The last opinion piece I wrote for this site was steeped in negativity.
I was angry that Liverpool were in a horrible run of form, I was angry that our already disastrous injury issues had just yet worsened, and above all I was angry at the Premier League.
Whether you are for or against the principle of VAR in football, few would dispute that the Premier League’s implementation of the system has been an absolute shambles. Offside decisions must be analysed to the closest half-millimetre, while clear fouls in the penalty box may go unpunished if whoever is representing Stockley Park simply forgets to check.
It has been a farce of a season, and my enthusiasm for football is as minimal as I can remember it being at any time in my life.
I do not even believe this to be a mere result of a lack of fans. After all, I loved the Bundesliga in the month or so when the whole world tuned in last summer. Likewise, I was enthralled watching Porto knock Juventus out of the Champions League last month.
But the Premier League seems to be falling apart – from said VAR issues, to the ever-changing handball rules, and even to the emerging trend of big games fading into uninspiring 0-0 stalemates.
Ultimately, football is already broken.
This became clear the day that FIFA awarded Qatar a World Cup.
And all these complaints throughout the season about the crazy handball laws, the weird implementation of VAR, the fact that we cannot hear from referees before, during and after matches…
It is FIFA who enforce these things, and who threaten any leagues who would look to rebel with punishments and retaliations.
Football, according to the UK media, Sky Sports, Gary Neville, and so on, is being destroyed, as of yesterday. The integrity of the game is being attacked by this breakaway European Super League.
You will not have seen or heard a positive remark made in reference to the revolution among any representatives of mainstream UK media, because the European Super League does not benefit them.
Sky Sports has championed creating a new cricket format/tournament called ‘The Hundred,’ which employs a draft system, breaks up all cricketing tradition and will be the final nail in the coffin of the County Championship which was established in 1890. This is the modernisation and excitement that cricket needs, per Sky Sports. Every game will be shown, funnily enough, exclusively on Sky Sports.
Sky charges £66/month for access to all of its Premier League coverage, BT Sport gives you a couple of domestic games and its Champions League coverage for £25/month.
Only Amazon Prime – which sets you back £80 for an entire year, and includes free delivery on Amazon produce alongside a wealth of TV and Film options – does not seem to totally exploit the average UK football fan.
And guess what? It is Amazon that is the most likely of the three to gain the rights to the European Super League, the formation of which completely devalues the Premier League and Champions League, thus threatening Sky and BT’s most valuable products.
If, instead, Sky had the rights for this breakaway tournament, we would be hearing its praises at every turn.
Rather than taking football away from the average fan, Amazon, or, say, Netflix acquiring its UK rights could render football more affordable and more accessible.
UEFA and FIFA have both condemned the idea, and announced that participating players who are jeopardizing the integrity of the sport will be banned from competing in EURO 2020 and the 2022 World Cup.Embed from Getty Images
Let me now remind you that EURO 2020 (like EURO 2016 before it) will see three teams qualify from four of six groups, as according to a ‘best third-placed’ rule which is intrinsically unfair, and was introduced to allow for more championship games, and thus better-paying TV rights.
It is quite evident that UEFA themselves have no interest in the integrity of their competition.
The World Cup in 2022 will be played in the winter, rather than summer, for no clear reason beyond the illegal, underhand payments made to FIFA members who voted for it. Every World Cup to ever take place has been played out during the summer, and that is an essential component to its value to the average fan.
The 2022 World Cup is an attack on the rest of the footballing world and will cause disruption and disparity to every domestic league the planet over.
Beyond that, and even more importantly, the Qatari tournament will see world-class, newly-built stadiums out on display throughout the tournament. Qatar needed to build all of this infrastructure as it was fundamentally lacking in that regard.
To minimise expense during the construction of these state-of-the-art arenas, the 2022 World Cup has allegedly relied upon slave labour, and preparations for the tournament have supposedly seen the deaths of thousands of migrant workers, as of a report published in late-February.
