The European Premier League and Football in the Age of Billionaires

Pandemic? What pandemic? You’d have thought the English Premier League’s football bubble would’ve burst amongst the Coronavirus Crisis – and for the small clubs, it has, to an extent. But for mega-clubs propped up by billionaires, it’s been business as usual. In fact, for a lot of them, it’s been the season of profits. So, while fans have remained home, away from stadia, the powers-that-be have had their eyes lit up with dollar signs and seen an opportunity to bring their long-held desire of creating a pay-per-view model into existence for the EPL. At the same time, there have been substantial whispers of movement on continental football’s worst-kept secret; of creating a European Premier League.

This is football in the age of billionaires.

After the Premier League clubs unanimously rejected the Big Picture Project set forth by Liverpool and Manchester United a couple of weeks ago, the past few days have led to grumblings and whispers of a breakaway European Super League.

Floated by the top clubs in the world in conjunction with FIFA and JP Morgan, the European Premier League will supposedly include 18 of Europe’s top clubs coming together to form a new league. Of course, such whispers have been making the rounds for a few years, but nothing substantial ever came of it, until now. As fans watch games from home and stadiums remain empty, clubs have been looking for further monopoly and control, and the proposed league is a step in that same direction.

18 clubs. 34 Games. No Promotion. No relegation.

For the broadcasters, this means 34 big-ticket games per club in a season. You’ll have Real Madrid playing Manchester United, Arsenal playing Juventus, Liverpool playing Bayern Munich, and so on almost every weekend. Broadcasters will no longer have to negotiate with individual football associations for TV rights anymore. It’ll be one big league, one negotiation, and huge amounts of money – it has to be, to make the proposition an attractive one for clubs parting from the Champions League.

Thus, it could also ring the death knell for UEFA’s premier competitions, as their biggest clubs (brands) leave for their own party.

The European Premier League also has the potential to be competitive and exciting, especially in light of how one-sided most of these national leagues are. You know Bayern is going to win the Bundesliga. You know either of Real Madrid or Barcelona will nab the La Liga. Ligue Un…Just hand it over to PSG already.

Only the EPL is somewhat competitive, with giant-killing becoming more and more common, though even there you can easily form sets of teams who are more likely to win the title, then rounding them down to the top 4 or top 6.

On the flipside, you could argue that the same could happen with the European Premier League. In a league format spread over 34 games, clear sets will get defined as the season progresses. Even now you can make an educated guess that one of Bayern, Barcelona, Madrid, Manchester City, PSG and Liverpool would round off the top 6. The eagle-eyed amongst you must have noticed how the club’s with the most money are making the lion’s portion of the leaders. So, would fans really like their beloved teams – usually fighting for the top spots in their respective leagues – become part of a second-tier (albeit in an exclusive group)? This becomes even more of a concern if these clubs decide to forgo participating in their national leagues. Football has largely been driven by community in the past, and even though broadcasting has made it global, it is the local fans who fill the seats week in and week out. Would they care enough to go for European away games every alternate weekend? What about affordability and exclusivity? The big Champions League nights are much beloved due to their rarity. It’s not everyday you see Liverpool going to the Nou Camp. It’s not everyday Arsenal takes on Real Madrid at the Bernabeu (It’s happened exactly once, when Thierry Henry pulled off a win for the Gunners and the night became a part of folklore for Arsenal and English Football).

It is this rarity which makes you look to these games with anticipation. One moment to compete with the best team in the world and somehow pull off a miracle. This is what makes that night at Istanbul so miraculous.

If you had these games happening every week, well, the novelty would wear off fast, and we’d be left with just another league, falling into the same systems and trappings of any other league. On top of that no relegation, well, that doesn’t really bode well for meritocracy, does it? And we’ve seen how well that’s worked out for the Indian Super League, haven’t we, with complacency setting in? This seems more and more like a project to earn some quick dollars than to develop football in any form.

It isn’t physically possible for players to play for 38 games in their national league, and then play 34 more in the European Premier League in the same season. That means this proposal could throw these individual leagues into disarray; the final matchstick thrown on a footballing pyre which has been drenched in oil since the oligarchs first came into the picture.

And as these leagues burn, the billionaires will move on to munch on the fat carcass of the European Super League, their corpulent bodies swelling with dollars.

Pritesh Patil

Purveyor of stories, hope and rebellions. Often found exploring the nooks and crannies of the city searching for adventures and gaps between worlds. You can find him on Twitter as @TheQuillseeker.

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