The European Soccer League (ESL), a $5.5 billion global soccer competition created on April 18, 2021, has come to a screeching halt just 48 hours later. In an attempt to save and revolutionize soccer, the ESL was not well received, quickly enduring an onslaught of criticism from players, managers, fans, and soccer’s governing bodies alike. While the ESL is officially a thing of the past, it would have reimagined the world’s most popular sport in a drastic fashion.
The ESL was a newly proposed soccer league in which 20 football clubs would leave The Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) in order to compete in a midweek European competition, which would have rivaled the UEFA Champions League. Of the ESL’s 20 teams, 15 of them would have a permanent spot in the league, while 5 other teams across Europe’s top six leagues would compete for the remaining spots. In essence, the ESL was a gated community of teams who no longer wanted to compete for money and trophies with other UEFA clubs they felt were beneath them. The ESL planned to feature six English clubs, three Spanish clubs, and three Italian clubs including Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Tottenham, FC Barcelona, Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid, AC Milan, Inter Milan, and Juventus. To many people’s surprise and disappointment, last year’s Champions League finalists Bayern Munich and Paris Saint Germain weren’t proposed members of this new league. They were asked to join but declined long before the 30-day deadline.
Real Madrid President, Florentino Perez, announced that the European Super League was created in order to save football and help it economically recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, Perez noted that young people are no longer interested in watching soccer as much due to the number of low-quality games throughout the world’s top leagues. Perez believed that the ESL would help solve this issue and restore soccer’s global domination within the sports industry while generating large amounts of revenue via highly lucrative television deals. However, the majority of the soccer world stood in opposition.
This plan encountered stark criticism and elicited strong controversy for a number of reasons. First and foremost, many of the ESL critics deemed that having 15 teams safe from regulation would devalue the game, making it unfair and uncompetitive. It would allow those 15 teams to share the league’s lofty total of prizes and profits, leaving the rest of Europe’s teams fighting over the table’s scraps. For example, Arsenal hasn’t made the Champions League since the 2016-2017 season and yet they would have been permanently qualified for the utmost elite soccer league, effectively stripping the fluctuating, balanced format of European soccer. Additionally, the top six European leagues would have certainly declined in talent, value, and revenue flows for each team whilst also crumbling the Champions League.
Most players and teams also quickly spoke out against the European Super League as they felt blindsided and betrayed. William Bowyer, a solicitor in the Sports and Entertainment team at Mackrell Solicitors, explained to Al Jazeera the potential repercussions of this failed deal, including the monumental effect it would have had on the World Cup, the second-largest sporting event in the world.
“One of the key stakeholders, the players, appear to have been left behind in the thoughts of the clubs,” added Bowyer. “There are likely to be issued with the existing playing contracts should clubs breach their league, UEFA or FIFA rules. It would have put the players in a position to obtain legal advice on where they stand should they participate in the ESL and also be prevented from playing in Euros or a future World Cup.”
Additionally, the vast majority of clubs throughout the Premier League, La Liga and Serie A League instantly spoke out against this proposition. The Everton public relations team released a powerful announcement regarding the matter.
“Everton is saddened and disappointed to see proposals of a breakaway league pushed forward by six clubs. Six clubs acting entirely in their own interests. Six clubs tarnishing the reputation of our league and the game. Six clubs choosing to disrespect every other club with whom they sit around the Premier League table. Six clubs taking for granted and even betraying the majority of football supporters across our country and beyond. At this time of national and international crisis – and a defining period for our game – clubs should be working together collaboratively with the ideals of our game and its supporters uppermost. Instead, these clubs have been secretly conspiring to break away from a football pyramid that has served them so well. We urge them all to consider what they wish their legacy to be.”
Besides the players, teams, managers, and soccer’s leading governing bodies, soccer fans around the world also immediately protested this development. The leaders of the ESL experienced a ferocious backlash from fans staging protests and rallies outside Europe’s major stadiums. The fans carried signs and chanted slogans in order to prove how intensely the wider soccer community opposed this new deal. Within 48 hours, the uproar surrounding this league was made clear, featured in headlines throughout the most powerful global news sources. Quickly, the teams in the ESL heeded the world’s warnings and dropped out of the league, effectively putting an end to this revolutionary, failed concept. Aleksander Ceferin, the president of UEFA, is relieved that the European Super League has failed and is now looking ahead, ready to move forward.
“The important thing now is that we move on,” Ceferin said. “We need to rebuild the unity that the game enjoyed before this, and move forward together.”