The Super League has been around for a long time: the swanky giant of the premier class nailed the doors shut
Liverpool versus Real Madrid, Eintracht Frankfurt versus Naples: A dream matchday in the Champions League is imminent. The premier class fascinates football fans and players. Not only in Europe, but worldwide. The final as the major goal of all clubs. But only an exclusive circle has access.
Almost two weeks ago everything was supposed to get a lot better in the wonderful world of football. Sports project developers A22 presented their plans for the new Super League. A league set to operate outside of UEFA that could bring even more money, more glory and more of everything to participating clubs. The creators painted blooming football landscapes on paper. It should be an open league, one with 60 to 80 clubs in several divisions.
Not a closed competition, but one for which the clubs can qualify every year. The clubs themselves are to play “14 guaranteed games”, all of which have sporting significance and are therefore different from the current competitions. There, the group phase can be very long despite only six games. It was not possible to find out more about a format, qualification for the league and participating clubs.
Because, it was said, nobody really dared to speak for the Super League. “Our talks have also made it clear that it is often impossible for clubs to speak out publicly against a system that uses the threat of sanctions to prevent opposition,” said A22 boss Bernd Reichart.
The Premier League is all rushed
The unveiling of the new Super League plans was accompanied by some interesting figures, all of which showed the dominance of the English Premier League. They dominate the transfer market, they dominate TV marketing. In the winter transfer period that just ended, the 20 clubs from the English upper house spent more than 700 million euros on new players, while the other four top leagues from Spain, Italy, Germany and France together generated around 100 million euros. Due to Chelsea FC’s transfer madness, a slight outlier upwards, which, however, reinforced a trend of recent years. From the Bundesliga, U21 national player Kevin Schade and 22-year-old Frenchman Georgino Rutter switched from Freiburg to Brentford and from Hoffenheim to Leeds United for a total of over 50 million euros.
The gap in media rights is similarly deep. There, the Premier League will generate almost 12 billion euros in the rights period from 2022 to 2025, with more than half going to foreign marketing, which is almost non-existent in the other leagues.
The Premier League is the real super league of European football. That’s where the best players play, that’s where the best coaches train. It is the place of longing for football. For this reason, a large part of the money has long since been directed towards the figurehead of English professional sport in recent years. Because the structures there are investor-friendly, because the world language, English, makes the league even more accessible and also because the league was the first – in 1992 – to become more professional and, more than 30 years later, to be able to expand the lead it gained early on in marketing.
European duels as a highlight in the calendar
The Premier League on the one hand and the Champions League organized by UEFA on the other are the fixed stars of the European football system. Other leagues are significantly less important in the international system. A situation that is fueled by the bonuses of the Champions League. These undermine competition within the leagues, showering the successful clubs with more and more money, which they use to extend their national lead. The Bundesliga can tell you a thing or two about it, even if, curiously enough, it is one of the most exciting leagues in Europe this season. But that has nothing to do with the super club Bayern Munich, exhausted from collecting titles and looking for meaning, and hardly with the strength of the competition.
When national sporting competitions become almost meaningless, the focus automatically shifts to European competitions. Currently on the Champions League. New rivalries arise. This can be seen in the duel between the two series champions Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern Munich. In the national leagues, both clubs have been without major competition for years. PSG may have lost twice in France, loaning the title to AS Monaco in 2017 and OSC Lille four years later, but both were common outliers. Bayern Munich, who have dominated the Bundesliga at will since the 2012/2013 season, didn’t even do that. Both teams have been a bit bored in the league in recent weeks and have to deal with home-made crises, but there are no major doubts: they will very likely lift the trophies at the end of the 2022/2023 season and then use them in the Sort archive.
While championships used to be the stated goal, now it has to be at least the semi-finals of the Champions League – at least for the top European teams. That’s what squads are built for, that’s what coaches are hired for, and that’s why they’re quickly replaced if they fail. The knockout phase of the premier class is the densification of club football. The final is the Super Bowl of football, the pinnacle of international club football. The way there is paved more very many euros. Bayern Munich earned 68.82 million in bonuses in the group phase alone, and a further 50 million euros could flow into the club’s coffers if they win the final in Istanbul. Then there is the audience revenue from the home games and distributions from the market pool, each in the tens of millions.
The closed premier class
Traditionally, the biggest teams on the continent compete in the knockout phase. Rarely does a club from outside the big leagues of France, England, Spain, Italy and Germany manage to break into the super-club phalanx. When that happens, the financially strong clubs lust after the players and shower the invaders with their money. Then they give up and disappear again for the next few seasons. It’s almost 20 years since a team won a title outside of those five leagues. In the 2003/2004 season, FC Porto, under the up-and-coming coaching genius José Mourinho, won the final in Arena auf Schalke 3-0 against AS Monaco.
Since then, 38 different clubs from 11 countries have reached the quarter-finals of the Champions League in 18 competitions. So they not only managed to reach the knockout stages of the tournament, but also made it through two games in the last 16 teams. However, if there are six nations outside the top 5 in Europe, namely the Netherlands, Portugal, Russia, Turkey, Ukraine and Cyprus (Apoel Nicosia 2011/12), a glance at the semi-finals is sufficient. With the exception of PSV Eindhoven in the 2004/2005 season and Ajax in 2018/2019, no representative of these smaller leagues has managed to break into the ranks of the top nations. The Portuguese clubs Porto and Benfica each failed four times in the quarter-finals. They’re always close, but they have to give up in the decisive games.
There are also serious gradations within the top leagues. Spain’s La Liga and English Premier League each have at least seven representatives in the quarter-finals, while the Bundesliga, France’s Ligue 1 and Italy’s Serie A each have five. With a distribution of one point per quarter-final, two per semi-final, three per final and four per final win, the differences become even clearer. Spain and England are tied on 80 and 79 points respectively, the Bundesliga has 40 overall thanks to Bayern’s 28 points, Italy 33 and France 20. The remaining six leagues have a combined 18 points. You are left behind and will not come back.
Future decision in March
But the duel between Eintracht Frankfurt and SSC Naples is of particular importance. So closed is the competition that, starting with Porto’s win in 2004 Since the 2018/19 season, no new team has reached the quarter-finals of the Champions League. Whoever prevails in the two games will thus gain access to the exclusive circle of the currently 38 clubs that have managed to do so in the last almost two decades. Over a dozen ephemera can be found among these clubs. The Champions League has long since become a super league with few participants. Only ten clubs ever achieve a double-digit point value in the ntv.de rating.
It will be a number of years before Frankfurt or Naples can even reach this top in this rare round of sixteen. The Champions League will soon change its format anyway, it will be a little more closed and in the background the makers of the Super League are hoping for their hour. According to their own statements, they have already spoken to “around 50 European football clubs and other football stakeholders” and are still waiting for a judgment from the European Court of Justice (ECJ). It was only in December that they suffered a serious setback there.
The Advocate General at the ECJ had described the rules of UEFA and FIFA as compatible with EU law. While this assessment is not binding on the court, it usually follows the Advocate General’s assessment to a large extent. A verdict is expected this spring. Should it follow the Advocate General’s assessment, the clubs participating in a possible Super League would have to leave the national leagues. That is hardly imaginable.