It’s the year 2025 and the tenth season of the European Super League (ESL) is just around the corner.
Anticipation levels are through the roof, especially in Malaysia where this year’s competition will take place. Vodafone Reds of Manchester are the favourites to add to their already impressive collection of Budweiser Bowls. Their local rivals, the Etihad Blues however cannot be counted out after flexing their bulging financial muscles in the off-season trades. Of course, the Qatari Catalans will pose a threat and there is much intrigue regarding two of the new teams joining the “greatest show on artificial grass.” The Adidas All-stars and the Puma erm… Pumas may be new to the league but already boast an impressive roster of talent.
Seeing as we are approaching a decade of the ESL now seems as good a time as any to look back at the tumultuous birth and formative years of the league.
Back in 2012-2014 an archaic body named UEFA, who ran football in Europe at the time, phased in a system of financial constraints, known as Financial Fair Play (FFP), in an effort to reign in what they saw as reckless and damaging spending amongst Europe’s top clubs. These draconian, borderline Marxist regulations essentially denied access to the ESL’s predecessor, the European Champions League (the name is misleading, it was neither a league nor was it contested by only champions, in fact even Liverpool FC were able to lift this trophy despite not having been champions of anything since before records began) unless (get this!) clubs expenditure matched their income. Ludicrous. Football clubs were being told to break even. Absurd.
How the suits at UEFA were unable to see the inevitable revolution is truly baffling, especially when the creation of the English Premier League in 1992 provided such an apt historical precedent.
The revolution was swift, it was bloody and of course, it was televised.
Now while it is true that revolution was inevitable – forcing football clubs living within their means? Even after all this time it still tickles me – great credit must be given to the man whose drive and determination facilitated the uprising. That man is former chairman of BSkyB and current frontrunner for President of the World, the indefatigable Rupert Murdoch.
When UEFA denied a multitude of English and Spanish clubs European licenses for the 2014-15 season, there was palpable shock amongst the footballing community. President elect Murdoch though is not easily shocked and whilst others dithered, he was decisive. He saw and seized his opportunity.
For too long footballs potential to maximise revenue had been constricted by not only socialist legislation from that arrogant French communist Michael Platini, but the frankly ridiculous notion that football clubs should be linked to the local community in which they happened to be based.
As Mr Murdoch has since stated, why should the residents of Salford have Manchester United on their doorstep all season long when United fans in Singapore – who are worth much more in terms of cold, hard cash – are unable to see their heroes play competitive games in the flesh?
Those clubs who were deemed financially too sick to play with Platini’s ball were swiftly rounded up by Murdoch. Rumours of secret meetings began to swirl, photographers from the worlds media spent weeks bobbing around the Mediterranean in rubber dinghys, trying to capture an exclusive snap of the footballing world’s illuminati shaping the future of the game aboard Mr Murdoch’s yacht, The Monopoly.
When The Monopoly finally docked in Monte Carlo, the sense that something great was occurring was evident. When Mr Murdoch, flanked by his fellow revolutionaries, disembarked the massive yacht they were clutching the birth certificate of what was to be known as the European Super League.
Looking back it’s hard to imagine how distasteful many found this document to be. At this point it’s probably worth re-capping some of the main points set out that day, especially those that drew the most consternation.
• A breakaway league of Europe’s leading clubs to be formed, open to all who can provide the £100 million entry fee.
• The notion of “home” and “away” games were to cease. All games were to take place in which ever country wins the rights to host this great tournament -location not confined to Europe.
• Relegation is not a financially acceptable outcome and is frankly unfair so will not be part of the ESL.
• Promotion can be “won” by a new franchise able to pay the £100m entry fee – plus an incrementally increasing levy.
• The notion of clubs owning players to be abolished, players to be registered with consortiums who then rent them out to clubs.
• Transfer fees to be replaced by rental fees negotiated between the club and the appropriate consortium.
• All ESL players are the property of their consortium and are not available for international fixtures.
• Sponsors name to be integrated into the clubs official title – to increase brand awareness.
• The ESL to be a self-regulating entity, a truly free market where the socialistic notion of taxation will not be tolerated.
• All games to be screened live and EXCLUSIVE by Sky – available to anyone subscribing to Sky’s platinum package.
All eminently sensible proposals I’m sure you’ll agree – not so, thought a group of self-centred, short-sighted “traditionalists.” Their protests were vast, vocal and often quite unruly. The concerns of a group of insignificants was never going to derail the will of some of the most powerful men on earth.
And so it came to pass that on the 1st of August 2015 a match between Mastercard Madrid and the Emirates Gunners in the palatial surroundings of the Qatar capital Doha marked the inauguration of the European Super League.
To think there was once a time when the teams with the highest rate of marketability often went years without playing each other, their potential to maximise revenue limited by the “luck of the draw” or the ability of their squads. Teams such as the Vodafone Reds of Manchester and the Etihad Blues could be knocked out of the most lucrative competition they had access to merely by losing a few games. Thankfully all that is now behind us, every match-day is a blockbuster – Super Sunday is preceded by a Sensational Saturday, followed by Magic Monday and so on.
There are as you are doubtlessly aware disturbing rumours of counter-revolutionary activity. Details are sketchy, but talk is of underground leagues popping up where teams are owned by, supported by and representative of their local community. Some even speak of games between sides made up of players from their specific nations – these rumours can probably be discredited on the basis that they also state that Scotland are “World Champions.”
Do not concern yourself with these rumours. Even if these underground leagues are in fact taking place they are not televised. The organisers have no grasp of how to best maximise their income, and of what relevance is football if it does not provide the opportunity for an enlightened few to make a shit load of cash?
This article originally appeared on the sadly departed Football Project