Football & Management

The European Super League – Flickering flame or a fire put out?

Real Madrid president Florentino Perez remains defiant and reportedly warned the exiting clubs that they cannot leave the binding contracts they signed. He considers the ESL a project that was created to save football. With these words, it appears that the power tussle will not go away”.

The noise surrounding the short-lived European Super League (ESL) is petering out. Billionaire football club owners have eaten humble pie, penning open letters, or making videos to apologise to fans for the bad judgement. The fallout is reverberating within the football world. This was the crazy 48 hours that saw the rise and swift fall of a proposed breakaway European Super League of twelve top tier Football clubs from England, Spain and Italy. It was intended to rival the UEFA Champions League and to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars to the invited clubs.

Whatever else history will make of this episode, it will go down first and foremost as a massive PR fail. Communication 101 went completely out of the window. Given the scale of the proposal and the opponents that it would go head-to-head with, this was one of the most surprising elements of the whole fiasco. There was no build up to the announcement and stakeholders were not carried along.

The quickly named ‘Dirty Dozen’ became the villains of the piece, vilified as turncoats interested only in the financial gain and thinking nothing about the fans and about football as a sport loved by millions. The six English Premier League clubs now seen as more traitorous than Judas Iscariot.

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If we were to block out the condemnation for a short while, we would see that the foundation for the breakaway league was laid years ago.  Ex player, John Barnes nailed it in his recent radio interview when he said, “In 1992, football sold out.” Many will agree. That was the year twenty-two clubs in England’s Football League First Division chose to break away from the league giving birth to the financially lucrative Premier League.

The Premier League has grown to be a global brand with estimated worldwide audiences in the billions. Premier League champions benefit financially in the region of $180m. Gradually, the ‘smaller’ teams have been growing farther away from the traditional top four. Average annual player salaries at Manchester City are just over $8m, while at Sheffield United it is about $900,000. The transfer market is just as distorted.  Net spend over the last five years shows tens of millions of dollars for the top clubs with near negative figures for the bottom clubs. Fairy-tale stories such as that of Leicester City winning the league in 2016 are few and far between.

Across the other leagues, there is a similar story. The usual suspects continue to dominate the domestic leagues in Spain, Italy, Germany, and France. Top performing teams in the UEFA Champions League barely change. The uncomfortable truth is that those clubs with the deepest pockets have a greater chance of winning silverware.

If you can afford to pay Lionel Messi’s reputed weekly wage of about $600,000 or make history by paying record transfer fees for Cristiano Ronaldo, you are already at an advantage. Fans enjoy the benefits of having high-profile players and a bulging trophy cabinet. Agents are smiling to the bank.

Broadcasting revenues are excellent: the financial rewards are numerous, and the positive effects are far-reaching.

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Continuing the role of devil’s advocate, would Chelsea fans swap their post-Abramovich silverware for “cold nights in Stoke” as one of the protesting fans’ banners loudly proclaimed? Are we going to pretend not to know that Paris Saint Germain broke transfer records to bring in both Neymar and Mbappé? Football has grown far beyond the community projects that they once were. It’s impossible to turn back time. Millions of fans in Africa and Asia buy into the global brands. It is a multibillion-dollar industry whether fans like it or not.

Following the furious backlash from fans, players and managers, the ESL flame seems to have been doused. Real Madrid president Florentino Perez remains defiant and reportedly warned the exiting clubs that they cannot leave the binding contracts they signed. He considers the ESL a project that was created to save football. With these words, it appears that the power tussle will not go away. Football lovers all over the world appear ready for the fight. Various groups are asking for reforms in the club structure. For now, the voice of the fans is the loudest. Football belongs to them.

Lande Abudu

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