By Kabelo Mollo
I’m a football fan. In fact, I’m a football super fan. I’ve been a Manchester United fan since 1994. I consume so much information related to that institution it is ridiculous. I sing along to their chants having never been to Old Trafford. I know small things about the team, the players, former players, legends and even support staff.
I can sit on YouTube watching goals from seasons past much to my wife’s chagrin. I can quote stats, and tell you about big moments and small moments alike. It’s the one hobby I have never ever given up. Sometimes I’m not sure if I love football, or Manchester United. I think I like football, but love that club. That’s probably the answer.
So, imagine my surprise when United confirmed their participation in this ludicrous idea of a super League where relegation doesn’t exist and fans will see the same teams play against each other one year after the other. The same clubs, year in, year out. An annihilation of everything football fans hold dear. A complete decimation of the values the game has held true, and quite frankly a money grab so crude one needed a shower after going through some of the high level details that have filtered out.
I have seen football fans liken this potentially seismic shift in football to what happened when the Indian Premier League started in cricket some years ago. Here are some important points related to why this isn’t the same. IPL didn’t disrupt any existing tournaments. IPL wasn’t formed by existing clubs or franchises and probably most importantly IPL was in a round- about way ratified by crickets controlling body the ICC.
The BCCI may or may not have leveraged their might in order to do that, but it at least it had a semblance of negotiation to it. What IPL did was identify a gap and fill it, much like what Kerry Packer did with his multi coloured limited over series in the late seventies. In trying to make this so called super League look like innovation or disruption there is misleading conflation that is happening and it should not be entertained.
In my view the owners of the twelve founding member clubs have seen the opportunity to pocket millions at the expense of competition. Real Madrid have won thirteen Champions league titles and are on course to take yet another one. Why on earth would they want to exit a competition they’ve been most successful in? Money. All of these clubs view themselves as money spinners. They view themselves as “the big fish” who bring the eyeballs to continental competition.
Manchester United have participated in only four of the last eight champions leagues owing to their inability to qualify for the competition in their domestic competition. Arsenal and Tottenham have got as far as finals in terms of actual success on the continent, and Liverpool have just won their domestic title in thirty years.
Of the club’s calling themselves the big six in England only half of them are in position to qualify for next year’s champions league. A more damning Indictment I can’t think of. They want to qualify for this super League by virtue of their history and the support base, as though it is a given. Ridiculous! They want to reap the financial reward without earning it where it matters most. Outrageous.
In commenting on this development many are pointing out that neither UEFA nor FIFA who’ve stood strong against this proposal are martyrs nor angels. I agree wholly with this, and if you ever read the book “Foul” by Andrew Jennings you’ll know just how deep the rot is there. That doesn’t mean that FIFA and UEFA weren’t set up for the right reasons. There needs to be an independent body that oversees, or regulates what’s happening with the game. The two organisations are not beyond reproach, far from it but this is what happens if you allow a free for all. Folks don’t think beyond their own gains.
What is La Liga without “El Clasico”? Serie A without the Milan derby? What is the premier league without the two must successful clubs in its history? If you’re thinking that’s exactly the point, then we agree. The clubs have to recognise they need their leagues as much as their leagues need them. They have to know those domestic leagues will back UEFA. It’s only sensible. So why would they risk it like this?
Football is in a precarious position right now. The new season seemed like it would return to relative normal with fans being allowed to re-enter stadia. There was an underlying sense of excitement that soon enough we’d have the back track of actual fans singing and shouting in the stands rather than the TV’s audio accompaniment. Where there was hope, there is now disdain. Excitement has been curtailed and replaced by indignation. Fans the world over are watching with bated breath awaiting the outcome of this saga. Not ideal.
Somebody said us fans who are making a hoopla about this will watch the Europe Super League, and I think they’re right. The novelty will pique our curiosity just enough for us to watch the first and perhaps even second season, but how long after that will we stay interested? I’m a small sample size but having enjoyed the first and second season of IPL action, I promise I have very little interest in it now. It’s a side show spectacle that’s good for a highlight reel. Nothing more.
This super league may continue, it may not. Either way, the shift that has happened this week will remain with football and its fans for a long time coming. I hope the twelve league owners knew that when they conspired to get the proverbial ball rolling.