Football Features

“I’ve never seen a person lie so many times” – Five things learned from the Super League announcement

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 16:33, 19 April 2021

It finally happened. Twelve of Europe’s biggest clubs have announced their intention to form their own Super League.

The statement came late on Sunday night as rumours had been swirling all day that a breakaway Super League was no longer just rumour or theory but was an actual fact. Real Madrid, Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham, Manchester City, Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, AC Milan, Inter Milan and of course Juventus announced that they would be forming their own competition.

The announcement sent shockwaves across the football landscape, shaking it’s very foundations to the core, but what did we learn from the bombshell news?

1. Nobody* wants this

The reaction to the Super League announcement was one of the few moments when the whole of social media was unanimous in its opinion of something. Every pundit, player and journalist who spoke up did so to say “this stinks!” in different ways. It was such an intensely unpopular idea that UEFA already had a statement out before the clubs had even officially announced it!

But announce it they did, in full… black and white glory. Well there was a dash of colour in branding you imagine that was designed to be as simplistic as possible so it best translated to many different nations and cultures. A simple typeface, a simple name: the Super League.

No one except those involved liked the idea, and even those involved weren’t falling over themselves for it, with bog standard template press releases from most clubs involved. Barcelona chose to ignore it completely in favour of hyping up their Copa del Rey win (before finally joining the rest with a bland announcement Monday morning) and Atletico Madrid were the last club to announce.

Even before anyone had officially said anything Gary Neville was eviscerating them live on television, reserving particular ire for Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal. The former England right-back doubled down on social media calling for the six Premier League clubs involved in the Super League to be docked points.

There were no Bundesliga clubs in the official announcement, and although there are rumours that Bayern Munich and RB Leipzig will soon join up as ‘founder members’, as of yet that has not happened. Moreover Borussia Dortmund CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke said: “The ECA board members took a clear stance in rejecting plans for the establishment of a Super League,” and hinted that they are not alone, adding: “both German clubs on the ECA board, FC Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, shared exactly the same stance throughout all discussions.” So don’t expect to see the German clubs anytime soon.

Next club to announce it is joining the Super League odds (via Paddy Power)

  • PSG 1/2
  • Bayern Munich 7/4
  • Borussia Dortmund 6/1
  • Roma 9/1
  • Monaco 14/1
  • Lazio 14/1
  • Celtic 14/1
  • Rangers 14/1
  • Girona 25/1

Odds correct at the time of writing. 18+ Only. UK only. Terms and Conditions Apply. BeGambleAware.

Once the word was out, UEFA President Alexander Ceferin had some extremely strong criticisms for those executives that orchestrated this plot, one in particular. “Andrea Agnelli is the biggest disappointment of all,” Ceferin said; “I’ve never seen a person that would lie so many times, so persistently as he did,” closing with: “we didn’t know we had snakes so close to us, now we know.”

Melissa Reddy reports that managers and players were not consulted, and we already have seen Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Mikel Arteta express bewilderment at the proposal when they were asked post-match of their team’s involvement on Sunday. While Ralph Hasenhuttl called it “unacceptable” in his post-match press conference, and former players like Ian Wright and Alan Smith have also spoken out.

This morning football legend Luis Figo, who has played for and won titles with three of the Founding Clubs of this competition, said it was a “so-called Super League” and that the owners were “self-interested” people who have a “complete disregard for sporting merit.”

Former Manchester United midfielder Ander Herrera and former Arsenal playmaker Mesut Ozil added their voice to the chorus of dissent Monday morning. The Spaniard called it “the rich stealing what the people created,” while Ozil claimed “kids grow up dreaming to win the World Cup and the Champions League – not any Super League.” For elite level players to speak up so vocally proves how utterly disliked this idea is. Now we wait to see if any of the players involved speak up.

*Nobody wants this. Well, except for the 12 clubs involved so far, of course.

2. The clubs don’t plan to leave their leagues

So no Bundesliga clubs, nor PSG whose owner Nasser Al-Khelaifi is now chairman of the ECA after Andrea Agnelli, Juventus’ CEO, resigned his post on Sunday. You could assume from those clubs staying away, particularly the Bundesliga ones, that they are worried about the Super League clubs abandoning their domestic leagues.

Indeed the totality and brutality of the announcement did create that kind of atmosphere that felt like some impending apocalypse with all the big clubs abandoning their domestic commitments. But the Super League’s statement indicates that the clubs do not plan to abandon their domestic leagues and that this new competition will instead replace the Champions League in midweek slots.

“Midweek fixtures with all participating clubs continuing to compete in their respective national leagues,” said the statement on the Super League’s website; “preserving the traditional domestic match calendar which remains at the heart of the club game.”

