A plan by some of the world's biggest football clubs to start a new European Super League (ESL), has provoked strong opposition. The clubs involved say the ESL will benefit football as a whole, but critics say it's driven by greed. NZME's stable of football writers offer their opinions on the biggest story in football.
1) On a scale of 1-10 (1 being business as usual, 10 being catastrophic) how bad is the Super League model going to be for the English Premier League?
Michael Burgess: 7
Dylan Cleaver: 7.5
Simon Kay: 3
Steve Holloway: 8
Matt Brown: 9
Liam Napier: 8
Joel Kulasingham: 9
Alex Chapman: 8
Albie Redmore: 5
2) What were your initial impressions of the plans for the Super League?
Burgess: Ridiculous, greedy, predictable and unnecessary. The Champions League is already a closed shop – more or less – with the same teams making the latter stages every year and UEFA was going to expand it, to offer more security to big clubs and increased revenue. But these types of owners always want more, especially the Americans who are used to closed leagues. It was also amusing to see the likes of Inter Milan and Spurs in the Super League…really?
Cleaver: It's certainly a more bold and innovative revenue strategy than creating seven different playing strips for each season and gouging fans that way. Aside from that, just horrific.
Kay: A competition that already lacks interest until the end of pool play is about to become more bloated (which is the direction Uefa are already taking it). Would watching their teams battle it out for the wooden spoon really be compulsory viewing for Arsenal and Tottenham fans?
Holloway: The first thing I saw was Gary Neville's viral video on Twitter. He's a level-headed guy, but had smoke coming out his ears. Absolutely seething. The more I read, the more shocked I was about the implications for European football, and couldn't believe all these top English clubs were on board.
Brown: Absolutely gutted, thoughts that my club Liverpool will not chase more European Cup glory, Champions League glory, Fenway Sports Group can [expletive] off. Liverpool is a club steeped in history and tradition having won 18 League titles and five European Cups before FSG came along. To be a founder team in a league where the founder teams are there regardless of performance is not fair, it's not sport.
Napier: Nothing more than an elitist money grab. The fact 15 ringfenced teams will be involved every year, with five others qualifying, tells you everything about who this proposal stands to benefit, and who will be left behind.
Chapman: The old five W's and H came out as did Doctor Google and Uncle Twitter. Am still trying to understand how owners can be so greedy though.
Kulasingham: Depressed, gutted, worried, but not at all surprised. Football has been a sport of Russian billionaires, Saudi owners with a long list of human rights violations, and corrupt governing agents for a while now. The Super League concept merely takes things to its logical conclusion: a complete marriage of football and the corporate world, all in service of greed and at the costly expense of community, the grassroots, and equality. Sounds a lot like what's happening outside of football.
Redmore: It makes sense from the stand-point of a fan who wants to see only the best teams in Europe compete as part of a shortened competition, but the element of auto-qualification and endless eligibility for most teams involved reeks of the beginning of a story of rising inequality in European football.
3) What are your predictions for how things play out from here?
Burgess: A compromise will eventually be worked out with the owners, UEFA and the various leagues, allowing more money to flow to the big clubs, a revised Champions League and the status quo to continue…. for a while, until the next threat of revolution.
Cleaver: Commentators, columnists and other malcontents will fulminate. Fans will burn shirts and effigies. Billionaire owners will weather the storm in their Bahamian boltholes. Others will feign amazement that people like John Henry didn't buy their clubs solely because of the rich history and community connection established over 150 years.
Kay: Players won't want to be excluded from every club and international competition other than the Super League. Club owners may not have anticipated the breadth and depth of opposition to the proposal, including from their own fans. The clubs use the threat of Super League to gouge out a greater share of the Champions League cash from Uefa.
Holloway: It won't happen. Fans will revolt, players will protest, UEFA will threaten to ban players from the Euro Championships and remove them from their leagues.... and the clubs will bottle it. But the fans won't forget.
Brown: It doesn't feel like it right now but yes if fan power prevails and the outrage grows then this Super League won't happen. I hold some hope that given the absolute outrage and condemnation of the owners of the Big Six that threats of being booted out of EPL, ineligible to play in World Cups etc, that it may not happen.
Napier: Prince William condemning the move is merely the tip of angst to come. Wait till the boycotts and rioting outside famed club venues starts kicking off.
