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Reds Column I

European Super League Fiasco And Aftermath (2021)

Just days after being officially announced, the European Super League (ESL) suspended its operations after majority of the Founding Clubs that included Liverpool Fc (The Reds) announced their plans to withdraw.

The announcement of the Reds plans of being part of the ESL was met with massive backlash from Players (Former and Current), Jürgen Klopp and the Fans (above all).

To bring things up to speed…

 

What is the European Super League (ESL)?

Initially; the ESL was planned as a breakaway annual competition to rival or replace mainly the UEFA Champions League Competition (Europe’s Premier Club Football Tournament organised by UEFA) to be contested by (15 Founding Clubs + 5 other European Clubs) 20 European Football Clubs.

  • Conceived to comprise of 15 “Founding Clubs” who were also the governing partners
  • These Founding Clubs would be the permanent participants in the competition (regardless of their performance in the previous Season of their respective Leagues
  • The 5 other European Football Clubs were supposed to be the ones to qualify based upon their performance in their respective Domestic League’s most recent Season
  • The Founding Clubs were under binding contractual agreements as per Florentino Pérez (first Chairman of the organisation)
  • Plans for designating the competition’s first tournament began in earnest in hopes of commencing “as soon as practicable”
  • As previously reported, US banking giant JP Morgan Chase were backing the ESL by providing an infrastructure grant of £2.9 Billion (approx.) to be shared among the competing Clubs through a debt financing deal that would be amortised over 23 years
  • The breakaway Clubs would need to pay down £228 Million (approx.) of that debt annually with the US investment giant attaching a 2% to 3% interest rate on the borrowing

(Goes without saying) The ESL proposals would have required also new contracts to be drawn up for Players and Staff.

 

What was the Premise behind the ESL?

At a time not too long ago; Football was a game for everyone until the Premier League and Champions League were created in the early 1990s.

After that ticket prices rose, Superagents sprung up out of nowhere to demand astronomical fees and the Clubs being forced to pay sky rocketing wages for Players (which only TV rights could only sustain).

These TV rights (besides monopolising) have also caused chaotic fixture lists and insatiable demands on Players, while showpiece competitions are being displayed on screens at questionable times on random days.

 

These same showpiece competitions that are being run by UEFA and FIFA (without a care in the world), see corporate tickets handed out aplenty while loyal Fans are (more likely than not) frozen out as they are either unable to buy a match ticket or simply priced out of the Finals.

Since 1998; there have been several plans for the formation of a “European Super League” but such tournaments (like the newly created avatar) never came to fruition especially after UEFA revamped the Champions League around the early 1990’s.

As such, it is important to note that (as per various reports) the ESL was founded mainly out of the growing frustration among the Founding Clubs and the refusal of UEFA to realise the full financial potential of European football that prevented the Clubs from growing their businesses and develop infrastructure.

Whenever Football faced crisis; the notions of a Super League were often floated but the brainchild behind the current avatar of the ESL was Florentino Pérez (Real Madrid CF President) as he had (many times) made his feeling known of forming such a League.

 

Being in the midst of a Global pandemic turned out to be the ideal smokescreen to push through the process to start the ESL and this was what the 12 Founding Clubs hoped for as that would have allowed them far greater scope to further monetise the broadcasting rights that would “hopefully” come along with the ESL.

During the same time; the Reds and the rest of Europe’s biggest Clubs were negotiating their Champions League position with UEFA by seeking greater financial concessions.

When the new Champions League proposal of the ‘Swiss Model’ was being ratified on 19 April 2021; the wheels for the ESL Fiasco were already been set in motion in the previous day as the Founding Clubs announced their plans of being part of the ESL on the Social Media platform.

 

UEFA’s latest controversial Champions League reform on 19 April 2021 weighted heavily in favour of the Clubs (who sought to tarnish the image of Champions League) and such changes only set to widen the bridge between the biggest Clubs and the rest.

Being one of Football’s biggest governing bodies meant that they simply cannot escape and carry on operating in the way that they have been so far.

Even for instance the use UEFA Away Goal especially in the midst of a Global Pandemic further validates UEFA’s preference for generating more revenue instead of finding ways to improve the game!

