Mercifully, the curtain was brought down on football’s ‘Packer Circus’ in less than 48 hours. Credit to Chelsea fans who took their protest to the Bridge and unnerved the club owner. Credit to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson for threatening the proposed European Super League with a “legislative bomb”. Credit to the British royalty for lending support to the commoners’ fight. Credit to Gary Neville, whose put-down of the breakaway league on mainstream media was Churchill-esque. Together, all of them ensured that football escaped to victory.
The proposed Super League went against the two basic fundamentals of the sport, fair-play and fair competition. It was a by-product of avarice.
Uber-wealthy owners of six self-styled English super clubs and some of their continental counterparts showed complete disregard for the fans and more importantly, what football stood for.
The world’s most popular sport is a celebration of the collective. For the owners of Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal, Manchester City, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur, however, bank-balance was all that mattered.
Last Sunday, only a few hours before the clubs had announced the creation of the breakaway league, Burnley, placed 17th in the Premier League table, gave United a mighty scare. Only in the dying moments, did United secure three points through a third goal. Before that, Arsenal needed a 96th minute equaliser to take a point against relegation-threatened Fulham. The Premier League’s broadcast rights value of £9.2 billion is down to this competition. It’s the toughest league in the world which is why fans pay hefty subscription fees to watch the matches on television and internet. The ‘wretched-six’ didn’t want this competition for being richer than the rest.
Spurs haven’t won the league since 1961. Arsenal haven’t won it since 2004. Currently they are placed sixth and ninth respectively in the league table. They don’t have a single European Cup to show for. ‘Silly money’ and ‘kamikaze spending’ haven’t yet taken City to the European football summit. They had the temerity to bypass Ajax, the club of Johan Cruyff and Rinus Michels, with four European Cups in their trophy cabinet. The also-rans and nouveau riche considered themselves European elite. Laughable.
Leicester City are placed third in the Premier League table and West Ham United could well have a top-four finish this term ahead of Chelsea, Liverpool and Tottenham. Leicester City winning the league in 2015-16 from being 5,000-1 underdogs was one of the most emotionally rewarding stories that football could offer. Fair competition allowed them to overcome the odds. But the ‘greedy-six’ became uneasy. They closed ranks to ensure that such upsets didn’t happen again. The proposed closed-shop league trickled down from their feudal mindset.
The Premier League condemned the idea of the Super League. “The Premier League condemns any proposal that attacks the principles of open competition and sporting merit which are at the heart of the domestic and European football pyramid,” it said in a strongly-worded statement.
Too late. The Premier League allowed capitalists, oligarchs and petrodollars to take control of an English community sport; men who were only interested in money and cared a damn about football. The whole thing came back to haunt the English football set-up. Greedy owners demanded their pound of flesh.
United legend Gary Neville erupted on Sky Sports in his condemnation of the Super League. “They’re breaking away to a competition they can’t be relegated from? It’s an absolute disgrace. We have to wrestle back power in this country from the clubs at the top of this league – and that includes my club. It’s pure greed, they’re impostors,” he said. He showed the honesty to publicly speak about being “complicit” for not raising his voice when the Glazers’ takeover of United happened in 2005. The Glazers’ takeover has drained more than £1 billion out of the club.
In fact, the less said about United and Liverpool the better. A level playing field allowed United to rise like a phoenix from the Munich wreckage. Fair competition allowed them to bounce back after they were relegated from the old first division in 1974. Mind, railway workers of Lancashire founded the club as Newton Heath.
As for Liverpool, a club that claims to represent the Merseyside working class, their rise from a second division outfit to six European Cups happened because a fair system allowed their forward march.
These owners were dismissive of the football pyramid. They didn’t want promotion and relegation. They despised a top-four scrap. There was a sense of entitlement, as if they had a god-given right to sit at the high table for the being club football’s biggest revenue generators.
Don’t read too much into their mea culpas. They had no other option after a heavy defeat. It would be important not to lower the guard. As Neville said, the “scavengers” need “booting out” of the game. United’s executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward’s impending departure is a good beginning. He has always been the Glazers’ go-to man.
Actually, the sextet’s – the ‘dirty dozen’ in Europe to be precise – plans weren’t well thought-through and prisoners of their hubris, they underestimated fan-power and undermined their footballers and managers. So along with the supporters and authorities, a massive vote of thanks to Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp and his City counterpart Pep Guardiola for speaking out against a project that was devised by their employers. A big round of applause for United captain Harry Maguire and his teammate Luke Shaw for confronting Woodward and then voicing their protest on social media. Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson played a stellar role to unite the footballers cutting across club colours. Harry Kane, the England captain, were you on a holiday?
The Super League is now dead and hopefully buried, and every sane mind is celebrating its downfall. And maybe, the BCCI, too, shall take note. It might sound a little far-fetched at the moment, but the Indian board that owns one of the richest leagues in the world, should never cede control of its property to ‘outsiders’.