By MA Iliasu
European Football is possibly the most important non-school and non-working activity to more than half of the global population. The attitude towards European Football is no longer defined by support rather an overwhelming cultural fanaticism. More people are falling in love with the idea of identifying with their European Football Clubs than even their native ethnic groups. Which signifies nothing but the domination of European soccer in both the discourse and practice of popular culture.
The individual preference towards European football is respectively distributed across the top five major leagues, namely: English Premier League, Spanish Laliga, Italian Serie A, French Ligue 1 and German Bundensliga. UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League are the subsidiary competitions reserved for the top performers among the European elites. With the winner of the former matching with the winner of the latter to decide who takes home the UEFA Super Cup. That has been the norm for almost three decades, which is mathematically the age bracket of the majority among the soccer fanatics.
The Glory Before Capital.
The most beautiful and admirable culture of European Football as was most vivid between 1992-2004 is the one that reward hard work over everything. This culture ensured that Parma Calcio, Arsenal, Galatasaray, Blackburn Rovers, Leeds United, SS Lazio, Dortmund, Valencia and Deportivo La Coruna bossed European elites like Manchester United, Liverpool, Real Madrid, Barcelona and AC Milan, despite having next to nothing in their bank accounts. Almost all the top major leagues and the subsidiary competitions recognized only the top performers for qualifications and achievements, regardless of spending, past glory, history and coefficient rankings. The so-called culture said to have boosted the spirit of inferior teams by making them believe if they work harder they’ll win whatever they want.
It worked immensely between 1992-2004 when the UEFA were less acquainted to misdeed and bad faith. And seems to be momentarily working in the English Championships and Eredivise by chance. Accumulatively, UEFA, using it’s past adherence to fair play, is using the slogan of #EqualGame to market it’s pretentious glorification of hard work. And with that logic, the creation of European Super League will most certainly create a reactionary uproar and commotion globally, having understood how important European Soccer has been, for it’ll come off as an elitist agenda that neutralizes the prospects of inferior teams by granting the superiors guaranteed path to success. Which is a truth that has been informed by skewed information corrupted by nostalgia and inadequate interpretation of historical recency. UEFA can’t be more deceiving.
The Lost Opportunity.
An argument on the credibility of UEFA as a fair and just organization can never be complete without discussing the one person that dedicated his whole managerial career pursuing and advocating for financial fair play. A certain French bloke called Arséne Wenger. Arséne’s history with FFP goes back to 2004 when Arsenal were on top of the world, when a Russian billionaire called Roman Abramovich took over Chelsea. The nature, as had been learnt, in which Roman was spending money to make Chelsea competitive didn’t sit well with fairness and therefore with Mr. Wenger. As a response, Mr. Wenger took it upon himself to castigate Chelsea and advocated for UEFA to implement financial fair play. Because from his own economist viewpoint, if football clubs develop the habit of funding their expenditure with non-football money, achievement and glory will no longer be determined by hard work rather financial muscle. Unfortunately the media made a clown out of him. They called him “inept” and “jealous”.
Two seasons later when Chelsea were already dominating the English football, Arséne predicted that football culture will shift away from physical players to technical players, and the sustainability of that culture will be backed by UEFA’s impartiality and effort towards policing clubs like Chelsea through the implementation of financial fair play. Unfortunately, instead of UEFA to honor it’s own end of the bargain, it allows even more outside money to flow into the English football, by brokering the takeover of Manchester City to the UAE oil-sheikh, Khaldoun Al-Mubarak. And before 2011, half of the brightest talents coming through Arsenal ranks like Ashley Cole, Hleb, Adebayor, Toure, Clichy and Nasri, were already being poached by the unpoliced City, Chelsea and other European gangsters. Arséne Wenger lamented again. This time they called him “a loser” and “frugal economist”.
Before you blink, external funding began to crowd European football to the extent that the Godfathers of Italian football like Silvio Berlusconi were forced to give up their ownership. Mr. Berlusconi openly said: “The Berlusconi family no longer have what it takes to satisfy modern football”. Barcelona, under the criminal Sandro Rosell, poached Fabregas and Song using crazy loans and revenue padding. Real Madrid were adding Gareth Bale on Cristiano Ronaldo. And later when Van Persie left for United, Arséne Wenger cried again. This time they called him “specialist in failure”. His aim wasn’t for clubs to stop buying players, far from that. Rather for them to spend only what they earn, which is why he respects Man United and Liverpool.