It is no wonder why the ESL Competition (though short-lived) was even formed in the first place and this is NEVER by any means to support the Owners of the 12 Founding Clubs.

 

Who were the Founding Clubs?

12 Clubs were announced as the Founding Clubs of the ESL with 3 more Clubs set to join prior to the inaugural Season.

The Founding Clubs included:

  • 3 Spanish Clubs (Real Madrid CF, FC Barcelona, Atlético Madrid)
  • 6 Premier League (or the ‘Big Six’ of England) (The Reds, Manchester United Fc, Chelsea Fc, Manchester City Fc, Arsenal Fc and Tottenham Hotspur Fc)
  • 3 Italian Clubs (Juventus FC, AC Milan and Inter Milan)

Despite publicly condemning the ESL; FC Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund and Paris Saint-Germain FC were speculated as the other Clubs to have been invited as initial participants of the competition.

With the hopes of commencing “as soon as practicable”; there were plans for designating on where the competition’s first tournament began.

 

So, what is the Format of the ESL?

The competition was originally proposed to feature 20 Clubs in total (which included the 12 Founding Clubs + 3 Prospective Clubs).

  • The remaining places were to be decided by a qualifying mechanism that was based on the performance of teams of the previous Season
  • The tournament was slated to start in August 2021
  • The Participating Teams would be split into 2 groups of 10
  • These Teams would then play home-and-away in a double round-robin format (18 Group games per team in total)
  • Fixtures were planned to take place during mid-weeks in order to allow the Clubs to participate in their respective Domestic Leagues
  • The top 3 Teams of each group qualify for the Quarter-finals
  • But the Teams finishing fourth and fifth from each group would compete in two-legged play-offs to determine the last 2 Quarter-finalists
  • The remainder of the competition was slated to take place in a four-week span at the end of the Season
  • (Similar to the UEFA Knockout Stages) The Quarter-finals and Semi-finals featured two-legged ties while the Final slated to be held in May would be contested as a single fixture at a neutral venue.
  • Each Season of the competition would feature 197 Matches (180 in the Group Stage and 17 in the knockout stage) (in total)

 

What were the responses from UEFA, FIFA, Premier League and Government across Europe regarding the ESL?

(Needless to say) In the wake of the initial announcement; UEFA (Governing Body that runs European Football) and FIFA (Governing Body that runs International Football) threatened the removal of the Clubs and Players that participates in the ESL from all other Competitions (including the World Cup).

While presenting themselves as the Divine Governors of the European Football; UEFA came out to attack the creation of a Super League and called the 12 Founding Clubs ‘Greedy Snakes’.

 

Voicing their support for UEFA, FIFA and Domestic Leagues; Governments across Europe especially UK voiced their utmost displeasure of the Clubs that were involved with the ESL and the British Government even threatened to impose stricter laws on the Premier Clubs that would participate in the ESL.

Aleksander Čeferin (UEFA President) however has been unclear so far on what sort of punishments UEFA will give to the Founding Clubs despite holding them accountable for their actions. It maybe on case-by-case basis with the Clubs that pulled off the earliest more likely to be given lesser punishments than the ones that still remains with the ESL.

 

By introducing the new rule to end any possible ambiguities around new competitions outside the existing football structures; the Premier League firmly decided to change its rules to ensure that Clubs face instant expulsion, if they try to join a another breakaway League or tournament (like the ESL) again like the ‘Big Six’ did last week.

The other European Leagues are more likely to follow the similar path of the Premier League by introducing and/ or amend rules to ban/ expel their respective Clubs from participating in any future Competitions that are deemed illegitimate by the respective European Leagues, UEFA and FIFA.

 

What were the other possible rationales behind the decision of the Fenway Sports Group (FSG) for the proposed Reds participation in the ESL?

Considering the Reds injury-plagued Season that is further exacerbated by the effects COVID-19 Pandemic on the Club’s revenue; it is therefore quite understandable on why FSG (The Reds Owners) would have embraced the idea of the Reds being part of the ESL as that would have guaranteed the Reds a place in the Continent’s top contest every year.

