USA Today: Nancy Armour – Stan Kroenke, John Henry and the Glazer family learned the hard way that just because they play football in England, you can’t run a Premier League team as if it was in America.
It’s one thing to be greedy. It’s quite another to be so blatantly obvious about it.
The owners of Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United, respectively, saw their grand plans for a new cash cow – sorry, an in-season tournament featuring a dozen of the world’s most prestigious soccer teams – blow up in their faces just 48 hours after it was announced. After widespread and unrelenting condemnation from players, fans, sponsors, politicians – even the future king of England – Manchester City confirmed Tuesday afternoon that it was withdrawing from the European Super League. Chelsea, Tottenham, Liverpool, Manchester United, Arsenal and Italian team Inter Milan all have said they are negotiating exits.
The Super League, as it turns out, is neither super nor is it likely soon to even be a league.
Soccer in Europe, and England in particular, is far from a model of purity or a last holdover from the days when professional teams reflected their working-class roots. European soccer is awash in money, an obscene amount of it, and these quaint neighborhood clubs are now multinational corporations.
And as much as fans want to stubbornly cling to the belief that they are the true owners of their teams, in actuality they are status symbols for their billionaire owners, some of whom don’t even live in Europe and many of whom couldn’t have told you who David Beckham was in his pre-Posh days.
But Kroenke, Henry and the Glazers, believed to be the ringleaders of the Super League fiasco along with Real Madrid’s Florentino Perez, badly miscalculated.
The Americans in the Super League figured they could ignore traditions and thumb their noses at fans and league officials and, as with money grabs in U.S. sports, everyone would eventually go along with it. Kroenke, after all, watched the Rams wallow in mediocrity in St. Louis for half a dozen years, but he eventually got the NFL to let him move to Los Angeles, where his fancy new stadium spits out money like an ATM.
They probably even assumed some would cheer the Super League’s ingenuity, impressed that the owners had figured out a way to get the riches of the Champions League, the lucrative tournament that brings together the best teams from all over Europe, without having to do the work to get them.
Unlike the Champions League, where spots are awarded based on domestic league results, the Super League founders would be guaranteed spots in their new tournament.
Arsenal is in ninth place with half a dozen games left? Big deal. With a spot in the Super League assured, it wouldn’t matter if the Gunners go unbeaten down the stretch or lose every last game. Even the fear of relegation would be toothless because Super League money would keep an original team afloat.
“It’s not a sport if success is already guaranteed,” Man City manager Pep Guardiola said before the plan unraveled Tuesday. “It’s not a sport if it doesn’t matter if you lose.”
Because American professional sports lack relegation-promotion and have revenue sharing, bad teams are insulated from the most severe repercussions, financially and competitively. If not, the Chicago Cubs would have been done for long ago.
So a Super League-like power grab probably made sense to the American owners. Who needs accountability when there’s money to be made?
But soccer in Europe is more than a sport, it’s an intrinsic part of the society. Anything that threatens it is a threat to their society, their identity.
Americans such as Kroenke, Henry and the Glazers might know that, but they can never truly understand it. It’s no wonder they felt the need to create their own system, and it’s no wonder that it failed so spectacularly.
- Top Feature Photo: Matt Durham/AP