“There is nothing permanent except change” – Heraclitus
Change has always been met with a lot of controversies, outright protest and occasionally a warm embrace. The change could be necessitated by nature or man, the former we have zero control over and the latter has often time caused disagreement and in extreme cases war. Therefore, most football enthusiasts were surprised by the announcement of the European Super League (ESL). A breakaway league from the UEFA Club competitions, which has been greeted with a relative number of outbursts from football fans, pundits, players, coaches and administrators.
The ESL is predicated on financial gain and there is nothing negative about this, as the UEFA Club competitions are also organized to make money. The ESL has been mooted albeit behind closed doors, as the next step in European football competition. This is based on the following factors:
- The desire of the so-called “Top Clubs” wanting more from the revenue generated by UEFA organized competitions. A couple of years back, former Arsenal F.C coach, Arsene Wenger made a controversial comment on the possibility of a breakaway league based on the unwillingness of some “Top Clubs” of sharing revenue generated from UEFA organized club competitions with other relatively smaller clubs. Finance is a major factor in football, it pays the bills, it buys the best players, coaching staff, training facilities and ultimately determines the survival of the club (see the administrative case of Portsmouth F.C; https://www.google.com/amp/s/amp.theguardian.com/football/2010/feb/05/portsmouth-balram-chainrai-sacha-gaydamak). In a business, where fans regularly criticize club owners for not investing in their clubs, for not making available the cash to buy the best legs, for the club’s inability of keeping their best players e.t.c. In the mix of these, the Top clubs have to comply with the financial fair play rule. A rule designed to restrict clubs from spending more than they earn, to forestall the constant drain of talents from smaller clubs and also maintain a level of competitiveness between the Top clubs and smaller clubs. The effect of the rigid regulations has fared well for the small teams as planned, however, the top clubs have been made to comply with these rules or face sanctions (a plethora of cases exist on financial fair play violations; https://sqaf.club/financial-fair-play-which-teams-have-been-punished-ffp/ ). A revolt similar to the E.S.L could occur, if an amendment fails to be effected (see https://www.goal.com/en/news/football-leaks-could-man-city-psg-overturn-ffp-in-court/1jtln6fw19enj1pwwn7sm11m7t?_gl=1*1uk6mcc*_ga*Z29hbF91c2VyXzM1Mw)
- The lack of investment security for the Top Clubs. Every investor’s mindset is to limit loss and maximize profit. The current logic behind the qualification for the UEFA champions league has not offered any form of financial guaranty for the top clubs (particularly in the English Premier League). Though, the prospect of a big team missing out of the UCL further increases the level of competitiveness and increases the stakes and ultimately drives up the revenue generated by the organizers of the domestic leagues. However, this is an annual nightmare for the so-called Top clubs, especially their owners. The owners are not thrilled by the prospect of missing out on an elite and money-spinning competition and the resultant effect on the revenue of their respective clubs. The unpredictability of football is not the only factor that makes football so valuable, the inclusion of popular/traditional European clubs is what adds glamour to the game. These top clubs parade the best talents, a rich and enviable history. These club owners are saddled with the responsibility of maintaining and growing the club’s finance and as a result of that obligation, they also have the unfettered prerogative to come up with a new financial strategy to up the revenue stream of their clubs. Reduction in the revenue generated by the “Top Clubs” cannot be prevented by the domestic football associations, UEFA and FIFA, who bears no financial risk if any of these top teams hit financial crises. Come to think of it, during the Covid-19 pandemic some of the top teams were directly or indirectly bullied to restrain from putting their workers on furlough under the rationale that they are a big team with deep pockets. The prejudice against the rich could sometimes be harsh and unforgiving.