Having won the Champions League 2018-19 Title, UEFA Super Cup 2019, FIFA Club World Cup 2019 and the coveted Premier League 2019-20 Title; the Reds are now at serious risk of missing out on Champions League competition next Season as they continue to battle for a place in the top-four in the final weeks of the Season.

The massive potential to follow a closed-shop NFL-style Model and having the ability to negotiate the rights to their TV viewership as well as commercial deals was the dangling carrot (especially for the Founding Clubs).

 

What led to the ESL Fiasco?

Besides being a doomed tournament; the ESL was a foreseeable Fiasco as the ESL was formed only for the Owners’ vested interest as it was brokered entirely out of pure greed, arrogance and massive oversight.

Also; much of the criticism levelled against the ESL focused on illegitimacy, elitism and lack of competitiveness.

Soon after the announcement of the ESL Founding Clubs; Football Fans of the 12 Founding Clubs especially the Reds Fans showed their displeasure as they felt immense hurt, anger, shame and disgust of their respective Clubs for being part of the ESL.

 

The Former Players as well the current Reds Players (mainly through Social Media Platform) and Jürgen Klopp voiced their strong opposition of the ESL Competition (after being questioned on they felt about the ESL).

Klopp and the Reds Players especially felt angry and aggrieved for being thrown under by the bus by FSG while the American Owners quietly worked behind the scenes to form the ESL Competitions along with the other Founding Clubs!

Hardly days after announcing their involvement with the ESL, all the Premier League Clubs (including the Reds) involved eventually announced a dramatic U-turn and just in few days, 9 of the 12 Founding Clubs announced their decision to withdraw from the ESL (with only Real Madrid CF, FC Barcelona and Juventus FC remaining).

 

Whatever the trust and credibility built by FSG with the Fans instantly vanished like a puff of smoke.

Few days later; John W. Henry (Principal Owner – FSG) offered a grovelling apology to the Reds Fans and everyone connected with the Club (especially to Klopp) for the unwanted negative publicity brought to the Club.

Florentino Pérez and Andrea Agnelli reportedly might be at risk of losing their jobs with Real Madrid CF and Juventus FC respectively.

Ed Woodward fast tracked his planned departure and resigned his job with Manchester United Fc just hours before his Club announced their decision to pull out of the ESL.

In a matter of few days, the ESL announced the suspension of its failed operations but the Founding Clubs especially the Reds are yet to fully comprehend the long-term repercussions of their actions.

 

The US banking giant JP Morgan Chase has also apologized especially to the Global Football Community for their alleged involvement with the ESL.

The unjustified actions of JP Morgan Chase to fund the ESL competition prompted a sustainability rating agency to downgrade its assessment of JP Morgan’s ethical performance.

Especially in the eyes of the Fans; the ESL Fiasco can never be kept under the rugs and worse, wipe away the shame brought upon by the Club Owners.

 

After the ESL Fiasco, what would be the aftermath?

In relation to the Reds; there have been several outspoken conversations from the Fans and former Players as most would want FSG to sell the Reds to a Buyer who genuinely is interested in the Club Development and not just finances.

There were reports swirling around the Internet that prior to the ESL Fiasco; FSG rejected £3 Billion (approx.) takeover bid for the Reds from the Middle East.

In the Real World however especially with the ongoing Global Pandemic, such Takeover is unlikely to happen!

 

Still, there were also suggestions that FSG would be glad to sell after the ESL Fiasco. But, FSG’s huge elephant in the room is that the Reds value has spiralled almost tenfold since the takeover and the market value of the Reds would be upward of £2 Billion.

As such; there would be only very few potential buyers able to afford such astronomical price especially since we are in the midst of a Global Pandemic but a likelier scenario would be a Manchester United Fc Owner Glazer-style float on the US stock exchange.

Talks of possible punishments for their involvement with ESL were been discussed by UEFA and Premier League. The ‘Big Six’ (in particular) could face sanctions (like points deductions) for the next Season(s) and/ or huge financial penalties from the Premier League.

 

If the Reds has to pay such financial penalties, then FSG undoubtedly has to pay from their own pockets and NEVER in any way from the Club’s coffers.

Furthermore; Richard Masters (Premier League Chief Executive) had reportedly contacted the Executives of the ‘Big Six’ to relinquish their positions from the League’s subcommittees or risk being forcibly removed against their will by the Premier League.

