Football news this past week was dominated by the joint statement released by FIFA and the six Confederations against a potential European Super League. Their stance was that any player who features in such a competition would be barred from taking part in their competitions – meaning, World Cup, AFCON, etc.
Before we assess the potency of FIFA’s et al threat we need to undertstand, in summary, what the European Super League is. Actualization of this concept would completely change the organization of club football competition as we know it.
What is the European Super League? It is a concept of organizing European club football in a similar manner to the major US sports leagues like the NFL and NBA. The biggest football clubs in Europe would play in their own league, effectively killing the football pyramid system.
Where did the idea come from? Modern iteration of the European Super League idea has its roots in the late 1980s and early 1990s when football truly commercialized. Former AC Milan owner, Silvio Berlusconi led discussions of establishing the European Super League. Their idea did not come to life but the UEFA Champions League was created based on ideas justifying the Super League.
How would the Super League work? There have been many ideas thrown around over the years on how to organize the European Super League. The prominent idea right now is a Super League consisting of 20 teams – 15 would be permanent members and 5 would be invited every year. The teams would be split into two groups of 10 with the top 4 sides of each group advancing to a knockout phase, culminating in the crowning of a champion.
Why now? Covid-19 exposed the fragility of the football industry and its financially unsustainable model of operations. Europeans teams are spending up to 75% of their revenue on wages for instance. There is also the fact that the UEFA Champions League is supposed to adopt a new format in 2024.
Predictably, criticism against the European Super League has been vocal. And all the arguments against it are philosophical or appeal to emotions. Europeans, naturally, would be pro retaining of the status quo where the rest of the world is subservient to their football industry.
Establishment of a European Super League is bad for Europe, I guess, but would be the catalyst to bring good changes to the football scene in Africa. I would urge any fan of football in Africa to support it for the following reasons:
1. It will be a Correction Mechanism
I don’t know about you but for me it is wrong (philosophical argument, haha) for a small club like West Bromwich Albion to have bigger financial muscle than a giant like Al Ahly. And the only reason that teams in Europe of the stature of West Brom enjoy their massive revenues is because they get to lose to the biggest clubs in the world. These teams do not contribute significantly to the global appeal of European football yet benefit disproportionately from it.
It is hypocritical to cheer on European football concentrating football talent from all over the world (CAFCL just lost Mostafa Mohamed) while pretending to care about sporting merit and such nonsense.
2. Shift Focus to Club Football
CAF has refused to let go its obsession with international football. It is a cash cow for them as it is and trying to build up club football will be so much work. A European Super League would reduce the international competitions to Olympics Football standard and pedigree – going by the threat issued by FIFA and the six Confederations. This would force CAF, or its successor version, to focus on club football. Clubs are the one that train and pay all these footballers we see anyway.
3. Allow Africa to Retain Players
Europe has systematically dismantled domestic club football in Africa since the mid 1990s. They sign any half-decent players in Africa. The effect of this has been the decline in quality of domestic leagues in places like West Africa followed by departure of fans from the stands.
There is no protection mechanism for African clubs against losing playing talent to the richer European leagues in Africa. And most of our players go to the damnest clubs. For example, a CAFCL winner like Percy Tau has been made to yo-yo between the Belgian League and a side like Brighton. Sickening.
4. Innovation in Competition Format
Football leagues have become boring. This is the truth. Unless you are in Algeria, Nigeria or Japan, most fans know that their teams have no chance at winning any silverware. This can work in Europe, where all their clubs have a century of heritage. It also works in Egypt for Al Ahly fans (LOL). For Africa, it means that most clubs are unable to grow their following and thus cannot realize meaningful increases in revenue.
A European Super League will pave the way for taboo changes in football league formats like the establishment of Regional Leagues and closed format leagues. Who doesn’t want to see an East African Super League? CECAFA used to be fun.