Why a European Super League Would Be Bad for Football

Tony MabertContributor IJuly 12, 2012

MADRID, SPAIN - APRIL 25:  Philipp Lahm of Bayern Munich tackles Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid during the UEFA Champions League Semi Final second leg between Real Madrid CF and Bayern Munich at The Bernabeu Stadium on April 25, 2012 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Jasper Juinen/Getty Images)
Jasper Juinen/Getty Images

In theory, the idea of a European Super League sounds like a football fan's dream.

Who wouldn't want to see Bayern Munich play Real Madrid or Chelsea take on Barcelona, as we did in the most recent Champions League semifinals, every single year?  

Why should we have to endure months of Manchester United schlepping to places like Romania to play Otelul Galati or AC Milan traipsing to BATE Borisov in Belarus and back when we can just cut to the chase? Separate the wheat from the chaff and let's get straight to the good stuff.

Never mind the old, egalitarian notion of 11 men versus 11. Forget the unique thrill of seeing an underdog triumph over the favourite. Dispense with the notion of European football being for everyone in Europe. Just hand-pick a band of clubs from a select few of Europe's most prosperous nations and the rest can hang.

The concept of the top clubs from across the continent forming a closed shop, allowing them to play each other on a regular basis, would be a major step towards professional football at almost every other level eventually grinding to a halt.

It would help erode the culture of travelling supporters, something which no other sport can rival, and it would ruin old rivalries rooted in history and geography which transcend the sport itself. Would anyone really be able to get excited about a "Channel Tunnel derby" between Arsenal and Paris Saint-Germain in the same way as the Gunners playing a North London derby against Tottenham Hotspur?

There have been times over the past two decades when the debate over the merits of a European Super League for football was almost perennial.

Thankfully, the unbridled commercial success that is the Champions League has largely sated the appetite for introducing such a concept. But, even now, the idea still sporadically rears its head whenever those at the top of the game have the time to consider how they are going to wring another hefty windfall from it.

As the game across the continent really became awash with money from the mid-1990s onwards, no potentially lucrative scheme could be discounted easily. Abandoning more than a century's worth of history at domestic club level was not off-limits as healthy profits began to become as important as full trophy cabinets.

In 2000 a group called the G-14 was formed, comprising some of Europe's most historically successful clubs and a handful of those which happened to be big and rich at the time.

Two years later four more clubs—Arsenal, Bayer Leverkusen, Lyon and Valencia—were also admitted, showing a distinct leaning towards current success over historic triumphs. That quartet of clubs boasted a grand total of six major European trophies between them, though not a single European Cup, but that did not stop them receiving and accepting an invite onto European football's new, self-appointed top-table.

The G-14 used their joint power as a bargaining tool with UEFA. By airing the threat of forming a breakaway league amongst themselves they successfully petitioned for an expanded Champions League which meant that, even if they endured an under-par season on the domestic front, they stood a much smaller chance of missing out on the annual payday that is Europe's biggest competition.

Ultimately, the G-14 was disbanded in 2008 as part of a deal with UEFA regarding compensation due to clubs for players injured on international duty. That settlement also saw the UEFA Cup replaced with the more expansive Europa League—which featured a much heftier schedule which hampers a club's progress at domestic level—and the creation of the European Club Association, which contains at least one club from all 53 of UEFA's member associations.

That appeared to be the end of the issue, but after only a few years there have been calls from several senior figures within the game to reopen the debate.

In 2009, Real Madrid president Florentino Perez said (as reported by the Telegraph): "We have to agree a new European Super League which guarantees that the best always play the best - something that does not happen in the Champions League."

Last year, the Guardian reported Bayern Munich chief Karl-Heinz Rummenigge saying that club football should stage a "revolution" if FIFA and UEFA did not get their acts together, projecting benevolent virtue onto what remains a money-orientated enterprise.

Of course the Champions League is a greedy, bloated financial behemoth. The rich either get richer or more buried in debt trying to stay rich, and the poorer find it increasingly difficult to maintain a credible challenge, but at least it has evolved from an old competition set up in a meritocratic spirit.

The creation of a self-contained European Super League, established by a cabal of clubs with the biggest resources who decided who was allowed to join the party and when, would eliminate a great deal of the reason people watch and enjoy football in the first place.