A red card for the ESL

For three days earlier this week, the world of professional football was turned upside down as 12 teams from England, Italy and Spain attempted to create the European Super League (ESL). After an unprecedented outcry from fans, sporting figures, soccer regulators, politicians, managers, players and indeed other rival football clubs, the idea has been scrapped. As a result, the owners of the clubs have mostly apologised to their supporters and are attempting to restore their now damaged relationship with the customers who buy seats in their stadiums.

The ESL was an attempt by the 12 — Uefa, the Union of European Football Associations has terms them the “dirty dozen” — to set up a breakaway competition, one where 15 founding clubs would compete without fear of relegation, with five other “smaller” teams joining them each year, an entry based on their domestic success. The ESL teams would also compete in their respective nation’s domestic leagues.

This proposal would effectively remove the key principle of merit from football, creating an elite who could not lose even if they failed on the field — which is contrary to the very essential element of competition. The good win; there are consequences for loss; there is reward for effort; the small can overcome the large; fairytales and rags to riches stories of success can happen.

The ESL was instead self-serving — a cartel of franchises that ignored the history and heritage of the game, the pyramid structure that means small teams are promoted, bigger teams can be demoted — and it flew in the face of the basic rules of governance that administers the sport at national and international levels. Indeed, the prospect of ESL players being banned from the European Nations Cup and World Cup stages was one of the reasons this misguided venture failed to leave the starting gate.

But the organisers of the ESL do at least deserve credit for highlighting the need for restructuring of competitions in Europe. Yes, there is a need for more teams to take part, just not at the expense of a permanency guaranteed to sides who have self-designated themselves as somehow superior.

If anything, Uefa’s Europa League, the secondary competition played across Europe, has not been mentioned in this controversy — perhaps a sign that it is indeed irrelevant and should go as a result of the reforms shown to be needed. The fallout from the venture is yet to unfold. But for now, the fans have won.



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