Changing the Landscape of European Soccer

Over the past decade, two actions have forever changed the course of soccer — the arrival of billionaire president Nasser Al-Khelaifi at Paris Saint Germain in 2011 and the purchase of Manchester City in 2008 by Sheikh Mansour. Since these takeovers, hundreds of millions of dollars have been steadily funneled into each of these clubs, giving them the ability to seemingly purchase players at will. This has resulted in an increase in transfer prices for players throughout Europe as these two clubs have forced other clubs to spend bigger. The rising cost of players is synonymous with the increasing the disparity between the top tier clubs and their lower tier counterparts throughout Europe. Under their new ownership, Manchester City has won three Premier League titles, and last year broke the Premier League record for number of points in a season. PSG has won five of the last seven Ligue 1 titles.

A new proposed “Super League” has the potential to further alter European soccer. Football Leaks, an underground organization that releases sensitive information relating to the world of soccer, published documents detailing a plan for a European super league. This super league would consist of only the biggest clubs in Europe. Over the past few years, Football Leaks has most notably released information about the financial details of large transfers and more recently, documents pertaining to rape allegations against Cristiano Ronaldo. Thus far, the authenticity of said released information has not been proven to be forged or false, and various clubs have admitted that talks are underway.

This new information leads to a whole host of questions about the supposed league, most notably, who would participate, why would clubs consider doing this, and is this possible?

In their most recent story, Der Spiegel mentioned seven clubs that would be in the league, Manchester United, Real Madrid, Arsenal, Barcelona, Juventus, Bayern Munich, and AC Milan, otherwise known has the wealthiest, most historic and acclaimed clubs in history. These seven clubs have admittedly begun talks about the league, and they, under the proposed format, would be seven of the sixteen teams in the competition.

Currently, the most prized trophy on the club level is the UEFA Champions League, a tournament between the best clubs in Europe. In order to qualify for the tournament, each team must win or place in the top four of their domestic league. Over the years, big clubs have historically dominated the Champions League. However, recently Europe’s biggest clubs have gotten more powerful as their wealth accumulates. These clubs understand the critical role they play in the success and popularity of the Champions League. Therefore, they have demanded more money and guarantees from UEFA, the governing body of European soccer. UEFA, for the most part has given in, but when UEFA no longer pleases big clubs and their investors, big clubs could leave.

Additionally, with the current format of the Champions League, there tends to be many lopsided games.  For example, last week Manchester City outclassed in every possible way Ukrainian champions Shakhtar Donetsk, beating them 6-0. From a player’s perspective the super league could also be seen as an improvement. The more top players play against lower class sides and players, the larger chances of injury because lower class teams tend to be less skilled, and therefore rely more on physicality.

Finally, there is the question of feasibility. In theory, this league could come to fruition. There is a current agreement between UEFA and European clubs about the format and specifics of the Champions League. However this agreement is only valid until 2021, meaning, a super league could technically begin in 2022.

Regardless of the feasibility of creating a super league, it is important to consider the impact it would have on the game as a whole.

First, there are some undeniable benefits this league would bring fans. Currently, other than the occasional Champions League game, powerhouse teams rarely play each other, and fans are unable to see how the best players in the world match up. This league would allow viewers and pundits to compare domestic leagues more accurately. Many say that the English Premier League is the most competitive league in the world because there are very few lopsided results. Conversely, others criticize powerhouses PSG and Bayern Munich, because they win more comfortably and more often in their respective domestic leagues. The super league would allow pundits to more accurately determine the world’s best clubs.

Although there are potential benefits to this league, there are glaring consequences of it as well.

Over the past decade, the disparity between top teams and lower teams has increased across all five of Europe’s major leagues. For the leagues with the wealthiest clubs, this is because teams, like Manchester City and PSG, have massive sums of money poured into them to buy better players. Manchester City currently has the most expensive team in the Premier League, at £778 million, while a middle of the league team, like Crystal Palace has a squad value of £193 million. This already has begun to ruin soccer especially for the local fan, who supports their local team.

Soccer in Europe is ingrained into the very fabric of towns and cities. In every European league, earning a Champions League spot is one of the most significant achievements a team can accomplish in a season. A Champions League spot gives smaller clubs the ability to compete at the world’s best stage and even more significantly, gives players a chance to get recognized. If a super league were to happen, these already ignored clubs, would be all but forgotten.

This league would also take away something that is valued in every sport, parody. The soccer community losses something valuable if we are no longer able to see an underdog beat the reigning European Champion. For example, Serbian club, Red Star Belgrade, beat Champions League finalists, Liverpool, 2-0 earlier this season. These types of results show that there are good clubs around the world, and that although money does to a large extent dictate the success of a team, it does not always have to.  

 

Francis Eddy Harvey

Francis Eddy Harvey '21 is from Pittsburgh, PA. This is his second year as sports writer for the Phoenix. Francis is pre-med, majoring in Economics, and is on the Men’s Soccer Team. In his free time, he enjoys rooting for the Pittsburgh Penguins, Steelers, and Pirates.

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