18 April 2021, the 12 supergiants in football came together to declare that the course of European football was set to change. The President of Real Madrid, Florentino Pérez, led the pack of wolves. Financially challenged football clubs desperately followed the alpha in Pérez. Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspurs, AC Milan, Inter Milan, Juventus, Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Real Madrid all released a statement declaring the establishment of a European Super League. Henceforth, they also announced their departure from the Uefa Champions league, deeming it to be financially unstable in the status quo.
This was met with immense backlash from football admirers and fans from all around the globe. The backlash and outcry mainly stemmed from the fact that the ESL was the epitome of unfair competition because the 12 founder clubs would not be at risk of not qualifying for the ESL each year and would remain as permanent members. Moreover, these clubs would receive around 300 million every season, making it significantly harder for qualified teams to stand a chance at winning the competition. Moreover, the establishment of ESL would result in a massive decrease in viewerships and sponsorships for other leagues and competitions, deteriorating these leagues and the competition in them.
Football was in massive turmoil and at its worst, the foundation of football came together with fans. “Football, created by the poor, stolen by the rich”, banners like this were seen in almost every fan’s hands as they protested with passion and desire, hoping that the billionaires above would feel an ounce of guilt and stop football from becoming a massive business. Major protests kicked off including the masses gathering around old Trafford, the Emirates stadium, and the most significant of them all, the protest outside Stamford Bridge. Chelsea has always been known to have owners that genuinely care about the club and its fans. This was further demonstrated when Chelsea decided to back out from the ESL after grasping the gravity of taking part in the ESL. After Chelsea backed out, all the other English clubs followed suit, apologizing for the dier mistake they had made. Football was saved, Fans were finally content but everyone forgot the underlying issue due to which the ESL was announced, clubs were drowning.
Covid-19 has caused a major economic loss to the entertainment and sports industry, especially football clubs who are contingent upon their stadiums being filled with people roaring and cheering the team on but also importantly, paying money to buy tickets and merchandise. Due to covid, all of this came to a halt. Countries went into a massive lockdown which meant that it was a calamity for football clubs. No selling of tickets and merch, but also, football matches were postponed, meaning that Television deals and sponsorship campaigns came to a halt effective immediately as well.
However many have said that Covid is not the main reason for clubs financially drowning, many believe that the current structure of the football pyramid is undoubtedly unsustainable and there’s a need for change. If you take FC Barcelona into account, one of the world’s biggest clubs has fallen into a financial black hole and has lost its star. Although it could be argued that this is due to their own mismanagement, it cannot be denied that the current system is unsustainable for all football clubs except the English Clubs. This is because all the other leagues have lost the spark and excitement they used to have and to add to this, English clubs have become richer and richer and have bought all the star players. Hence, the fans only want to watch the English Premier League. Moreover, UEFA has not been a helping hand either but has added more fuel to the fire. They recently announced a new format of the UCL. To cut the long story short, they wanna increase the number of matches a team plays to increase the revenue UEFA makes. This puts more burdens on already financially-challenged clubs, as they have to buy more players and have good facilities to administer the players’ fitness, who have been subjected to being made to play so many matches.
Due to all these reasons, one may argue that the ESL wasn’t such a bad idea and without it, the football pyramid will drown. It is pretty clear and regretful that whether it is the founders of the ESL or UEFA, both are not affected by the essence of football being diminished, all that matters to them is their pockets being filled and the most important stakeholders, the players and fans, are not looked after. Personally, I don’t agree with the ESL being established as it goes against the roots of football, football was made out of love, it was made for the people. However, I do see eye to eye on the fact that the current structure is unsustainable and failure to make a change will surely result in the financial demise of historically respected clubs.
Although, on a positive note, the discontinuation of the ESL demonstrated the power of the fans and shined a ray of hope in an otherwise saddening situation. It also showed that the roots of football are still rooted in the hearts of people and even though the fans of the 12 founder clubs would be delivered with immense entertainment in the ESL, they preferred fair competition. “I would much rather watch Chelsea play Barnsley in the Carabao cup than watch Chelsea play Bayern each week”, words from a Twitter user that represented all football fans’ sentiments.
So even if our beloved clubs are owned and managed by people filled with greed, we as fans are the ray of hope and will surely outlast them.