By J Hutcherson (Nov 6, 2018) US Soccer Players - It's hard to get worked up about the latest potential for the elite European clubs breaking away and forming their own super league. The super league story has been dragging along for so many years now it borders on cliche. There could be a super league. It might even make more sense for there to be a super league. There probably won't be, at least not in any reasonable or predictable time frame. But wait, just revealed information might change that. Well, maybe.
Courtesy of the latest Football Leaks in Der Spiegel, the idea of a looming super league has moved from borderline soccer fan fiction into the mainstream. The super league has loomed over UEFA since at least the early 90s, the era of the original transformation of the European Cup into the Champions League. Over the years, it gets trotted out as the likeliest future only for more Champions League changes to send it back into the realm of imagination. That the super league idea makes sense as the end product of the last three decades of European club soccer only matters if you let it. At least until a few people at the highest levels of the club game start to take it quite seriously.
That may or may not be the case right now. Whatever the leaks reveal, the clubs and personalities involved can deny. Confirming the content of emails isn't the same as revealing face-to-face discussions, much less signed contracts. Those clubs might be planning to disrupt European soccer's governance in a couple of years, or it all might be easy enough to dismiss in pursuit of some slightly altered version of the status quo. That's been the situation for so long it's the norm. The clubs push, UEFA responds. In the big picture sense, not much happens.
Still, if the floated plans for a super league are serious this time, it's given us some idea of what the elite want. Staying elite is the headline here. The 11 truly super clubs won't have to worry about relegation. The other five making up the numbers would, assuming there's a second-tier to catch them. As for the rest of European club soccer, you sort of get the feeling that will still be UEFA's problem.
How this is any different from the G-14 era is worth asking. Back then in the early 2000s, 14 super clubs decided to form their own lobbying group. The assumption was that sooner than later they'd also be forming their own league. Instead, UEFA maintained their governing position. As always with the super league rumors, the timeline turned into an issue. How soon will something concrete happen?
Der Spiegel's publication of these plans undoubtedly messes with whatever timeline may or may not be in play. This wasn't supposed to be public information, after all. Whether there was even a timeline in place is worth considering, but it's doubtful talking about 2021 helps the super clubs here. The issue for European soccer is that it also probably doesn't hurt them. It's easy to dismiss their fans as non-local and not as attached, but that's its own version of the kind of vapid thinking normally directed at the super clubs. Their fans are as legit as anybody else's and there's a lot more of them all over the globe. Playing the true supporter card here is easy, but it's also silly.
Football clubs normally aren't civic institutions. They're usually for-profit businesses in competition with other for-profit businesses. There's no special consideration keeping them in that business. The Leeds or Rangers phenomenon could happen to any of them, the end result of overreaching in the classic business sense. Soccer isn't the exception here, and that's part of the driver behind the Super League concept. It's protecting what this group of super clubs represent, the money at the very top of the tables across the major European leagues.
This isn't a shocking revelation. Part of the issue with the Football Leaks is that they haven't caused any part of the game's superstructure to crumble. The book version of the earlier leaks tried to deal with that, ultimately asking the same open question. When is it enough to lead to action? So far, it doesn't seem like any of it has reached that level. In a global era of outrage fatigue, that's not entirely surprising.
Where this puts the European club game right now also isn't surprising. At some point, a group of like-minded elite teams will try to act decisively in their own best interest. It's become an expectation rather than a shocking revelation. It's also something UEFA has shown over and over that they can handle one way or another.
J Hutcherson started covering soccer in 1999 and has worked as the general manager of the US National Soccer Team Players Association since 2002. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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