It creeps in the background of every online newspaper football site. Owners are less and less afraid to mention it in public, and UEFA and FIFA are showing signs they are taking it very, very seriously.
I’m speaking of the European Super League, the threat by the European Club Association (ECA) and the European Professional Football Leagues’ (EPFL) to split from UEFA and FIFA and form a perpetual Champions League if the two football governing bodies won’t meet their demands.
And what are these demands? In general, whatever is in the best interest of the clubs, both financially and competitively. Ever since the FIFA corruption debacle following the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bids, the clubs have smelt blood and are increasingly brazen in their threat to split. However, it’s been left to UEFA and Michel Platini to smooth things over.
For example, the ECA and the EPFL, tired of losing their players on the verge of a new season each year, pushed for a reduction in the number of international friendlies, a battle the ECA won when UEFA president Michel Platini promised to push FIFA to drop the highly unpopular August international calendar date.
Meanwhile the FA, facing a reduction in revenue with the potential loss of an England friendly, pointed out that if the UEFA and the clubs were really interested in preventing their players from succumbing to fatigue, they would seriously push for a change to the “bloated” Europa League format.
In other words, Platini’s feeling it from all sides at the moment. He’s become a fierce advocate for UEFA’s upcoming Financial Fair Play rules, which would force clubs to operate on club-generated turnover, preventing them from showing losses inevitably cushioned by deep investor pockets, a form of financial doping that drives wage inflation and generally wreaks havoc across the football spectrum. For the rules to be effective though, he needs the clubs on board.
That means he must on the one hand stave off a full-on revolt and possible Super League split, a prospect that looks less fantastical every day, and on the other push to maintain the effectiveness of FFP, for example by asking the European Union to prevent UEFA from being sued by the clubs in the event they are excluded from UEFA competitions like the Champions League for not meeting FFP requirements.
Forgotten in all of this is what’s best for football and its millions of fans across Europe and around the globe. Some of the measures the ECA and EPFL are seeking are long overdue; this is the first time in recent memory any European football governing body has accepted a reduction in fixtures. And the FA has a point about the punishingly long Europa League format, which resembles an international qualification tournament crammed into a single year.
The problem is these decisions are more reactionary than considered. Platini’s acquiescence on the August fixture for example was clearly politically motivated. There is little sense of overall leadership on the best direction for football as a whole, both for club and country. If FIFA weren’t mired in various PR messes, they might be the organization to fill the leadership void.
Ideally, a unified front of supporters united across Europe in the form of a trusts could make their voices heard, threatening stadium boycotts if their demands aren’t met. However, the main obstacle to such a movement—a deep-seated club partisanship that rarely looks beyond issues that affect the home ground—shows little sign of changing.