Kulasingham:It's hard to see how the Super League goes ahead. There'll be mass protests and boycotts from not just fans, but the other teams. There are – yet to be confirmed – rumours on social media that the not-so-super Premier League teams are meeting up and planning to ban the six English teams involved from competing in the league going forward. UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin has warned that players in Super League teams could be ineligible to represent their countries. Let's hope that, this time, the masses will be able stop football's decline into pure unadulterated capitalism and all its evils.
Chapman: Newstalk ZB sport bulletins will continue to thrive as a result of the ongoing opinions of pundits, players and Prime Ministers. We're yet to see the crying fans footage so that's still to come too.
Redmore: As Bob Dylan says: "Money doesn't talk, it swears." The Super League will go ahead and players from the clubs involved will be rewarded handsomely in return for playing their parts in an extensive and savvy PR campaign that will bring fans around to the idea - particularly those of the 15 founders and those outside of Europe. It will be a huge success. Those 15 founders will be excluded from a Champions League tournament forever diminished by their absence. The EPL will bark and gnash its teeth at the 'big six' but will ultimately prove toothless in any attempt at sanctions - local rivalry will be fiercer than ever and ambitions to knock those clubs over will rise to never-seen-before levels. However, revenue for EPL clubs outside of the 'big six' will fall and their competitiveness will slowly decline.
4) Regardless of how things progress over the coming weeks, months, years, will the EPL ever be the same?
Burgess: Yes, it will eventually. Remember the original architects of the Premier League in 1991 betrayed the rest of the English football system, which caused massive outrage at the time and has condemned many historically successful clubs to perpetual mediocrity in the lower leagues, with no hope of going any higher. But that blatantly unfair model is almost universally accepted now.
Cleaver: Isn't this meant to be a Champions League disruptor more than domestic leagues? It won't help the EPL, but it's not going anywhere soon.
Kay: In the short-term at least, the status quo seems the likeliest outcome. Were the 'Big Six' to defect, the Premier League would become a better competition but with less quality and money, in much the same way the Championship is usually more interesting than the top flight.
Holloway: No, I don't think so. Not unless all the owners of the Big Six are forced out. But even if this attempt at breaking away is unsuccessful, the next one is surely coming. There's no putting the toothpaste back in the bottle now.
Brown: I think the groundswell of anti Super League will grow and there will be something that gives. I don't see a UEFA Champions League running side by side with this breakaway competition. UEFA will find more money for its flagship competition and I think a club or two will break ranks.
Napier: Should this go ahead it will only serve to exasperate a footballing class system. The rich will get richer, banking millions more each year which allows established contenders to pay players more and lure talent away from others. Teams such as Leicester City winning the league will soon be distant memories, confined to fairy tales.
Kulasingham:Probably not. There'll always be that sneaking suspicion that the too-big-to-fail clubs will be conspiring to set up yet another elitist competition, because within the current footballing system, it is almost always in the best interest of big clubs to look after their own bottom line over others. The Premier League needs a major revamp to its revenue sharing and ownership structure among other things. And this scare, if it doesn't end up happening, could possibly be a catalyst for change.
Chapman: Who knows at this stage, if they decide to just up and leave.
Redmore: No - even if the Super League does not go ahead, this will prove to be a divisive moment within the EPL. There is no longer any sense that EPL clubs are all paddling the same boat forwards. Any sense of trust that previously existed when clubs worked together will be gone, leaving ruthless deal-making and competition in its place.
5) What does this mean for you as a fan? Will this change the way you engage with your team?
Burgess: I've been following Liverpool since the early 1980s and made a couple of pilgrimages to Anfield. But I had no interest in Tuesday's match with Leeds and the rest of the season seems a bit blasé now. But I still love the club and the players….just not the owners….so that feeling will eventually fade. But if this does go ahead I'll be even more nostalgic about the past and more cynical about the future.
Cleaver: Yes. "My" team is one of the six. I view the owners and executives as s**tbags and henceforth I will throw my passive-follower heft behind my second team - Leyton Orient (or perhaps even Everton to be really provocative).
Kay: To borrow a phrase from Hunter S Thompson, asking football club owners to justify their pursuit of money is like asking a shark to explain a feeding frenzy. Whatever happens, most fans continue to follow their clubs with a loyalty they rarely deserve.
