Here’s the weird thing about the European SuperLeague stuff coming at a moment when culers are experiencing this weird thing that is vaguely … what is that feeling again …
What’s unsettling is that it’s difficult not to feel culpable, not to feel, as the supporter of a club with so many questionable financial dealings, that put UNICEF on the shirt front as a visual test to see if supporters were ready for a paying sponsor, that is in a small nation’s worth of debt and pays its star player more than 100m per season, that hoards more than its share of TV revenues along with the other big club possibly scuttling off to play with the other cool kids, guilt.
It gnaws at the edge of your consciousness as you bellow and beat your chest about the unseemliness of all this SuperLeague business and yet … here you are, a devoted supporter of one of the villains in this tale of greed and lust, giant money battling giant money in a war of supremacy. No, it isn’t your fault, but if you don’t think it feels unseemly, then you aren’t doing this right.
None of that makes the SuperLeague any less wrong.
Lots of culers, myself included, fell hard for the club on that crazy night when THAT Rivaldo chilena grabbed a European spot for FC Barcelona. The times were more innocent then. Trebles weren’t expected, finals or nothing wasn’t the coin of the realm. It was, “Holy crap we made Europe,” and tens of thousands of supporters celebrated as though they had just won the thing, an eruption of bedlam to match that of the Iniestazo.
If the SuperLeague goes through, that would be just another goal in the here and now. A golazo, sure, but meaningless as Barça would already be in Europe and guaranteed to already be in Europe by dint of marketing power and global reach. A “big” club in the SuperLeague context is a weird thing, as an uncomfortable number of them wouldn’t qualify for next season’s Champions League on merit. Atalanta beat “Super” Juventus, Leeds drew “Super” Liverpool. How super is a club that Getafe can hold scoreless, yet there they all are along with the club we love.
Simply put, the SuperLeague is vile. It removes a lot of the joy from football, snatches away those big European nights and reduces them to an intramural tourney with the rich kids. A Champions League debutante cleans up its stadium, lays on fresh paint because one of the bigs are coming to town. Tickets are sold out, the anticipation and buzz are high. And for minute after minute, the match is scoreless and supporters are screaming and dreaming, baying for their thirst to be slaked by the blood of victory.
Celtic did it. You remember. Rod Stewart was crying and the stadium was bonkers. That kind of bonkers you read about and are kind of jealous of because success is like a drug for your big club so you need harder and harder stuff. Liga? Pfft. Okay. Domestic double? Well … A treble? NOW we’re talking. Inject that into my veins. A second treble? Uh, the wrong dude did it and … can I snort something else? And when the hell was the last time your club, your fanbase was that excited about anything? The 6-2 remuntada against PSG? Is THAT what it takes now?
That is life at the giant club level, the level where you get tapped on the shoulder and given the entry key made of unobtanium that gets you into the secret club. And it feels pretty shitty to be supportting that club. Or it should, because you love football, maybe kinda. Because the game has been reduced to marketing, and money, and memes, and YouTube highlights to bumping, pumping music. It’s not a game, it’s an industry. We take refuge in little Pedri dancing with the ball as his feet, not old enough to drink but plenty old enough to snatch the souls of men old enough to be his father. We watch as Messi against the same club, does kinda the same improbable goal. It’s sport, it’s a game. The players show joy, we feel the joy that we can feel. They celebrate a trophy, and it’s pure and beautiful as young players line up to get a selfie with Messi like they are fans at a club event, rather than the great man’s teammates.
The next day, Getafe holds Real Madrid to one of the eye-gounginest draws you will ever avert your gaze from and that brings more joy because it puts the championship, the league championshp, back in the hands of the team you love. Win out, win Liga. Now let’s go.
Then like a tsunami of greed and avarice, the SuperLeague announcment overflows the banks of everything that we know. We spent a year watching pandemic football as clubs said to us, “It’s for that undefinable something, we need the game, let’s all unite and get through this.” What they figured out instead is “Hey, if we can get the right sponsor, do we even need fans to do anything except click links and buy merch?”
Florentino Perez, in a televised event, said, “The biggest clubs in England, Spain and Italy have to (have) a solution to the bad financial situation of the game. We reached the conclusion that doing a Superleague instead of Champions (League), we could get back some of the money we lost because of the pandemic. We have to raise more money organising more competitive games”
And at the end of it all he said, “We are doing this SuperLeague to save football.”
Nobody was under any illusion that football isn’t about money. One of the things we detest about the SuperLeague is it snatches that illusion away. You support a corporation, if you’re one of the Breakaway 12. But there are levels of ugliness and this one is a nadir, and if you’re like me, it leaves you feeling unmoored. My club is spitting a giant mouthful in the face of the beloved game, and it feels wrong. A club is for life, or is it? There are reports, passionate utterances of supporters of Big 12 entities who pledge to swear off their clubs if the SuperLeague goes through. And you support Barça, and you wonder. You have to.
Cadiz comes to town, and they play to within an inch of their lives for a result. They have to play their best match and your team has to play its worst, just for them to get a point. It’s gut-wrenching but also beautiful. Where does that go?
“Oh, the leagues will still be in play.” Maybe. For a while. The bigs will still need the money from those TV contracts that they are extracting the maximum from, like marrow being sucked out of a bone. But what about when the day comes where the money bosses think, “You know, that league season is 38 matches long. And if we’re going to expand our brand, do we really want our stars risking their ankles on cabbage patches in towns we can’t even pronounce?” What, then? What do devotees of Barça Femeni think of the vague promises made to the women’s game, especially as the SuperLeague derails the massive investment that was to be announced on the same day the rich and famous kicked over the table?
There is abolutely nothing about this SuperLeague that is good if you love the game of football. The sport, the spectacle, the possibility. Nothing. It won’t make the game better, will improve nothing except the bottom lines of greedy clubs who want still more.
And at the end of it all it leaves you feeling sad and empty. You’re culer, your club just won an improbable trophy given the state it was in at the start of the season, and might even win the league title. Yet if you’re honest, the buzz from that is all gone, replaced by unease, of wondering about principles and money and love for a club and whether all of those things can coexist.