European Super League: Is it just a bluff to get more out of the Champions League?

Champions League, European Super League
(Image credit: Getty)

This shouldn't come as a surprise. Stories about a European Super League have grown over the last two years.

Back in March 2019, there was a meeting spearheaded by elite European clubs to discuss Champions League reforms, that would turn it from a cup into a league competition. This kickstarted the protracted negotiations for a rejigged Champions Leagued that was set to be ratified on Monday (and may still be).

Then, in October last year, plans started to come out about a 'European Premier League', bankrolled by JP Morgan, consisting of up to 18 teams and beginning in 2022.

A few days later, Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu stepped down with a sensational statement claiming that the club had "accepted a proposal to participate in a future European Super League".

In January this year, the concept reared its head again: reports of 15 founding members setting up a league from 2022/23, with a joining fee of £310 million each, and earning up to £213m a season thereafter. Five further teams could qualify to compete in the league each season.

Three months on, here we are: Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Tottenham, Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Real Madrid, AC Milan, Inter Milan and Juventus are reportedly on the cusp of forming a breakaway league. This is expected to operate as an invitation-only franchise, with no relegation or promotion.

While the notion of a European Super League has been knocking around since the 1990s, the last two years has felt like a more serious push – we can't say we weren't warned. The plans sound similar to those that appeared in October (JP Morgan is again the supposed funder) and January, with PSG, Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund seemingly the three missing from the previous 18-club figure.

And with the level of money involved, the prospect that it will finally happen can't be readily dismissed.

But the timing – and timeframe of the stories appearing – should give us hope that this is merely a bargaining chip in the protracted Champions League reform negotiations. Changes to the competition were expected to be confirmed in early April, but were postponed until April 19 at the last minute.

The reason for this appears to be that Europe's biggest clubs concluded that they could still get more out of UEFA – but no further shifts in their favour have been apparent. Now, on the eve of the reform's announcement, the Super League idea returns.

It's easy, therefore, to see this merely as a bluff – a negotiations tactic to demand more revenue from already-existing and incredibly lucrative 'brands', such as the Champions League and Premier League. You can't walk away from the table unless you have something to walk to, after all.

Would so many clubs buy into such a risky strategy, though? Having marched themselves to the precipice, can we really expect them to back down if they don't get their way? After a year when even these financial behemoths have taken a battering, can we really shame them back into treating football as a meritocracy, rather than a a closed shop?

A poll in December found that 48 per cent of fans between the ages of 18 and 34 would be happy for a European Super League to be formed. Findings like that will mean club chief executives feel they have the freedom to explore this kind of avenue.

A European Super League may not happen. But it's time to take it seriously.

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