Well call us Nostradamus! No sooner had I concluded in last week’s piece (Football Nerd Weekly Ramblings: Project Big Picture and Pay Per View – some of the Premier League money men reveal their true colours.) and the comments from Keith, Laurence and Roger reinforced the suspicion, that the motives behind ‘Project Big Picture’ were a thinly-veiled push towards “a global TV-based league where commercial interest is all that matters”, the latest leak about the future of European football emerged suggesting the formation of a European Super League is very much back on the agenda for the monied elite clubs.
A report by Sky News in the UK earlier this week suggested that: “Liverpool and Manchester United are in talks about a bombshell plot involving Europe’s biggest football clubs to join a new FIFA-backed tournament that would reshape the sport’s global landscape.” So far, so completely and utterly predictable!
Where this proposal is slightly different than previous incarnations is that it is allegedly backed by FIFA, although it is not yet clear whether it is supported by UEFA, and that rather than see the big clubs breaking away from their domestic leagues the proposed competition would run during the regular European season. According to the report the new ‘European Premier League’ would likely comprise 16 or 18 teams meaning a minimum of 30 (or indeed 34) fixtures for each participating team to slot into their schedules and would effectively usurp the Champions League. There would also apparently be an end of season play-off for the top-placed teams (hello America!) with prize money for the winners being hundreds of millions of pounds each year.
The details of the new competition have only partially emerged, but it is believed that more than twelve teams from Europe’s big five leagues of England, France, Germany, Italy and Spain are involved in negotiations around the competition and will become founder members. Which gives us a pretty good idea of the names of the clubs involved even if no one is owning up to it just yet. According to the story at least five clubs from the Premier League could be involved. With Liverpool and Manchester United allegedly the driving force behind Project Big Picture as well as this new development, it is safe to assume that they are two of the five, although it would be very interesting to unearth which of the self-avowed Big Six hasn’t been invited to the party yet.
Other names in the frame are the usual suspects of: Real Madrid, Barcelona, Atlético Madrid, Juventus, Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern Munich, although when the previous leak from Der Spiegel a couple of years back emerged the Bavarian giants were keen to distance themselves from that particular story. That gives us eleven, one presumes the others are yet to be recruited although it isn’t too much of a taxing effort to work out who they might be.
The leaked story drew condemnation from across European football, former Barcelona and Real Madrid star Luis Figo called upon all football fans to unite and oppose the plans to prevent them: “killing the other clubs and leagues that fans love”. Kevin Miles, Chief Executive of the Football Supporters’ Association (FSA), denounced the proposal stating: “The latest reports of plots, allegedly involving Manchester United and Liverpool, to create a European Super League, expose the myth that billionaire owners care about the English football pyramid, or indeed anything other than their own greed…this has to be the last nail in the coffin of the idea that football can be relied upon to regulate itself: these billionaire owners are out of control.” Former Liverpool defender turned Sky Sports pundit, Jamie Carragher, put it most succinctly tweeting “Oh f*** off” in reply to the story.
Of course, any right-minded football supporter should be against proposals like these which are driven by nothing other than commercial interest and greed. Already Premier League match-going fans are growing increasingly frustrated, if not downright angry, with the way we are fleeced for as much of our hard-earned cash as possible by our clubs, even when we are not actually allowed to go into the stadiums. Just last week the focus of their greed turned to fans who follow the matches on TV with the not-even-disguised introduction of Pay Per View charges of £14.95 a game on top of the subscription fees for both Sky and BT for any matches that weren’t due to be screened live. Then again, we are not the target market are we?
Worryingly, the European Premier League proposal may have greater credibility than previous incarnations given that it is being reported that Wall Street juggernaut JP Morgan are in talks to provide $6 billion (£4.6 billion) of debt financing in order to get the league(sic) off the ground. In order to recoup that sum would require the engagement of the mass media markets across the pond, in the Far East, the rest of Asia and Africa. If the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic continues to restrict fans being allowed into stadiums for a number of months, or even years, the money-men of elite European football won’t even have to think about the paying stadium audience any longer, they will get what they have always wanted: a commercially-driven league watched worldwide ripe for the harvesting of broadcast and advertising revenues.
Amidst all of this blatant greed and disregard for the values, traditions and history of the game that we all love, an unlikely hero (of a fashion at least!) has emerged. FIFA President Gianni Infantino has opted to distance himself from the proposal, stating categorically: “I’m interested in the Club World Cup, not the Super League… for me, it’s not about Bayern Munich against Liverpool, but Bayern against Boca Juniors”, and that his focus was wider still: “I want clubs from outside Europe to have global appeal in the future. That’s my vision: to have 50 clubs and 50 national teams who can become world champions.”
Far be it from me to ever trust or agree with anything that comes out of FIFA HQ in Zürich, but at least the proposition of a tournament-based approach carries the potential for retaining the integrity of the existing domestic league structures. We have of course taken the initial steps down similar paths to this before and thankfully the ideas have been defeated, this time around it feels like more flesh has been added to the bone and we should fear for the very future of the game.