Fans hated it. Politicians slated it. Pundits were aghast. Players didn’t seem keen. Managers refused to comment (apart from Pep). It seems that the only people who could see that the European Super League was the best way forward were the club owners and some far-flung fans in South Korea and the U.S. When it was announced I wondered how on earth Daniel Levy and co could have possibly thought this was a good idea.
Not surprisingly the press asked the same question and a very sensible answer emerged. The ESL was a way for 6 premier league clubs to stabilise and maximise revenues. The Kronkes, Glazers and Abramoviches of this world exist in a world where this is normal. The right decision in this world is the one which maximises and stabilises income for the corporation / share holder / family. Our laws and the structures of our society encourage them to act this way. We all accept this as a normal way to run a corporation or a country. Why shouldn’t they run their clubs likewise?
Maximising revenues is good most of the time. A shopkeeper utilises display space and stock keeping systems to sell as much produce as possible to keep his kids in school shoes and take his family on holiday whilst providing a vital service to a local community. A salesman travels far and wide to maximise sales for the pharma company, meaning that they can provide employment in their local community whilst helping to fight disease across the nation.
The problem comes when maximising revenue becomes the sole, central or overriding aim. Financiers mis-rate and mis-sell sub-prime mortgage debt. Developers dodge affordable housing requirements, overlooking the needs of local communities. Fashion chains fail to check health and safety and wage levels of Bangladeshi factory workers. Despite the lessons of the 2008 financial crash we still often behave as though unlimited financial growth is the way things are and that maximisation of profit for shareholders is the ultimate good.
Football, of course, does not work like that. It’s an inherently risky business. The best team can have an off day or an injury-strewn season. Fans are human beings who like to be entertained. Loyalty to clubs is beyond reason and sometimes even beyond football. Over decades, teams will have ups and downs. Football will always have one foot in this highly emotive, insecure, artistic world of love and loyalty. The other foot is in the competitive, commercial world of TV revenues, advertising and merchandising which is why we pay the unsustainably large sums to players and managers pulling us into unsustainable splits. The ESL proposal was a split too far because of the damage it did to the game from top to bottom.
The whole saga asks the question: what is the bottom line? Are we about football or about money? Before we get too mad with Sheikh Mansour and co, we might want to ask ourselves a similar question: what is our bottom line? Are we about human thriving and relationships (of which football is just one small facet) or money? After all we live in, assent to and perpetuate a society where profit maximisation is woven into our clothes, built into our houses and stored away in our banks. Maybe it’s time we began to think and live differently.