The reasons some of the Fans and former Players reached their tipping point was because the ESL Fiasco was not the first time FSG has found themselves asking for forgiveness from the Reds faithful except only this time, John. W. Henry made a special personal apology video even though that can never suffice their latest unjustified actions of dragging the Club through the mud!

 

Lodging an application to trademark the word “Liverpool” caused outrage during their early years as Reds Owners; the 2016 Ticketing Fiasco forced a swift U-turn from FSG and the plans to avail the British Government’s furlough scheme were quickly shelved last year following similar outrage.

A massive summer spending spree may cover the sins in the eyes of some Fans but that is however highly unlikely to happen given the COVID-19 effects on the Club’s finances and the Owners‘ defiant nature of making the Club spend only within its means and this meant that the Reds forked out much lesser compared to their rivals.

In a short of space; FSG has undoubtedly made the Reds one of the laughing stocks of the game and this itself will be hard to forgive even for the most magnanimous Reds Fan.

 

Apart from buying the Reds at an unbelievably cheap price around October 2010; it goes without saying that the relationship between FSG and the Reds has always been strictly business related and FSG’s preference for money over success.

Despite their fallibility; FSG quickly learn from their mistakes. This is the same group that literally saved the Reds from the brink of Extinction; construct a magnificent £110 Million (approx.) Main Stand that has further enhanced the atmosphere; revitalised the Reds commercial operations to make the Reds as one of the most marketable brands on the planet; hired Klopp as Manager and among many others.

 

Yet being fully aware of the Kop based Fan Culture, Bill Shankly’s instilled ethos, the legendary Football comeback wins and heartbreaking tragedies suffered; so the most mind-numbing misjudgement from FSG was expecting the Fans to accept the ESL.

As such; unlike the other 12 Founding Clubs, the Reds suffered the most in terms of the Club Reputation in the long-run!

Moreover; the ESL Fiasco can never be swept under the rugs and will forever be a permanent stain on the Reds Legacy of FSG.

 

What can be done to improve Football (in General)?

The Fans (as always) show faith in the Club Owners of having expertise and trust that the Owners decisions are being made in the Club’s best interest.

So not each and every opinion on Football matters needs to be consulted with the Fans but having not consulted with the Fans on the biggest matters (like the ESL Competition) just shows little care and massive oversight by the Club Owners.

Being the Heart and Soul of the Club, the Fans are those that matter the most at every Football Clubs through their staunch Club support and spend their hard-earned cash to show their deep love for their beloved Club.

John W. Henry in his apology speech spoke about FSG’s need to restore the Fans trust after accepting responsibility of tarnishing the Club’s image (because of the ESL Fiasco).

 

But how can FSG restore the Fans’ trust, when even the most magnanimous Reds fan finds it hard to forgive after tarnishing the Reds image?

One way is by adopting similar Football Club Ownership business model (50+1) like the German Bundesliga but the Owners will need to wrest some of their control of the Club back to the Fans.

UEFA themselves also needs to channel the same energy used to crush the ESL and wrestle back control of European Football for eradicating all forms of discriminations (homophobia, racism, Gender pay inequality and so on) in Football as this beautiful game possesses the unique ability to change the World for the better; especially to those who sincerely care about the game.

 

Verdict: Premier League is arguably the best and hardest League in the world but the Champions League in its current form needs to improve.

With the view of maximising income, UEFA’s plans to increase the number of Teams from 2024 but that will pile more pressure on the Clubs and especially the Players (as they need to play both for their Club as well as for their Countries).

Unlike the 1990’s before the Premier League and the revamped Champions League were been introduced, now it’s all about TV rights and the wealth of the Clubs.

A Club of the Reds Legendary stature meant that FSG wants the Reds to consistently be on top of the Football Pyramid among the other big Clubs of Europe and this also helps to increase the Brand Value of the Club.

But such an endeavour like a better version of a ‘European Super League’ should be done the right way without antagonizing UEFA, FIFA, Premier League, Players (past and present), Staff and the Fans (the biggest of all).

Hopefully and more importantly; the ESL Fiasco becomes the catalyst for much needed changes in Football.

 

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