Nobody realised how consequential 18 April was going to be in the history of football before rumours started that the formation of an "elite" European competition was to be announced, catching many fans off-guard.
Even though Uefa, the English Football Association & the Premier League, the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF), the Italian Football Federation & the Lega Serie A collectively threatened to ban the involved clubs & players from all domestic, European & global competitions, 12 of the biggest football clubs in the world: Arsenal, AC Milan, Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Chelsea, Internazionale, Juventus, Liverpool, Manchester United, Manchester City, Real Madrid & Tottenham Hotspur went ahead & announced the formation of the European Super League, a tournament to make football, supposedly, more competitive. Additionally, they created an association to regulate this league, headed by the incumbent president of Real Madrid, Florentino Perez. Even though many fans were surprised by the announcement, this event was almost 6 years in the making.
We will start our story with a club that is not in the Super League, Bayern Munich. On 3 February 2016, Michael Gerlinger, the head of the legal department of the club sent an email to an international law firm named Cleary Gottlieb.
In this seemingly mundane email, Gerlinger basically asked the firm about the possibility of Bayern facing legal consequences if they leave the Bundesliga. Turns out, even though Bayern can legally leave their domestic competition, their players also sign a contract with the Bundesliga authorities & as a consequence, their players could cancel their contracts & move to another Bundesliga team.
But the origin of this idea still seems completely unwarranted. To discover the origin of this idea, we have to go back to December of 2015.
On 17 December 2015, Charlie Stillitano, an influential American football organizer sent an email to two Real Madrid executives. That email contained the initial proposal & the format for a European League, which seems eerily similar to the current format of ESL: 20 elite European teams will be divided into two groups & play against each other, mostly during the weekdays. After the group stage, there will be a knockout stage.
To be completely candid, an exclusive tournament containing the best clubs of the continent is not a completely novel idea.
Ex-owner of AC Milan Silvio Berlusconi & Florentino Perez have tried to organize such tournaments. But those seemed inconsequential compared to Stillitano's proposal, not least because of the financial reward.
Stillitano promised each club an annual revenue of more than 500 million euros annually from that tournament alone whereas Bayern Munich only won 130 million euros after winning the UCL last season.
After convincing Real, Stillitano met up with the traditional top six teams from England.
The Sun reported a meeting between Ed Woodward of Manchester United, Ian Ayre of Liverpool, Ferran Soriano of Manchester City, Bruce Buck of Chelsea & Ivan Gazidis of Arsenal. After convincing the English giants, he travelled to Germany to meet up with Gerlinger.
As a result of Stillitano's efforts, representatives from 7 European clubs like Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Juventus, Barcelona, Manchester United, Arsenal & AC Milan met up with Uefa executives to make their demands which included: a 24-team UCL, reserved spots from teams that have done exceptionally well in European competitions in the past & the power of organizing the tournament alongside the Uefa.
In the end Real Madrid, Barcelona, Juventus & Bayern Munich allegedly came to an agreement with the organization to completely restructure its financial base where these bigger clubs would always get more money, regardless of their places in the UCL.
Needless to say, that plan did not come into fruition even though it cracked the core of European football wide open & showed how reliant Uefa is on these big clubs.
All of this information was published by the whistleblower organization Football Leaks, which collaborated with the European Investigative Collaborations (EIC) which includes reputed news agencies like Reuters & prestigious German magazine Der Spiegel who eventually published the story in 2018, as another chapter started to unfold in the history of European football.
On 22 October of that year, Florentino Perez received an email containing a 13-page long attachment titled "Binding Terms Sheet".
The document contained an evolved plan for the formation of the Super League where 11 teams: Real Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester United, Bayern Munich, Juventus, Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester City, Liverpool & AC Milan were labelled as the "Founders" while 5 other clubs like Atletico Madrid, Borussia Dortmund, Olympique De Marseille, Inter Milan & AS Roma were referred as the "Initial Guests". These 18 clubs were to meet in Madrid in the November of 2018 to formalize the creation of the European Super League.
The document also claimed that the Champions League will cease to exist after 2021 & ESL will take its place as the competition for continental glory.
Although we do not know exactly why this proposal never materialized, we can now assess the effect ESL will have on European football.
The tournament has been formed at a crucial moment. Almost all clubs have suffered financially due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
According to the market analyst KPMG, the top 20 European clubs have lost more than a billion euro in revenue due to the pandemic & only Bayern Munich, Liverpool & Real Madrid reported profits.
