Thursday 21 February ~
If Arsène Wenger is to be believed a European super league will soon be upon us. In that case this week's round of Champions League matches are a precursor of what is to come. Lucky us. No one really knows at this stage what such a league would look like or how it would function but, despite the dissolution of the G-14, it is already patently clear which select group of clubs would be involved.
There is already a closed shop in terms of transfers. Players that would star in any future continental league now only circulate between a small group of leading clubs. Ronaldo has been with both Milan clubs plus Real Madrid and Barcelona; after starting with Ajax, Edgar Davids played for the big three in Italy plus Barcelona (and, of course, Spurs). As a consequence these elite squads are resembling each other more and more. A high-profile footballer looking for a big move in or to Europe will only consider a set number of teams in each country – two in Spain, three in Italy or the usual suspects in the Premier League.
Other teams in the richest leagues or successful teams in economically poorer leagues, France being a good example, are completely disregarded. In turn the hierarchy of national leagues is more established than ever. Football's smaller nations – who are nonetheless rich in tradition – have very little hope of holding on to their young and talented players. Robin van Persie left the Netherlands early while Alan Hutton and Craig Gordon have recently moved to England. While economic history has always deemed this necessary to some extent the current deregulated EU is the perfect arena for this to continue. A European super league could only exacerbate this further.
To sustain initial interest in a new league history will have to be manufactured, and quickly. Just as Sky Sports commentary likes to refer to a great enmity between Arsenal and Chelsea, based on success in the last decade rather than historical precedent, pan-European rivalries will have to be created. Yet surely this misses the point, as genuine rivalry is rooted in social and geographical links. The term “bragging rights” has become one of the most overused football cliches but workplace rivalry is part and parcel of any local derby – it is difficult to imagine it existing between Manchester and Barcelona.
So as much as we hear of a “masterclass of the dark arts of Italian football” or the great European nights at Anfield now, if a super league goes ahead, over time familiarity can only breed contempt. Ed Upright