Aidan Smith: Air-brushed, plastic, repetitive - are you ready for the Super League?
With the all the subtlety of a Sergio Ramos forearm smash, football's elite couldn't have chosen a worse moment for the big idea to be revealed. Leicester City were summoning, from the depths of their despair, a victory to honour the club's owner before flying to Thailand for the funeral of Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, pictured below right, killed in a helicopter crash.
He made the miracle possible and it was the greatest fairy tale that’s ever been told. But the very nature of the English game also made it possible and a breakaway league involving Europe’s richest including Ramos’ Real Madrid would destroy the dreams of any other teams who fancy “doing a Leicester” and becoming champions.
The elitists would also be destroying tradition. For instance, if Liverpool were invited to join the European Super League, which they almost certainly would be, and Everton were denied entry, which they almost certainly would be, what would happen to the Merseyside derby? Maybe Liverpool would like to think they could leave behind a second string to fulfill the famous fixture but football’s rulers have moved quickly to disabuse the would-be deserters of such a notion. “If you break away, you break away – you don’t keep one foot in and one foot out,” warned FIFA’s Scots-born legal director Alasdair Bell. Thus all that history of screaming goals and almighty punch-ups and swaying fans would be lost.
The nature of the English game is the same as the nature of the Scottish game and football in almost all countries. More than a century ago teams which formed in cities and towns across the land decided, over a large mutton pie in a grand railway hotel, to play each other home and away from August through to May. The agreement, signed in fountain pen, has remained in place ever since. The number of teams may have altered ever so slightly, and sponsors’ names may have been sneaked in somewhere, but this is still, to all intents, and here we have to imagine James Alexander Gordon intoning these words: “English League, Division One.” Here, though, is another exciting element: there’s an English League, Division Two, and Three and Four as well. If clubs perform poorly then teams from the lower tiers, stretching even further into the hinterland, will take their places. Will there be a European Super League, Division Two? Will there be promotion and relegation? Will there be democracy and meritocracy? I hae ma doots.
Who are these elitists anyway? Oh you know, the usual rum bunch. Real, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Manchester City have been quoted, and presumably Manchester United, Chelsea, Paris Saint-Germain and a couple of Italian clubs would be involved. You might snigger at least twice. It wasn’t so long ago that Stamford Bridge was a dust bowl and in the Shed the last two skinheads were panelling each other, oblivious to David Speedie’s latest sclaff. And it was even more recently that Man City were blundering around in the third tier of a set-up they will have been glad was meritocratic enough to allow them to sort out their chaos and begin a revival.
Don’t you have to have been at the top table for a good long while before you can legitimately call yourselves elite? Man City and Chelsea, if they’re going to be involved in this project and it flies, might pause to consider that fortune smiled on them when those fortunes arrived from the oil fields and the steel mills, otherwise they’d be like the rest of English football, doubtless wondering how a chosen few clubs can contemplate leaving behind the league and the heritage which made them.
That’s some of what would be lost by the emergence of the Super League so what could be gained? Would we be treated to shimmering, heaven-sent football from the great gods of the game, each match more stupendous than the last until we’re forced to shout: “Stop, this is simply too fantastic. We’re going to explode with wonderment and joy.” Well, what do you think?
The Champions League, the competition they blew up the fine old European Cup to create, was supposed to be the creme-de-la-creme tournament we’re hearing about now but in its present engorged state there are too many uninvolving, inconsequential matches.
The TV audience has peaked, which is a problem for BT Sport who pay almost £400 million a season for the rights.
Stadiums are often half-empty and nowhere is the insipid response to European club football more marked than in the stands at Man City. But then they’re a club with very little credibility at this level, no history of continental exploits to inspire them, relative newbies who are probably using Berlitz guidebooks to get around. None of this bodes well for a Super League where if anything the football could be even more decadently dull. If, as everyone suspects, there’s no demotion then a big chunk of competitiveness and meaning will be missing from the start. If, for instance, Liverpool and AC Milan are well out of the running for the title then a tie between them towards the end of a season could be the equivalent of the second-from-the-end game on Match of the Day, say Bournemouth vs Watford, which no one stays up to watch, not even the hardcore followers of these clubs. Not the desired aim of a Super League, obviously.
There’s a very real danger, I think, that a lot of the games would be like this. Airbrushed, anodyne, pallid, plastic, passive, polite versions of football. Exhibition matches which insult the rivalries and the titanic games of the past.
Instead of star players mustering matily in a sophisticated city for, say, a watch advertisement, they would be required to play a game, although you would probably struggle to tell the difference between the two events.
If the fateful cry is heard “Oh no, not Barça-Bayern again – they were on last week!” then the ba’ truly is up on the slates. You can have too much of a good thing, even things coming from great and glamorous Europe – even Monica Bellucci movies.