The European football super league is not dead – and you can bank on that
The Super League, which rightly shocked and angered so many, came as no surprise to me.
It was always hovering in the wings, waiting to burst on to the stage of world football like a 1,000-lb gorilla. There was no way that this was not going to happen someday as sport becomes more elite, more adrenalin-charged, more about winning. It was never going to happen when half of the British clubs in the so-called ‘big six’ are owned by Americans.
The United States is the only country on the planet that, when it hears the word “football”, thinks of a game different from the rest of the world.
We call it “soccer”, and it was until very recently a game for girls, which means that nobody paid much attention and you certainly could not make money out of it.
I played soccer at my girls’ school, back in the day, because it and volleyball were considered the only respectable sports for young ladies. The idea of men kicking a ball around a field while wearing shorts, long socks and what in America were then called “gym shoes” did not work for most.
I once went out with a guy, long ago, who told me that he played “football”. I imagined him to be a quarterback or something; then he told me that he played soccer and had become addicted while in Germany during his gap year. Back then he would have been considered weird: and he did keep this information to himself.
I met some of his teammates. They were mostly eggheads. Certainly not the kind of guys my dad watched on TV on Sunday afternoons while munching a hot dog and drinking a beer.
Those guys looked like thugs. Soccer players looked like ballerinas by comparison.
Things are better now. President Obama’s daughters played football; Tiger Woods’ little girl is a rising star, and the American women’s football team is arguably the best on earth, because of what I have stated above: we American women have played it longer and harder than almost anyone else.
But to Americans, soccer still has a kind of elite air.
I once heard the great Megan Rapinoe, captain of the American women’s team, explain why women in basketball do not get as much attention as women in soccer. Rapinoe said that women in soccer are seen as tiny, dainty white girls, and women in basketball are tall, aggressive black girls.
The other thing is that American sport is played to win. It is not done for the sake of the game or anything remotely like that. Individual players may have that ethos, but this is not the team’s purpose. Everything is about winning and making money. In fact, money is the sign of the winner. “Show me the money” is not just a line from a movie, it is both mantra and intent.
My hometown basketball team, the Chicago Bulls, were OK. They played basketball but they did not win much. Then, in the 1984 draft, they selected one Michael Jeffrey Jordan, who was a cultural geography major at university and graduated with a degree in geography.
This subject was chosen because Jordan’s real work at university was basketball. The Bulls got him because they needed him. To win. And win they did, for the next decade and a half.
The idea of the draft, together with the luxury tax in baseball and the salary cap in American football and basketball, is why people often say that the only role for socialism in the United States is in major league sports.
All three exist so that wealthiest teams can’t just hire the best players and make more money. That’s nice, you say. Not really. It indicates that American sport is ABOUT money. Big money. American sports owners are also about big money.
Jordan changed the Bulls’ franchise forever so that they too could make money. If your team is not elite, you can’t get the fans and the merchandise sold and the TV rights.
Americans love an underdog story – the loser who comes from behind to win – but what most Americans want is the Clash Of The Titans.
The Glazers, who own Manchester United, also own the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Buccanneers have never been elite, so this time last year, the Glazers hired Tom Brady, the legendary quarterback of the New England Patriots, to make them so.
The winner of the most games in American football history, he is considered the greatest quarterback of all time. And still winning in his mid-40s. In February he won Tampa Bay the Super Bowl.
Paying £25million a season to a legendary player at the tail-end of his career is one way to become elite and make money.
Another way is to succeed via the draft, where the rich clubs help the sport by making sure that the best players graduating out of college go to the teams that need help the most.
It is done so everybody makes money in the end. That is what American socialism looks like.
There is no draft in soccer and hiring legendary players at the tail-end of their careers is not usually a winning strategy. Just look at Cristiano Ronaldo and Juventus.
So to the moguls who own the Super League teams had to find another way. We know from things that representatives from Real Madrid and Juventus have said that they had the changing demographic of football fans in mind.
We are in the time of the gamer, and if you are a gamer, you can bask in the glow of either a solitary triumph or one with fellow gamers. To them, what point is there in going to a stadium when all can be done at home and, after lockdown is over, in the places that gamers go? A long season of knock-down, drag-out, for them, doesn’t have enough juice.
It had to make sense to the owners that they should form themselves into an elite League and just play each other for the young people to watch.
Like a video game. All this idea of the beautiful game, a long season playing teams both rich and (relatively) poor and the tradition of fans rooted in a deep visceral attachment to a club – to these rich guys that did not make sense. As in dollars and cents.
My prediction is that they will re-jig and return. Not right away but, as the fan base changes, they will find a way to make a Super League to lure the new demographic. Failure with a European club is not something that an American owner is willing to risk.
American sports’ version of socialism is about keeping everybody on that field, to keep everybody making money. A European Super League aims to sort out the teams that are making money from the ones that either are not or do not have the potential to make money.
It will give the young that adrenalin high that many are experiencing in gaming because the so-called best are out there on the field, every time.
The Americanisation of the beautiful game will continue. It may just be a matter of time.
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