Unfortunately to the media and UEFA, yet fortunately to the billionaire owners, what Arséne was advocating for since 2004 is the breathtaking savagery of capitalism. His logic was informed by vision as usually dictated by his ever complex simplicity, which he made public in 2009, about the possible creation of European Super League which will enable the elite to play football according to their own rules, fantasies and ideals. The key pattern of thinking is that if billionaire owners are allowed to buy whoever they want without the policing of financial play, they’ll grow so powerful that not even UEFA or FIFA can hinder them from destroying the spirit and culture of #EqualGame. His main concern wasn’t Arsenal alone but what’ll become of fair play and the future of the beautiful game. Arséne for all that he proved, got mistaken for a crybaby, outspoken loser and specialist in failure. Only few believed him, and they’re mostly the billionaires who knew he was telling the truth. May be that’s why they wanted to hire him so badly. But up to the day he resigned as Arsenal coach, Arséne Wenger paid stadium debt and took Arsenal to Champions League 19 times out of 20 without ever breaking the financial fair play, even when he could have broke it to take Arsenal further. His choice was that he would rather be made fun of than hinder the belief of Leeds United in their effort of someday making the Champions League final. His ethical spirit, vision and expertise elite sport we may never see again.
From the brief history of Arséne Wenger’s advocacy between 2004-2009-2017, we can understand that UEFA has always been faking the #EqualGame slogan. In reality they have always been allowing the elites to widen the gap with their externally earned money by double standardizing the financial fair play rule. Which consequently birthed teams like Chelsea, Man City and PSG. While dwarfing teams like Valencia, Deportivo La Coruna, Parma Calcio and to an extent, Arsenal. Which makes me ask curiously, since Arsenal in 2006, Dortmund in 2013 and Tottenham in 2019, when was the last time a non-elite, non-self-sustainability model-abiding team made it to the Champions League final?
Aa you may exercise, Arséne Wenger isn’t the Karl Marx of European Football. He’s the John Maynard Keynes from how he presented the UEFA with a generational opportunity that’ll ensure the sustainability of fair play at all levels, just like Keynes did with “recycling mechanisms” during the Bretton Woods Conference after the Second World War. Sadly both UEFA and Europe ignored Arséne and Keynes. And like Europe is living to reap the stupidity of Bretton Woods through the shambolic state of Greece and Brexit, European Football will live to regret ignoring Arséne. And creating the European Super League that’ll overblow the prospects of elite clubs is just one among others. Just wait and see!
The Hypocrisy of Liberal Capitalism.
You can guess easily, whatever involves Europe has to deal with an army of press. They sit at the heart of every phenomenon, especially football. And when Arséne was crying of financial play, they were entities enjoying taunting headlines. They painted Abramovich, Khaldoun Al-Mubarak, Nasser Al-khelaifi, Florentino Perez, etc. like messiahs who were sent to win it all. But now that those Messiahs are tearing up the old tradition apart to satisfy their financial interests like Arséne predicted, the press is now crying for boycott from global, both individual and institutional, fan bases. UEFA that brokered the deals of those moguls and helping them make joke of FFP is now reduced to threats of embargoes, lawsuits and boycotts, after allowing them all the chance to grow an undefeatable strength. Where is the depth? Where is the moral ground? How hypocritical!
In essence, ranging from the former FIFA president, Sepp Batter, and UEFA chairman, Michel Platini, to the current Gianni Infantino and Alexander Ceferin, the whole footballing organizations encapsulate nothing but an army of unethical capitalists who do anything for the satisfaction of their core interest. But like the wise man says: “Capitalists love capitalism until someone defeat them in their own game”, that’s when you’ll hear moral preaching and the looking back to the sweetness of nostalgia. Currently Florentino Perez, Joe Glazers, W. Henry, Stan Kroenke, etc. are beating UEFA and FIFA in their own game. And that’s why silence won’t arrive anytime soon.
Florentino Perez and The Elite Optimality Effect.
The Italian economist, Wilfredo Pareto, will strongly disagree with the now right-to-be-called “The Godfather of European Football”, Florentino Perez, from how the creation of European Super League will seriously injure the equal chance the non-elite teams share with the elite. But then the chance of ever achieving the egalitarian Pareto Optimality, even if in spirit and treatment rather than revenue sourcing, has been assassinated the day UEFA betrayed Arséne Wenger. What’s now in full display is Elite Optimality Effect- discriminating against the herd and being democratic towards the outliers.