First winners of the Super League odds (via Paddy Power)

  • Manchester City 7/2
  • Liverpool 5/1
  • Real Madrid 6/1
  • Barcelona 7/1
  • Chelsea 7/1
  • Manchester United 9/1
  • Juventus 11/1
  • Atletico Madrid 12/1
  • Inter Milan 16/1
  • AC Milan 25/1
  • Tottenham 33/1
  • Arsenal 40/1

3. The format: two groups and a semi-closed shop

Another big question is what format the competition will take? Well that’s simple. Their plan is to have 20 participating clubs, with 15 of them being granted “Founding Club” status which would ensure year-on-year participation in the Super League. These 15 clubs would include the initial 12 plus a further three, many had assumed these to be Bayern Munich, PSG and one other; but now that doesn’t seem likely so it could get interesting.

Besides those 15, the Super League would reject the notion of a “closed shop” by opening up five spots per season to teams to qualify based on their achievements in the prior season. Whether these spots will come from hitting defined achievements or simply the Founding Clubs deciding who to invite to their party, remains to be seen.

The 20 teams would be split into two groups of 10, with each team playing each opponent home and away for a total of eight games per group. The top three sides from each group will qualify for the quarter-final with the fourth and fifth side from each group entering a two-legged playoff to decide the final two slots in the elite eight.

Those eight clubs will play home and away quarter and semi-finals until a one-off final for the “Super League championship,” which the statement also says will take place as a “dramatic four-week end to the season,” so they seem to plan to run these five matchdays back-to-back-to-back to build a real sense of momentum.

They also plan to implement a women’s version of the competition “as soon as practicable,” whatever that means. Although with the exception of Barcelona and Chelsea, none of the Super League teams are among the best sides in women’s football (how would these Founding Clubs incorporate women’s powerhouses like Lyon, PSG and Wolfsburg, you wonder?)

4. The UK government is getting involved

It’s one thing to rile up Twitter, but this announcement appears to have riled up the UK government. With no hint of self-awareness, Prime Minister Boris Johnson took to social media to condemn the move and say that the clubs involved must answer to the wider footballing community. Johnson also said that his cabinet would be supporting the football authorities taking action.

FIFA has traditionally been against government intervention in football. Now, whether that stance will extend to the UK government putting a stop (or helping to stop) the Super League remains to be seen. Regardless, opposing this new competition will serve as a welcome PR boon for Johnson’s cabinet.

5. This is just the beginning

Whatever you think of this idea: it is very real. And it’s only just getting started. With the 12 Founding Clubs having withdrawn from the ECA (European Club Association) it seems unlikely that they could just walk back into the Champions League as normal. Not that they would want to, of course.

But at the same time, with Bayern, Dortmund and PSG turning them down; the possibility that their vision of 15 elite Founder Clubs won’t be complete seems very real. Spurs being included was already a stretch as they’ve not won a league title in colour, their last triumph coming before The Beatles went global, way back in 1961.

Sure they have their 12, but who will complete the 15 permanent members? Who else could they go to? Ajax? Surely they would reject on ideological grounds, much as Dortmund did. Who else could fill those permanent slots? To say nothing of the five “temporary” slots that would need filling year on year. Given the unpopularity of this decision among the game’s brass, that could be tricky itself.

But they’ve given themselves an escape from this trap; hiding in plain sight too. While everyone has been calling it a “European Super League” they themselves have been calling the competition simply the Super League. No “European”. So if they are struggling to attract European sides, perhaps they could open it up to legendary names like Boca Juniors or River Plate? Maybe Guangzhou Evergrande in China? That would add an even greater global appeal and such clubs would be less likely to be concerned with the state of European football (especially given the damage European pillaging has done to the domestic Argentine leagues, strip mining them of all the best talent).

Of course the biggest obstacle to all this could yet be the players. Those involved have yet to speak up, but Alexander Ceferin did take a break from insulting executives to say: “The players that will play in the Super League will be banned from playing in the World Cup and Euros.”

While players do have a love of the game, they play for the clubs they do because, for the most part, they are well paid. However they play for their countries because of a sense of love, loyalty and passion that cannot be questioned.

How will Leo Messi react when told he cannot have one last crack at the World Cup next year because Barcelona are in the Super League? What does Harry Kane think about him being denied the chance to lead England out at the Euros because of Spurs’ involvement? Cristiano Ronaldo’s pursuit of Ali Daei’s all-time international scoring record will end a handful of goals short because Juventus are a Super League Founding Club, and you know he’ll hate that. If these players are forced to choose between their nations and their clubs, there’s only one winner there, and without these star names the Super League loses a lot of its appeal.

But then FIFPro, the worldwide representative organisation for professional footballers, have spoken up on this issue. While they take no stance for or against the Super League, they have said unequivocally that:we will vigorously oppose measures by either side that would impede the rights of players, such as exclusion from their national teams.”

Essentially, there is so much more to come from this situation. Both in terms of how the competition evolves in light of opposition but also exactly how, when and where it is opposed by the current footballing hierarchy.

Stay tuned!