- The economic impact of the Covid-19 Pandemic has an immediate cause and justification for such a ruthless business venture. It is no secret that the world has been hit hard by the raging impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, football is no exception, from the disappearance of fans from stadiums, which had a multiplying effect on the finance of all clubs, ambience and competitiveness of the game. Still, the financial commitment of the club’s must be met. During hard times, innovation is the catalyst for turning the tide and this must have been at the front burner during the consideration of a breakaway league, irrespective of the obvious financial benefits for the club owners, a new league would usher in a fresh look to modern-day football (irrespective of the effect good or bad). As we have seen, the outbursts and opposition against the ESL are mainly on the preservation of the old ways of European club competitions. UEFA has acknowledged the need for change, however, the move towards the introduction of elite competition for the powerhouses of club football cannot be banished. Maybe, what the organizers of the ESL need do, is to involve the stakeholders at FIFA, UEFA, the domestic football associations, FIFPRO and fans.
LEGAL PRINCIPLES IN SUPPORT OF A BREAKAWAY LEAGUE
1. Freedom of association
Human rights are fundamental, universal and basic rights afforded to every person irrespective of their beliefs, political affiliation, race, sex, sexual orientation and in this case greed. As humans, we have the freedom to align ourselves with others, socio-political or economic groups, movement, union e.t.c so far it is within the confines of the law. As UEFA and FIFA are an association with the objective of promoting and developing football, they do not have any power to restrain, declare illegal or seek to abolish the emergence of a competing association. Any legal action on this basis will likely fail completely.
2. Antitrust (Competition) Law
We live in a predominantly capitalist world and most of the countries in Europe operates in a capitalist economic system. Therefore, in a laissez faire economy, there is an unfettered freedom to establish any business enterprise of your choice (after fulfilling all regulatory compliance). This is based on the preventing the domination of a sector by a single corporation. In a capitalist economy, there’s no room for monopoly or any tendencies to act as such. Hence, the reason why most countries enacted Anti Trust Laws in their legal system. The threat issued by UEFA and FIFA is baseless and hypocritical. A commercial Court in Madrid has gone to the extent of restraining UEFA to refrain from acting against the E.S.L based on this principle of law (See https://www.google.com/amp/s/news.sky.com/story/amp/european-super-league-chairman-were-doing-this-to-save-football-12280831).
EFFECT OF THE SUPER LEAGUE ON UEFA CLUB COMPETITIONS
1. It automatically downgrades the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League to a 2nd and 3rd tier league respectively.
2. It will lead to a restructuring of the affected domestic leagues as founding clubs would not be affected by the qualification spots for the UEFA Club competitions and ultimately affect the value and revenue generated by the domestic leagues.
3. Introduction of the American styled franchise football as opposed to the conventional European football based on sporting merit.
4. Possibility of a draft system to complement orthodox transfers.
5. A precedent to other continental and national football associations that they do not have the monopoly of football.
THE RATIONALE BEHIND THE DISSOLUTION/SUSPENSION OF THE E.S.L AND UEFA REFORMS
Officially the E.S.L lasted for less than 72 hours, however, its impact was felt by the entire football family. It largely reunited fans and other stakeholders to stand against limiting the number of teams into the so-called elite football. However, in as much as it was a win for the fans, it was a fundamental win for the Top Clubs, they have succeeded in holding football hostage for a brief moment and ultimately UEFA made a major concession to protect the interest of both parties. The new reforms which will take effect by 2024, expands the number of teams from 32 to 36, the group stage will be replaced with a league format. Importantly, two (2) teams who don’t qualify through their domestic league but have the highest UEFA coefficient will qualify (this season Tottenham and Arsenal would have been the beneficiary of this system). The Top clubs now have extra guaranteed spots in the UCL (based on a skewed sporting merit).
The reforms will also have its share of criticism (https://www.goal.com/en/news/champions-league-reforms-are-sht-to-the-power-of-ten-too/rz23hz96ziix1w937eikcvb84) but the reality is finance is a major consideration for the stakeholders in football despite it opposition by its biggest consumer (fans), as the financial requirements for running modern day football is getting more expensive. As a result of this, every club owner will welcome any idea that will boast its revenue, however, a lesson learnt from the dissolution of the ESL is, in the future, such a proposal should be based on sporting merit (which is predicated on an all inclusive competition).
In conclusion, this should be a warning signal to the officials of the Confederation of African Football (C.A.F) and other National Football Associations in Africa, to take a cue from the events that unfolded in Europe (a model system for the rest of the world), that football must be run efficiently, lest a radical change beckon.