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Graham Ruthven: First stirrings of an ESL Spring?


Graham Ruthven: First stirrings of an ESL Spring?

Graham Ruthven suspects the ESL elite overplayed their hand.

IT had been coming. For years, decades even, there had been talk of a European Super League. Most recently, the creation of a pan-continental division comprised of the sport’s biggest and richest clubs had been used as a threat. It was only when the first real proposal landed on Sunday, though, that the potential ramifications became clear.

A European Super League, or ‘The Super League’ as it has been branded, would change football as we know it. Not just at the top level either. A delicate eco-system would be disrupted, maybe even destroyed completely, by an elitist structure designed only to make the rich even richer. That is its core purpose.

Not one of the 12 founding members of The Super League was surely surprised by the pushback they experienced from the likes of UEFA, the Premier League and the rest of the bodies who stand to lose money or control, or both, out of the new proposal, but the anger of their own fans might have caught them off guard.

Liverpool arrived at Elland Road for their Premier League fixture against Leeds United on Monday night to the sight of a crowd of protesters outside. This was after a number of Liverpool supporters' groups made clear earlier in the day their intention to remove banners from the stands at Anfield. 

Up and down the country, fan groups of all clubs, but most importantly those attached to The Super League’s six English representatives, have voiced their opposition. A YouGov poll published on Monday illustrated the true extent of that opposition with 79% of those surveyed rejecting the notion of a breakaway league.

This is just the latest sign of the growing disconnect between those who run football’s biggest clubs and their fans. The Super League has been designed to capitalise on the global status of the sport’s biggest stars, but why should anyone trust their judgement on the best way to do that when they don’t even know what their own supporters want?

Increasingly, it feels like The Super League’s member clubs have overplayed their hand. That they have rushed through a proposal that could do more damage than good, even for those directly involved. Is this really a calculated gamble or just an opportunist ploy with more blue sky thinking behind it than anything else?

Manchester City are one club who almost certainly have more to lose than gain. The idea behind Sheikh Mansour’s purchase of the Etihad Stadium club over a decade ago was not to make money. He already has enough of that. City is instead Abu Dhabi’s way to boost their global standing and reputation. ‘Sports-washing,’ they call it. Do they really need to be a part of a plan so unpopular it has prompted a parliamentary intervention?

A younger fan would be forgiven for not harbouring the same rage as some older supporters over The Super League proposal. They, after all, have already been locked out of the game at the elite level. Rising ticket prices has also seen the average age of crowds rise. It’s never been more expensive to watch live football on TV either. Replica shirts are more expensive. Everything is more expensive.

Fans of clubs outside Europe’s big five leagues have also already been locked out. Ajax had to play two rounds of Champions League qualifiers as Dutch champions the season after they reached the competition’s semi finals. These changes were made with little regard for competitive integrity. Supporters were never consulted because their views didn’t matter to those making the decisions.

If one positive can come from the events of the last few days, it’s that fans of all clubs appear to be on the brink of unifying as one force. The Super League plan could inadvertently spawn a powerful movement. If owners won’t listen to fans, their voices must become impossible to ignore.

 

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Graham Ruthven
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