket sales were higher than ever, and more and more clubs are striving to have family structures in place. The community and family feel are precisely what will be lost by the ESL, his solution does not combat the problem he is setting out. Perez’ comments ultimately came down to money, despite him initially preaching about youth and for the good of the game, his comments all stemmed from finances. He began to speak of his own club Real Madrid and how much money they had lost during the pandemic. He even stated how the Super League will alleviate these loses. If nothing else, his comments just emphasized the detachment these owners have from the game of football for their focus on money and greed.
When asked why they attend football matches, three key reasons emerged from European fans; a better experience than TV, team allegiance, and atmosphere. Each of these reasons will potentially be lost with the ESL. With games being staged all over Europe, little to no fans will be able to follow their team, let alone build an allegiance or atmosphere.
From a psychological perspective, attending football matches increases social support, motivation, confidence, and social identity. Each of these factors could be removed for the sake of money. Fans will not be able to attend every match their team plays as they play across Europe and perhaps further afield, potentially destroying many fans identities. Already after the announcement was made for the ESL, fans of the ‘big six’ have shown themselves destroying season tickets and angered their dismay toward their own clubs. This disparity for people will continue as at no point have fans been involved in the process. Fan boards of each club have come out condemning the ownership of their own clubs, shocked at the lack of clarity shown.
As a national league fan myself, I have little stakes in this perceived project, however for the young fan coming through, the dream is dead. As a young boy playing video games, I dreamt of taking my team to European glory from League 2. With the creation of the ESL, that child’s dream has been crushed for greed and finance.
However, let it be known that the greed and arrogance of premier league owners is not just emerging. Newcastle United have demonstrated for years the dismay and devastation that an arrogant owner can cause. Newcastle fans have somewhat dealt with this exact predicament for years, a rich, arrogant owner, destroying the club they fell in love with.
Following this, no one is independent to this problem. Sky Sports, BT Sports, The Premier League, UEFA, and FIFA all have a part to play in monopolizing and dividing the game that we love. Each of these organisations happily funded and essentially created the ‘big 6’ that we see today. UEFA and FIFA also particularly have numerous questions to answer in relation to corruption. None of these organisations are perfect, and the state of football in its current format is also not perfect, however none of these organisations removed the fundamentals of sport as we know it.
Ultimately, professional football is a working man’s game, derived from the working class of northern England and Scotland over 100 years ago. Community and identity were at the heart of the game. Football was for the people, and each community was happy to get behind their club, and dream of winning the FA cup. Nowadays, almost every town in England has its own football team, and communities all over the country come together in support of their team. The suggestion of the ESL destroys this. The romance of the cup, and the dream of these communities goes up in shatters. Football clubs are not franchises, and mean more to some people than these owners will ever understand.