PSG are being lauded as the saviours of this sport for refusing to partake in this revolution. The likelihood is the Qatari state owns the French champions, and cannot risk damaging its relationship with the UEFA-FIFA brotherhood without jeopardising its rights to this tainted World Cup.
To uphold its own selfish, financially-driven arguments, the UK media will have people believe that the Parisians’ motivation for opposition is sporting integrity.
I have seen fans say that they will boycott the European Super League, which is all well and good, but that sentiment only rationally functions if they are willing to boycott next year’s World Cup while they are at it.
Equally, I understand and respect that the European Super League is a total disaster for the supporters of those Premier League clubs who have not been invited to participate. The likes of Everton, Leeds, West Ham and Leicester all have a bleaker-looking future as a result of these plans, with either far less global appeal in the division if the ‘top six’ are made to leave, or, more probably, even greater financial disparity between those ‘elite’ sides and the rest of the country.
The fans have a right to be upset and angry. The media does not. The outrage is transparent and simply a product of potential loss in profits.
Gary Neville’s anger and tirade is not a total fabrication – he is a very real football fan and ultimately, regardless of his United links, comes across as a very decent human being.
Sky relaying his rants anywhere and everywhere, however, is a thinly-veiled attempt to ultimately maintain the marketability of their Premier League product.
Sky normally digitally restrict their sports content on Twitter so that it can only be viewed in the UK. As of yesterday, their anti-ESL content is free to watch the world over, for once giving something free to the fans, as a desperate attempt to prevent the biggest sport in the world being taken away from BSkyB.Embed from Getty Images
One thing that appears to have really irked fans is this Americanised idea of permanent inclusion, of tournaments with no relegation and promotion.
I am in total agreement that this is problematic and not what we want to see in football – it allows poor performance to basically go unpunished, and provides a glass ceiling limiting growth for those clubs who have been left outside.
However, UEFA’s planned changes to the Champions League were introducing permanent inclusion in some respects anyway. Without providing quite the safety blanket that the European Super League will, teams could qualify for the Champions League via a high-ranking coefficient, rather than thanks to single-season merit.
UEFA are also scrapping the Champions League group stages for an Americanised league system, with fixtures allocated by algorithm, so as to offer more televised games and, you guessed it, increase their profitability. This was all announced last month and there was very, very little outrage in UK media, whose products were not being cheapened.
In essence, my point is that the European Super League is more likely than not going to be damaging for the world of football, and definitely for all of those bigger sides who have not been invited into its inner circle. However, this vilifying of those involved more or less purports that the clubs looking to make their own TV deals is worse than allowing UEFA, FIFA or the Premier League to do the same.
If we trust that the clubs will maintain dignity and avoid corruption, what is the big problem with the power being held by a competition’s participants rather than the abhorrent organisations with whom it has been since 1992?
Why are we not evaluating the positive aspects, like that it is Liverpool who will have a deciding say in implementation of new rulings which affect them, rather than these associations which have been shown to be guilty of corruption and incompetence?
I have seen fans complaining that Liverpool is a club of the people, a socialist club, everything that the European Super League is not. But does that not suggest that a league governed by its own clubs, providing an escape from these domineering and corrupted corporations, is what Liverpool stands for?
If I were the ESL, I would announce right now the plans to maintain ticket prices and reduce TV costs from what they have been in the UK in recent years. It would combat the UK media rhetoric that this seismic change is one that is taking football away from the fans.
Also, I would like to emphasise right now that if the ESL plans to increase the price of watching football – be it at home and/or in person – then I will lose any support for it. But I genuinely believe that such a move does not make economic sense for them if they want this, their product, to be in high demand. As unromantic as the motivations for reducing prices may be, the outcome is likely to be ultimately beneficial for fans.
I also do not dispute the bemoaned suggestion that the European Super League will probably try to incorporate international games (that is to say fixtures played outside of Europe), in the US and Asia, most likely.
