‘It’s only game, why you have to be mad?’ – Ilya Bryzgalov
By Mo Hussain, Sports Reporter
This decreases the incentive for teams to get better because there’s no risk of being removed from the league.
Over the past week or so, the soccer world has gone ballistic. Sport officials are mad at each other, government officials have gotten involved, and many fans have gotten upset over the newly formed European Super League (ESL). To understand why this is a big deal one has to understand how professional European soccer usually works. Here are some key points:
HOW IT WORKS
Countries like England, Spain, France, Italy, and Germany respectively all have their top-tier professional leagues (domestic leagues). In order to “win” the league, one has to have the best record of all the teams. In the North American sports world, that would mean that the team with the best regular season record wins, and there are no playoffs.
Unlike in North America, where teams tend to have permanent spots in the league regardless if they have a horrible season. The teams with the worst four records in a domestic league get relegated to a lower division. This is supposed incentivize teams to try their best to compete.
The top couple teams in each of the major domestic leagues qualify for a bigger European tournament called the “UEFA Champions League.” This tournament is supposed to bring together the best of the best in Europe, and then battle in more of a playoff style format.
WHAT’S HAPPENING NOW
Last week, it was announced that 12 of the top European soccer teams across the big domestic leagues would get together to create a “Super League.” Mike DeCourcy of Sportingnews.com had a very good explanation of what the league is: “It’s meant to be a supplementary competition to each club’s domestic league, similar to how the UEFA Champions League operates now.”
The difference is that the core ESL teams would not have to qualify to compete, as they do now. Under current Champions League rules, for instance, the top four Premier League teams qualify each year to enter the Champions’ League group stage.
With the Super League, the 15 founding members would be involved annually, with five teams able to qualify on an annual basis. The standards for qualifying have not yet been explained. On one end, this can be quite entertaining for fans because it guarantees that they will see the top teams in Europe go head-to-head with one another. On the other end, it leaves out dozens of other teams from domestic leagues due to there being no relegation or way for new teams to be introduced. This also decreases the incentive for teams to get better because there’s no risk of being removed from the league.
UEFA President Aleksander Čeferin called the Super League “self-serving” and “disgraceful” in a press conference last week. “Our game has become the greatest sport based on open competition, integrity, and sporting merit. And we cannot allow, and we will not allow that to change, never,” Čeferin added.
Government officials also chimed on the issue from countries including Britain, France, Spain, Italy, and Greece. France’s Europe minister Clément Beaune said “This is the consequence of a system where money is king, and that excludes merit and solidarity. We must exclude this type of closed competition founded on money, end of story.”
However, the rebuttal on the other side highlights how many of the major teams involved in the league lost a lot of money due to the pandemic. President of Real Madrid Florentino Pérez said in an interview that “There are clubs here that have lost hundreds of millions this year and the previous one.”
Ultimately, the heated reaction led to a significant amount of teams pulling out. As of Thursday night, all British premier league teams opted out of the league including Manchester United, Liverpool FC, and Chelsea FC. Whether or not more teams will opt out or buy in is still to be determined. However, it will be interesting to see how this situation develops over time.