Soccer fight not over with Super League's collapse
The spectacular collapse of the proposed European Super League may feel like a victory for supporters who protested across the continent and outside English Premier League grounds, but the top clubs are already plotting their next move.
Back in 2019, a much-maligned proposal to overhaul the Champions League club competition into a 32-team division nearly saw the light of day, and then came plans for big changes to the structure and finances of English soccer last year.
“Project Big Picture” was a plan put forward by Liverpool and Manchester United to increase funding for the 72 English Football League teams, but it also included special voting rights for the biggest sides in the top flight.
That effort to restructure the English game and the Champions League reform plan were rejected after being widely criticized for favouring the big clubs, with Sunday's Super League announcement taking that a step further.
“The Super League is just one way forward,” breakaway founder and Juventus chairman Andrea Agnelli said on Wednesday of the plans involving 12 of Europe's top soccer clubs.
“What was planned in 2019 was another way forward. If they (European soccer's governing body UEFA) would have stuck by their plan they presented rather than chickening out, we probably wouldn't have had this conversation today.
“I still believe the Super League project would have brought that stability. Football, it's an economic industry. And we must take that into account.”
The Super League argued it would boost revenue for top clubs and allow them to distribute more money to the rest of the game.
However, the sport's governing bodies, other teams and fan organizations countered it would increase the power and wealth of the elite clubs and the partly closed structure of the league went against European soccer's long-standing model.
The elite clubs clearly want more money, power and influence.
With huge global fan bases, commercial appeal and sizable brands, their attempt to launch a breakaway league showed they view the rest of their domestic rivals as inferior.
The power, they believed, was in their hands.
But just because the big clubs feel entitled to more doesn't mean they'll get it, as the last extraordinary few days has shown.
The saviours of the game fighting in the ordinary fan's corner this time — UEFA — aren't often viewed as the good guys.
Last week, 17 fan groups from 14 clubs across Europe wrote an open letter accusing the European governing body of facilitating a “blatant power grab” over reforms to the Champions League for the 2024-25 season.
It got lost in the Super League furor, but UEFA'S plan to revamp its elite competition, despite the fan group discontent, was approved by its executive committee.
However, UEFA'S stance against the Super League turned the continent's ruling soccer body from villain to hero, as they proved they are not to be messed with.
Even before the Super League was officially announced, UEFA moved quickly to denounce the plans as a “cynical project founded on the self-interest of a few clubs at a time when society needs solidarity more than ever.”
Then, the morning after the plans were announced, UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin came out with an impassioned speech, labelling the league a “spit in the face” of fans, promising bans for clubs and players taking part from international competition.
Soccer's world governing body FIFA backed UEFA. The Premier League, often blamed for the big English clubs gaining more revenue through broadcasting deals, also took a surprising new role as the voice of the people.
“When all this passes, let's see what happens. These clubs are going to lose millions and cannot do that, apart from those in England,” Real Madrid president Florentino Perez said on Wednesday.
Three times big changes to the game have been proposed, and three times they have fallen flat.
The big clubs will come again, showing they don't need anyone's backing to push ahead with their vision for the future of soccer.