Holloway: No. I'm not a fan of any of the Big Six teams. I will watch on sporadically as normal. And if the Super League does go ahead, would I tune in to watch Barcelona beat Tottenham twice a year? Probably. Does that make me part of the problem?
Brown: The match against Leeds meant nothing to me this morning. I should have been glued to it, desperate for a win that would boost Liverpool's top four chances. But the club owner's don't care about being in the Champions League, I barely blinked when Leeds equalised late... it meant nothing. I feel for the players and the manager. I jokingly texted Martin Devlin saying I might start a Tranmere Rovers fan club, (third club in Liverpool) but that's borne out by my anger at the moment. However one thing I have grown up with as a Liverpool fan is the fact the club is much more than any one individual or owner, and this insane decision won't stop the love affair I have enjoyed with Liverpool since I was nine years old.
Napier: Disillusioned is the best description. Sport, even at the elite level, must be about more than money alone. Perhaps this was always coming, but it also sheds a blinding light on what happens when you sell your soul to the highest bidder. Maybe if Spurs stopped sacking managers with $16 million pay-outs they would have more credibility.
Kulasingham: As a Man Utd fan, supporting the team has always come with cognitive dissonance. United are the most corporate of all corporate teams. We're owned by American billionaires who've gutted the team of its values and left it with millions in debt. And yet, I continue to wake up at ungodly hours of the morning to watch my team regularly. My enthusiasm and commitment to watching them in a Super League context would probably take a hit, but my passion for United will always keep burning. I guess that's one of the reasons why this Super League thing is such a scary prospect – fans will always stay fans.
Chapman: I'm a Manchester United fan so am disappointed with it. Will I boycott and stop watching? Unlikely. Will I be disappointed if it goes ahead? Yes. Will I buy the Super League PlayStation game? Possibly.
Redmore: As a born and bred Liverpool fan, a club that historically represented working class northerners, this move to become a truly elitist organisation embarrasses me. I want my club to compete in its home league on as fair a footing as possible, and this move will lower an already loaded scale about as far as it can go in the club's favour. It feels like there would always be a caveat to every EPL victory.. enough so I may just find more enjoyment supporting my other Merseyside club Tranmere Rovers instead!
6) Who are the biggest winners and losers, should Super League go ahead?
Burgess: Aside from the cashed-up team owners, the agents, the broadcasters and the players, a lot of the global fan base will enjoy this artificial carousel of a league, with the 'stars' clashing regularly. The biggest losers will be the local fans of these English clubs, who will be caught in the middle. Depending on what happens to the Premier League, it will also hit the other teams hard, as they benefit from the global popularity of the big six. But it will also give the likes of Leicester, Everton, Leeds and Aston Villa an unexpected chance for more silverware.
Cleaver: Winner: The Wizard of Id - "Remember the golden rule; he who owns the gold, makes the rules". Loser: Manchester United (not actually true, but it's always nice to say it).
Kay: The rich clubs get richer, the rest scrap for the crusts and crumbs; the lower the level, the greater the struggle.
Holloway: The winners are the money-men at the top of the pyramid and the casual, unattached fan in the US and Asia. The losers are everybody else in the football pyramid. Football at its worst.
Brown: The clubs who are part of it get richer, but the game of football suffers, the pyramid system that has been a hallmark of the English game is destroyed
Napier: Fans are the biggest losers, club owners the only winners.
Kulasingham: Biggest winners: Capitalism, elitist clubs, the wallets of Super League team owners, players and staff. Biggest losers: Football, the grassroots, any club who are struggling amid this bloody pandemic, other clubs who are doing ok in this bloody pandemic, fans, competition, everyone else. Side take: Other losers include NZ Rugby's Silver Lake deal. Hmm I wonder why players were worried about what could happen to the sport you love when you sell your soul to private equity?
Chapman: Winners: the lawyers - this is going to be one heck of a legal battle and it won't come cheap. Losers: Tottenham - they may have actually been in with a shout to win something had they not followed the actual heavyweights.
Redmore: The winners are the owners of the 15 founding clubs, along with their lawyers, accountants and the new league's PR representatives. The players also stand to be able to reasonably negotiate some big pay-rises. The biggest loser is UEFA, who will see their premiere competition fade to irrelevance. Them, and fans of the 15 founding clubs, who will all now bear the mark of supporting teams that turned their backs on loyalty and history, for profit in a time of crisis.