As the second wave of the Coronavirus hit the continent, supporters were not allowed to enter their stadiums, completely cutting off one of the major sources of revenue for the clubs. While some clubs have wealthy owners like Roman Abramovich of Chelsea & Sheikh Mansour of Manchester City, others are desperate for an influx of cash, especially Barcelona, Arsenal & Tottenham. ESL has promised 10 billion euros as solidarity payment during the initial commitment phase & the founding clubs will get 3.5 million euros to develop their infrastructure.
Backed by an investment of $5 billion by American financial juggernaut JPMorgan Chase, the financial reward for these clubs seems vast & secure.
But the situation for smaller clubs was far worse. Due to having a relatively small localized fan community, they did not have significant assets, to begin with. This, coupled with the reduction in their matchday revenue, put them into dangerous positions. They also could not afford to take loans due to their lack of financial viability.
Comparatively, clubs from the Premier League were better off than their counterparts in La Liga, primarily due to the lack of a broadcasting revenue sharing scheme in Spain.
While Premier League clubs sell their broadcasting rights collectively & share the profits among themselves almost equally, La Liga clubs sell their broadcasting rights individually.
Therefore, clubs like Atletico Bilbao, Sevilla, Valencia or Real Betis receive far less than the traditional three giants: Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid & Barcelona. As a result, the La Liga trophy almost never goes out of the hands of these clubs. In fact, the last club to win the trophy who was not one of these three clubs was Valencia, who won in the 2003-04 season.
The premier league has always been far more competitive, as a result of its financial structures.
Two of the traditional top six clubs: Arsenal & Tottenham are not even in the top six of the current EPL table. Stillitano actually unveiled his proposal during the 2015-16 season, when Leicester City won their first Premier League title, a story fit to be a fairy tale. But even then, the title is traditionally won by the aforementioned six English giants. The last time the trophy went to a different club before 2016 was in 1995 when Blackburn Rovers won the league.
A similar situation can also be seen in Serie A. AS Roma was the last club to win the scudetto who were not a part of the Italian Big Three: Juventus, AC Milan & Inter Milan & that was back in 2001. We can also see the domination of Juventus who has won the league title nine consecutive times.
If Uefa & the respective domestic football associations bend & let the clubs participate in the domestic leagues, there will remain no competitive uncertainty.
It will be virtually impossible for even promising clubs like Sevilla, Real Sociedad, Leicester City, Leeds United, West Ham, AS Roma, Lazio or Napoli to win their national titles as the big clubs will have far more money & resources.
On the other hand, the competitiveness of the Champions League will also be reduced. Revenue distribution of the UCL mainly depends on the clubs' standings in their respective domestic tournaments.
As these big clubs will be dominant in their own leagues, they would receive more money than the other clubs, undoubtedly reducing the appeal of the European glory.
However, if Uefa does not budge & maintain their ban on these clubs, both the domestic league & the UCL will suffer financially.
These clubs have supporters around the globe & naturally garner huge popularity for their domestic leagues. It is almost certain that there will be a reduction in broadcasting revenue of the Premier League since six of its biggest clubs will leave.
The overall popularity of La Liga & Serie A will also diminish, reducing the net worths of the tournaments.
But the supporters of these storied clubs are set to lose the most. Even though it might not seem this way to us, these clubs are primarily supported by their local communities.
Liverpool have always been the club of the working class of the city, Barcelona has always been a rallying point for Catalans.
While Real Madrid has traditionally been the club of the wealthy, conservative elites of Madrid, Atletico has been the club of the poor, the 'Colchoneros'.
The socio-economic contexts of their countries, their shared history in their domestic leagues & in European competitions colour their rivalries & sense of competition.
Plucking these teams out of context will genuinely reduce the participation of the local fans, who had no say in this process.
We have already seen club ultras, supporters & former players rage against the ESL. Some rivalries like the Catalonia derby between Barcelona & Espanyol, the Merseyside derby between Liverpool & Everton & the Turin derby between Juventus & Torino will be lost forever.
It is certain that the clubs who have decided to join ESL will receive enormous financial rewards. But their efforts will reduce the main factors that make European football popular worldwide: competitiveness & uncertainty.
They are set to create a monopolistic system where only the richest clubs can hope to compete & kill 66 years of European football solidarity & legacy in the process.