Can there be a way to stop a future European Super League?
By Shiv Pillai:
On 18th April 2021, the footballing world was shocked when a press release from twelve of Europe’s leading football clubs came together to create and govern their own mid-week competition. Moments later social media exploded, with pundits such as Gary Neville expressing how ‘absolutely disgusted’ he was and even the leaders in European nations, such as Emmanuel Macron of France and Boris Johnson of the UK, were supporting attempts to suppress the creation of a European Super League. As a result, the European Super League lasted a mere two days. But there were many months of plotting beforehand. Florentino Perez and his band of billionaires were able to secure a lucrative $5 billion pledge from bulge bracket bank JP Morgan Chase, which sparked many questions behind the ethics of such a fruitful patronage during a global pandemic. The question this article is here to answer is, can there ever be a way to prevent football clubs of this magnitude even commence the plotting and the scheming of a breakaway league, or is it incomprehensible to do so?
What stopped the European Super League after two days was of course the pressure from fans and politicians, but there were legal ways too which weren’t seen as the main cause for the stoppage of the league. There were two key laws that could have presented difficulties to Florentino Perez and his team, namely competition law and employment law.
There is an argument that the European Super League violates European competition law. This reasoning is seen by the joint statement from UEFA and other football governing bodies that ‘the clubs concerned will be banned from playing in any other competition at domestic, European or world level, and their players could be denied the opportunity to represent their national teams’. This list of punishments, if the league was to go ahead, would have been under EU law, as the European Court of Justice confirmed that EU law applies to sporting matters which contain economic activities . In the list provided by UEFA, all of the points mentioned are economically related as the income of players and clubs would be significantly affected by these prohibitions.
The argument that the European Super League breaches employment law stems between the agreement between a player and a club. The employment contracts that players have with clubs contain a clause obliging that both parties should never act in a way which harms faith and confidence in one another. This includes that the clubs will not stop players from playing for their international teams or even in FA sanctioned football and the Champions League. However, once that trust is broken and players can no longer partake in what lawfully is their right, it breaches employment law. The other side to employment matter in this is that the clubs not participating in the Super League will have a great loss of income especially from television rights, which will be more concentrated on the new breakaway league. This could result in redundancies at these clubs due to the loss of revenue which could ultimately force these clubs to dissolve.
However, what stopped the British clubs which were embroiled in the Super League staying in for more than two days was the ‘legislative bomb’ promised by the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, to prevent the English clubs from joining a breakaway Super League, as well as of course the uproar created by football fans globally.
So what other laws could be put in place? We could start by discussing Gary Neville’s plan to introduce an ‘independent regulator to bring checks and balances in place to stop this happening’. This idea was turned into a petition on the UK Parliament website, which received over 142,000 signatures. The UK government responded by saying ‘Football clubs are the heart of local communities and have a unique social value, which is why we are proceeding with our commitment to undertake a wide ranging, fan led review of football governance.’
Another possibility that could be explored would be to give fans 51% control of the football club. This is a structure we have seen work in German football for many years, and is perhaps why no German club ever agreed to take part in this breakaway league.
There have been past attempts at creating a ‘Super League’, most notably with the Premier League. London Weekend Television (LWT) met with the ‘Big 5 teams’ in 1990, then Arsenal, Everton, Liverpool, Manchester United and Tottenham to discuss a breakaway league where only the best teams could play each other. This of course attracted these 5 clubs as it meant that more people would want to watch these games and thus create a greater sum of money for the clubs. This in the end resulted in the football structure we have today, with the best clubs in England only playing each other week in, week out. This creates the question that, can leagues such as the Premier League even blame Florentino Perez for wanting to shake up football after those leagues did it themselves many years ago?
What this article conveys is that whilst the backlash of football fans and politicians may have initially broken down the Super League, there had been laws in place to prevent it. However, the laws were not strong enough to completely break down the idea of a Super League. What now needs to be done is a full-scale inquiry into the Super League and what new European Laws need to be put into place to completely stop the idea coming about, otherwise billionaires such as Florentino Perez might try to do this again, but next time, maybe with the help of the politicians themselves.