ESL: Greed or pure professionalism?

The new Super League model would create a world of its own rich and famous player — allowing them to split the billions of dollars in annual revenue among themselves

Football, as we know it, is about to change forever. Good or bad? Out of greed or for the love of the game? The questions are too many and the answers right now are none.  The moment all big wigs of European football agreed to form a new European Super League (ESL), which will have far reaching consequences for the sport, there was immediate provocation of banning top names from playing in the 2022 Qatar World Cup has made fans angry across the globe.

After months of secret talks, the super-rich clubs like Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid from Spain; Juventus, Inter Milan and AC Milan from Italy and Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham, Manchester United and Manchester City from England confirmed their plans late Sunday to form an alliance of top clubs closer in concept to closed leagues like the NFL and the NBA.

This would bring about the most significant restructuring of elite European football since the 1950s and with plans to add at least three more founding members, it will threaten to challenge the very existence of the world’s most famous league, the Champions League.

In the present time, UEFA supplements domestic league play in all countries, like English league, a Spanish one or an Italian league. There are also Continental competitions between the best clubs, but the most prestigious of those is the Champions League that brings together the best teams from each country league, each year to play for the title of world’s best club.

In general, this current system generates hundreds of millions of dollars of annual television and sponsorship revenue to the world’s richest clubs. This revenue model also sustains smaller teams of each country. But all this is going to change once the new Super League model would create a world of its own rich and famous players, by allowing them to split the billions of dollars in annual revenue among themselves. 

As per the details available so far, the founding clubs will split 3.5 billion Euros (almost $4.2 billion) for signing on to establish a foundation. The per-team figure means each founding club will receive about $400 million, which in the current scenario is more than four times what the Champions League winner took home in 2020. A women’s league has also been planned.

Immediate impact

The most immediate anyone could think of is how the value of almost all the country’s ‘Leagues’ would be depreciated. In an event, if all top breakaway clubs are banned from taking part in their respective leagues, then what will be the reaction of broadcasters? Will the viewers in Mumbai or Bengaluru or in Shanghai ever want to watch a game between Brighton vs Fulham or a game between West Brom vs Burnley?

Football fans in England or Spain or in Italy may temporarily talk about boycotting clubs or players who are out to destroy their homegrown football leagues, but no fan in China or India or in Africa is going to watch any depleted league. Their allegiance is not for a country club, but for a player or a club which can provide them the best of the football entertainment for 90 minutes.

IPL as parallel

Football all around the world is driven by the biases of clubs and countries. If anyone compares it to the Indian Premier League, then he or she must understand how completely these two identities are different from each other.

For instance, IPL, even after 13 seasons has yet to create any identity of player to a place. Apart from Dhoni or for that matter Virat Kohli, how many other players can be identified with just one team or a city?

English Premier League rivalry is much stronger and more biased when it comes to followers. A hardcore Liverpool fan is much more fanatic than that of Chelsea. Or Man United fans have everything to lose if his club goes down to Arsenal.

There are hardly any such feelings in Bengaluru fans or a Chennai fan for that matter when Chennai Super Kings meet Royal Challengers Bangalore in an IPL game. Rather there is still much stronger comradery amongst Karnataka or Tamil Nadu fans when their Ranji Trophy are locking horns with each other. 

Ban, a solution?

As of now the sanctions on any individual player taking part in the ESL have not been made official except that UEFA and FIFA have threatened to ban players from participating in any sanctioned tournaments, like the World Cup, among others.

This is bound to create a frenzy amongst the football fans around the globe if they don’t see names like Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi playing for their respective countries in Qatar in 2022.

Considering their age, it will be their last chance to play at this biggest level. But do they care at this point of their careers, is the question many are asking right now.

In the olden days till the 90s, the answer would have been an obvious yes till Pele or Maradona were playing. They both became the greatest because they won the World Cup for Brazil and Argentina. Legends were born and raised at World Cups. 

But this is a different age now. There is no denial that three of the most popular players of this current era, Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Brazilian striker Neymar, have earned their names by playing exclusively for their clubs.They have hardly been exceptional at World Cups. But they have already achieved a status of demigods in their own world. Their billions of dollars in earning or hundreds of millions of followers have seen them play consistently at club levels for many a year now.

Playing for Barcelona or Real Madrid means a lot more than playing for Argentina or Portugal in today’s world. And the ESL is venturing into such waters. Can the next generation Ronaldo or Messi can spend the rest of their careers in a club like Leeds United or Borussia Dortmund just to play for their respective countries? The threat by FIFA looks so weak. The World Cup will go on, but there is no way to stop elite clubs snatching control of football’s professional riches.

(Cover:  Will big footballers like Ronaldo (in photo) and Messi play thier last World Cup?)

Chander Shekhar Luthra
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