To elucidate further, by granting equal chance to the 12 most important football teams to participate in the European Super League, Florentino Perez has doubtlessly invited important animals from the footballing zoo, who can flex base on history, legacy, revenue and popularity. But as George Orwell put it, even in the zoo some animals are more equal than others. Real Madrid is inarguably the greatest football club on the planet base on whatever metric needed to measure greatness. Arguably followed by Barcelona. Closely followed by Manchester United and AC Milan, even though the crashing out of Berlusconi and the retirement of Alex Ferguson hurted them a great deal. And Juventus who are enjoying historic dominance in the domestic football. Chelsea, Atletico Madrid and Inter Milan have shown enough to make a claim. But Arsenal, Man City and Tottenham are like impostors in an accomplished cavalry. Arsenal are only relevant due to the overwhelming popularity they enjoy across the globe, a billionaire owner and a hundred year history of culture and class. Man City are the symbol of recency bias. While nobody knows who the hell are Tottenham Hotspur.
The gap in meritocracy between those twelve teams can’t be more vivid. And if Florentino Perez decides to make them equal after isolating them from others, surely there’s a logic that’s worth far more than their meritocracy. And the way I see it, it’s a well-orchestrated attempt to achieve financial hegemony and to impose artificial embargo on the possibility of more oil-sheikhs breaking into the soccer industry, which will hinder more inferior clubs from gaining access to the elite dinner table simply because they’ve money. Recently Newcastle United almost get taken over by Saudi Prince. By adopting elite optimality, Florentino Perez has blocked the chance of Newcastle United and it’s Saudi suitor, Everton and it’s Russian Oligarchs, Leicester City and it’s Thai billionaires, etc. from ever breaking into the elites club by making the twelve founding members indispensable. He studied very well what exuberant financing did to Silvio Berlusconi and agreed that the same could happen to him. So as a response he act accordingly even if that’ll mean inviting lesser animals onto the table and killing the dogs at the bottom. It’ll ensure their relevance forever. After all, it’s better the opponent you know than the one you don’t know. Don Florentino Perez! The Godfather of Modern Soccer!
Finally, I think the biggest winners of the European Super League would be Tottenham Hotspur. They’re a football club swimming in debt, lacking in history and silverware, with no sporting relevance whatsoever. A sum of 300+ million sterling pounds off head, and a sum of 400+ million sterling pounds for participating in the league would mean their poverty state will change without breaking any sweat. They’re so lucky the implementation arrived in 2021 not 2011. They would have never made it. Second winners for me are Arsenal and it’s greedy owner. Their history, legacy and cultural class does not stop them from getting disgraced by bottom tier teams due to below par funding. They’re so lucky the idea arrived in 2021 not 2025. They would have heard the news while fighting in the championship or second divisions when it was too late already. Third winners for me are AC Milan. They’re sleeping giants who need opportunity to shine again, and now they got it. Manchester United, Inter Milan and Atletico Madrid arrive at the right moment. Real Madrid loses as much as it wins by stamping hegemony while sharing bed with small boys. But with Florentino chairing the whole thing, only God knows what they’ll gain later. Barcelona needs the opportunity as much. They’re battling debt and slumping into oblivion. However, Chelsea and Man City lose more than they win, despite gaining access into elite club when they barely earned it. Their rise implies that their owners are exuberant enough to dominate European football for the next decade, which is now forced to halt.
Nevertheless, the notion that the European Super League kills football can’t more far-fetched. Speaking of fair play, which fair play are we even talking about? The nonexistent one that betrayed Arséne Wenger? People should understand that there has never been one in the first place. Football turned into a full-blown capitalist endeavor post-2004. And European Super League is just a norm reconstruction that challenges the monopoly of UEFA, which can even possibly innovate the game to the levels we’ve never seen before. And it needs to be welcomed, whether by persuasion or force. With corruption and double standard, the UEFA and FIFA have screwed up big time, and now must play by the hands of the elites. Whether by deciding to ban them from Champions League or the domestic leagues. The clubs hold all the advantage. JP Morgan sees what he sees and he’s ready to out-fund the Europe. The stubborn football fans need to understand that culture and class have been forfeited the day Mr. Wenger conceded defeat. Teams like Arsenal should thank Florentino Perez for rescuing their pitiful state and elevating them from zeroes to heroes. It’s absolutely not a wonder that they needed little convincing to join. And nobody can blame them.
As a monumental student of Arséne Wenger’s complex simplicity, I’m watching keenly how it’ll unfold in Germany among Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund and RB Leipzig. Would they waver? Only time would tell. Paris Saint Germain are in bed with a Qatari owner, whose country is looking forward to host a FIFA-organized World Cup in 2022. Their answer would currently be no in affirmative. But how about later? We shall see.