If you fancied a nice feelgood article today then please stop reading now, because this is my take on why a variation on the European Super League is inevitable and may happen sooner rather than later.
To set the scene, let me refer to two things that appeared on social media this week.
The first was a very reasonable piece on the BBC Sport site explaining how Norwich’s self-funding model meant that the club wouldn’t be breaking the bank on its return to the Premier League.
Inevitably, of course, it attracted the usual knuckle draggers with jibes about yo-yo clubs, the umpteenth re-emergence of the “Let’s be havin’ you” video and one comment that particularly stuck out from an Aston Villa fan called Sean O’Grady which read:
“Norwich continuing their tradition of getting promoted then returning to where they actually belong which isn’t among the elite.”
Now, I follow some great Villa fans on Twitter who I’m sure would find that comment as embarrassingly ignorant as I do, but it’s the attitude behind it that’s the relevant point.
Villa are a good side, but they finished 11th this season, yet Sean thinks that they are part of the elite, which gives you a clue to the level of entitlement that you will find among fans of the top six clubs. And it’s that attitude that they are so special that, along with the promise of even more money, helped encourage the first attempt to set up a breakaway league.
Yes, the fans objected this time (although in some cases it’s debatable as to how much of that was about the fear of being a smaller fish in a bigger pond than any real ethical consideration) but while there is an attitude, which is actively encouraged in the national press by the likes of Martin Samuel, that there are clubs that have no right to sit at the top table unless they “play the game”, (which basically means wildly overspending to try to compete), it is only a matter of time before another, more decisive attempt is made.
Of course, there has always been elitism in football, but it generally used to be about quality on the pitch rather than how much money a club could spend and that, coupled with the enduring willingness of owners to risk everything, is pushing the game as we know it in this country to the brink.
I mentioned that two things had caught my eye, and the second of these was a statement from the Sheffield Wednesday Supporters Trust reporting that their clubs players are threatening to terminate their contracts because they haven’t been paid for two months, and demanding that the owner either sorts out the financial problems or sells the club to someone who will.
This comes hot on the heels of the collapse of a second attempt to sell Derby County in the last few months by Mel Morris, who took over in 2014 and broke the club’s transfer record four times in his first three years as well as going through nine managers in a five-and-a-half-year spell, and in turn follows Stoke City reporting losses of over £90 million.
It’s also worth noting that Wednesday and Derby have also sold and leased back their stadiums to circumvent the Financial Fair Play rules by selling off the family silver.
All three of these clubs have been in the Premier League in recent memory and all are now in huge financial trouble, but there are plenty of others and Covid has only served to accelerate a process that was happening anyway.
There is a clear dichotomy between the elite clubs who are clearly itching to tap into the huge and extremely lucrative demand for a “super league” from the Middle East and Asian markets and the increasing number who have scaled the top of the pyramid only to slip back and be buried under an avalanche of debt, and something has to give.
While the long-awaited fan led review will inevitably result in demands for more money to find its way down the pyramid from the honey pot of the Premier League and deterrents to excessive spending that actually work, do we really believe that that will happen?
Isn’t it much more likely that the top clubs will take the opportunity to walk away from the mess that have helped to create and dive into an even bigger money pit, leaving the rest of the English game mired in debt and facing a huge cut in TV revenue?
While that’s potentially apocalyptic, the prospect of a genuinely competitive top division and games kicking off at 3pm on a Saturday certainly appeals to many fans, although sadly it would also mean even more clubs going to the wall.
The crisis hasn’t been averted, it’s just been postponed for now.