2021 was the year the silent majority in football finally found its voice | European Super League


Rremarkably, the website is still live. Eight months after the European Super League disintegrated into an embarrassing fireball, you’d think its founders would want to erase all traces of their pride and humiliation. But that might be giving them too much jurisdiction. And it remains to this day: “The Super League is a new European competition between 20 best clubs comprising 15 founders and five annual qualifiers. Well, good luck with that.

There is of course an alternative theory. After all, the Super League is not quite dead in the legislative sense yet; certainly not if we are to believe the loud and persistent confessions of Andrea Agnelli to Juventus, Joan Laporta to Barcelona and Florentino Pérez to Real Madrid, the last three hoarse men of the apocalypse. Meanwhile, the impulses that generated the Super League – greed, inequality, changes in financial models, Covid – have not gone away. Maybe on second thought, the fact that the Super League website is still live isn’t an oversight, but a warning.

The Super League junk may have been a rare moment of harmony in a toxic clan game – and really, it takes some effort to unite the commentary, the players, the coaches, the broadcasters, the vast majority of clubs. and the vast majority of fans disgusted with your product. But in the days and weeks that followed, fans spoke openly about a new pact in football, a renegotiated and fairer power deal that puts fans and communities at the heart of its concerns. As we approach the end of one of the most tumultuous and resentful years in football history, how is it going?

In order to answer that question, let’s start with Oldham, who banned three of his own fans from Boundary Park for “promoting aversion” to club owner Abdallah Lemsagam, before reversing his decision amid a backlash. generalized. During his three years at the helm, Lemsagam oversaw nine leadership changes and a drop to 23rd in League 2. Explaining his initial decision (taken from his home in Dubai), Lemsagam offered this reasoning: “S ‘they don’t behave like everyone else who watches the game, they deserve to be banned. If you want to protest, no one can stop you. But why can’t I ban you too?

In a way, this is the fundamental ideological flaw in modern football: what is a club and to whom does it belong? The romantic will tell you that a club is the sum of its people and its history, which players and coaches go through but the fans stay loyal, that the owners are just guardians preserving the institution for the next generation. The three briefly banned fans may think Oldham is more their club than Lemsagam’s. But Companies House deposits will tell a very different story.

A mural in Rome depicting Juventus president Andrea Agnelli puncturing a soccer ball with a knife. Juve backed the doomed European Super League breakaway. Photograph: Andrew Medichini / AP

This is why any attempt to portray the power imbalance in football as one of the bigger clubs versus smaller clubs, or even bigger leagues and smaller leagues, often obscures as much as it illuminates. Part of the ideological opposition to the Super League was based on the idea of ​​football as a pyramid: a linked whole leading not only to investment, but also to aspiration and hope. But within that structure all kinds of small, complex battles are fought: between fans and owners, fans and other fans, players and governing bodies, clubs and agents, clubs and broadcasters, broadcasters and fans.

Economist Paul Mason argues that football is not so much a pyramid as it is a ‘class struggle’: between fans and players on one side, and the crowded ranks of owners, broadcasters, the financial sector and great technologies on the other. While one side has most of the human fervor, talent and emotion, the other has just about everything else. For modern capitalism, football is essentially a product to be sold, to be generated, to be cultivated, to be distributed. Anything that distracts attention from this fundamental goal – player well-being, fan sentiment, 3pm kick-offs – must by extension be removed.

Manchester United supporters protest against Glazers' property outside Old Trafford in April
Manchester United supporters protest against the Glazers property outside Old Trafford in April. Photograph: James Gill – Danehouse / Getty Images

The Super League has perfectly crystallized this vision. Too perfectly: By explicitly stating his intention to convert 65 years of European football history into some kind of fungible on-demand content stream, a closed circus, a Vegas residence, he horrified not only longtime fans ” heritage ”, but also supporters of the status quo. The snapback was modest but not without consequences. Manchester United’s first-ever Fan Advisory Council will meet in January with Joel Glazer in attendance. Liverpool and Chelsea have announced similar plans. None of this would have happened without the Super League.

So is this a defining moment? Have the bosses of the biggest clubs undergone a damascene conversion to democracy? Or was it just an attempt to avoid the more far-reaching reforms proposed by the fan-led government review, which was unveiled last month with proposals for an independent regulator and a tax on Premier transfer fees. League?

The fierce backlash from some owners to these latest proposals – Leeds general manager Angus Kinnear called them ‘Maoists’ – suggests that any meaningful change in the game will have to be won against the strongest resistance. And besides, what vehicles are available for the change? Fifa? National governments? Fan boycotts? Good luck with all of this.

What is certainly true is that the appetite for change is there. Breaking with the traditional model of football saturation and endless growth is no longer a niche opinion but a dominant one. “Football needs to change quickly,” Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti said in a recent interview. “The quality of the show has dropped a lot. The players can’t take it anymore. Fatigue, injuries, matches that end 10-0. Enough is enough. ”This isn’t a conversation we had 20 or even five years ago.

But of course, everyone agrees on the need for change. It is the direction that is contested. For people like Ancelotti boss Pérez, the answer to the competitive imbalance is simply for Madrid to stop playing against teams like Elche and Leganés (“I don’t think it’s more appealing to watch unfamiliar teams”, he said during the infamous El Chiringuito interview in April). The answer to player fatigue is to cut games down to 45 or 60 minutes with many commercial breaks for broadcasters.

Supporters protest against Oldham Athletic owner Abdallah Lemsagam
Supporters demonstrate against Oldham Athletic owner Abdallah Lemsagam. Photograph: MI News / NurPhoto / Shutterstock

The Super League itself may have been defeated, but its ideas continue to triumph everywhere. In April, UEFA quietly adopted its new 36-team Champions League format which provides an even greater safety net for bigger clubs. Juventus and Paris Saint-Germain may have been toppled in Italy and France, but elsewhere established giants have firmly dismissed any notion that Covid could offer a temporary leveling of the playing field.

Sheriff Tiraspol has won six consecutive titles in Moldova, Red Bull Salzburg eight consecutive titles in Austria, Bayern Munich nine consecutive titles in Germany, Ludogorets 10 consecutive titles in Bulgaria. Across Europe, clubs are teaming up with cryptocurrency companies for the sole purpose of treating their fans more for cash. In England, teams emaciated by the virus are forced to play three games in a week because no one is brave or mad enough to slow the gravy train.

And yet, even on these gloomy, deadly winter days, there is still a glimpse of something better. The Super League protests have shown us that when fans, players and true football fans speak with one voice, not even the most powerful men in the game can thwart them.

Eight months later, much of that initial energy may have diffused and dissipated, but the drive to change football for the better has not subsided. In time, we may return to 2021 as the year when football’s silent majority finally, tentatively, discovered its voice.


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