Not many made the public case for the creation of the ill-fated Super League, but Florentino Perez fronted up. The Real Madrid president was one of the ringleaders of the proposal that would have reshaped European soccer yet only succeeded in galvanising fans of all clubs in all countries to defeat the plan in 48 hours.
Announced with the involvement of 12 clubs (AC Milan, Arsenal, Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Chelsea, Inter, Juventus, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Real Madrid and Tottenham Hotspur), the Super League would have created a tier of teams separate from the rest of the European soccer eco-system. Such division would have gone against the spirit of the sport.
It might still happen. While the six Premier League clubs along with AC Milan, Atletico Madrid and Inter were quick to withdraw their involvement, Barcelona, Juventus and Real Madrid remain committed to creating a breakaway league at some point in the future. Perez’s recent comments prove the Super League still isn’t dead.
“To fix a problem, you have to first recognise that you have a problem,” Perez said at Real Madrid’s annual general meeting. “Our sport is sick. It’s losing its leadership as a global sport. We must not be confused by the impact of Real Madrid’s European Cup run [in the Champions League last season] when we were involved in seven games of the highest intensity and interest.
“That was the result of the draw, and of the quality and greatness of our team. It was a spectacle that helped bring excitement back to the viewers. That’s why we believe European competitions must change, to offer fans top-level games year-round between the strongest teams, with the best players competing.”
Perez has long believed soccer faces a fight for the future of the sport. Without much evidence, he claims younger fans are losing interest and instead want their live sport packaged in a shorter-form format. The Real Madrid president says the creation of a new competition would allow soccer to make much-needed changes.
While it’s true live sports has some things to figure out, with more leagues and clubs partnering with streaming broadcasters who can bring a new audience, Perez’s remarks paint the picture of a man who has drawn conclusions from a very limited understanding of soccer’s changing consumer habits.
Greed is at the core of Perez’s comments. Real Madrid and other continental European clubs like Barcelona and Juventus have watched from afar as the Premier League has grown stronger and stronger. They have spent beyond their means to keep up and see levelling the playing field through the Super League as the only way to readdress the balance.
In another guise, it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that the Super League could happen. Reforms to the Champions League made in the last 12 months have already made it more difficult for teams outside Europe’s ‘Big Five’ leagues to qualify, essentially creating the divide that Perez and co. wanted in the first place.
European soccer is already rife with greed, but Perez wants to solve this with even more. The Real Madrid president continues to make the point that the Super League would raise the tide for all boats, but has offered no details on how the biggest and best clubs would feed money back down the food chain.
Fans increasingly find themselves an afterthought in the decision-making of soccer’s biggest clubs. The Super League debacle thrust this into sharp focus and supporters aren’t ready to forget how so many owners threatened to rip their clubs from the local roots all in the name of making even more money.
Just because the Super League failed doesn’t mean soccer fans and the sport’s wider community as a whole can be complacent about the threat of a similar division at some point in the future. If Perez is still talking about changing soccer’s landscape at the top level, fans must continue to stay alert and mobilise if required.
This isn’t to say soccer shouldn’t change to adapt to the times, but fans must be consulted, particularly over something as transformational as the Super League. You can be sure that Perez doesn’t have their best interests at heart. No matter how many times he speaks about the need to reshape the sport, the justification for doing so is still clear. It’s the money.