But again, UEFA were already exploring holding the Champions League final in the US – this ‘threat’ did not just arrive in football this week. And I personally do not care too much where the neutral venue which hosts cup finals is, as long as fans have priority of access and the playing conditions are not unsuitable.Embed from Getty Images
A transatlantic journey for an ESL final would clearly be an unfair financial burden on Liverpool fans, if we were involved. But then I refer back to UEFA holding the 2019 Europa League final in Baku, Azerbaijan, where corporate associates were given ticketing priority, rendering attendance almost impossible for Chelsea and Arsenal fans, and leaving the stadium half-empty.
There is at least a big, and growing, interest in ‘soccer’ in the US, and if, as a fan, I cannot afford to make the long journey to support my team in this host city, I would rather see a full stadium when watching on TV, than oceans of empty seats.
It is not ideal, it is not ‘the beautiful game’, but do not believe for one second that the bureaucrats at UEFA themselves cared, until they were financially threatened.
And the European Super League is supposedly not hoping to eradicate domestic football. We will still see Liverpool play league matches at Anfield on a Saturday, before locking horns with the European elite in midweek.
Even if ‘international’ games become commonplace, the fact the clubs control this league means they will not be at wholly obstructive moments of the season, and the worldwide marketability of Anfield will mean Liverpool are as safe as any club in that regard. Obtaining tickets to Liverpool away games has always been notoriously difficult. That is not something new, something being brought about the ESL.
As much as the Premier League may want to discipline the ‘top six’ who will be about to cheapen its product, those who run it know the league would reduce its own value by an incalculable amount if it were to send its six biggest income-generators to the very depths of English league football. The weird reality is that if Liverpool and Manchester United were banished to League Two, its viewing figures would eclipse those of the top tier of English football.
In short, it would be a spectacular form of self harm for the Premier League to follow through with those proposals, and, hypothetically, the only change to domestic football here should be that it is more difficult for other teams to keep up with the elite.
Again, neither poetic nor ideal, but only Jürgen Klopp has prevented a Manchester City side formed by oil money from waltzing to four successive title wins without challenge.
This cash injection to the ‘top six’ could, in fact, render the Premier League somewhat more competitive, with a quality in depth-of-squad comparable to City’s more attainable for their closest challengers.
For the European Super League to be a success for football, it needs to incorporate some means of promotion in the medium-term, and then a long-term possibility for relegation.
A promotion option from the very outset was an implausible idea as it would require approval from a far greater number of clubs than the twelve currently involved. However, I would not be surprised to see it come to fruition in the not too distant future.
Admittedly, though, commitment of the founding members to 23 seasons does indicate that we will not see relegation for quite some time. It would have been very difficult to instigate a breakaway from these corrupt organisations without offering the ‘founders’ a sense of economic security which is fundamentally undesirable for a competition.
Nevertheless, before then, the ESL may well manage to cheapen the price of football consumption, reduce the possibilities for corruption and introduce some positive change for the spectator.
FIFA has always blocked the possibility of referees’ conversations being televised, which in itself seems sketchy, and is a rule that will reportedly be employed by this new tournament, which sits outside of FIFA’s jurisdiction.
The European Super League is a massive risk, and it could be a total disaster. But football was already broken, and this is the only feasible way that the corruption instilled in the current system can be dismantled. Only the ‘Superclubs’ themselves have the means and wherewithal to attack the institutions which bound them, and that is what they are doing right now.
This may not be the necessary solution, and we may not love the by-products, but UEFA has had the chance to try to address racism in football, for instance, and has decided on-field abuse needs punishment less severe than Mamadou Sakho taking a dieting pill he thought was permitted by competition law.
While I remain nervous about the proposed changes, UEFA and FIFA have done their utmost to force the clubs’ hands. The European Super League does have the potential to be a force for good.
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