Shady Meetings, Court Battles and the Metaverse: The Spectre of the European Super League Has Not Gone Away

Remember the European Super League? While many believe it to have been banished for good, its spirit continues to lurk, and we may see its return come 2023. 

On the precipice of the most contentious World Cup in history, with the eyes of the footballing world fixed firmly on Qatar, the proponents of the European Super League are able to operate under the cover of darkness.

While a period of relative quiet may give the illusion that the idea of introducing a closed league of Europe’s biggest clubs has gone away, that could not be further from the truth.

A bombshell meeting last week revealed just how alive the intentions of the ESL’s most ardent supporters are. A22, a sports public relations company tasked with laying the pathway for the development of the ESL, met with representatives of UEFA and other clubs in Switzerland. According to reports, A22 was under the impression that the meeting was a one-on-one situation with Aleksander Čeferin, head of UEFA. Instead, the company was met by around 30 representatives of various footballing institutions and clubs, including PSG president Nasser Al Khelaifi and La Liga president Javier Tebas.

Following the hours-long showdown between A22 and the gatekeepers of modern football’s status quo, a back-and-forth series of mud-throwing statements were released, each claiming victory.

The opposition from UEFA was said to be very firm and united. And while A22 maintains the meeting was only to engage in the “free exchange of ideas,” it clearly remains persistent in its desire to alter the balance of European football.

The significance of the exchange and the subsequent statements is that this is the first time in some months that the ESL has poked its head above the parapet. One can’t help but notice the timing.

Not only is football about to enter one of its most unpredictable and controversial periods in its recent history, but a series of landmark events in the viability of the ESL lie ahead immediately afterwards.

An absolutely pivotal moment in the development of the Super League story is anticipated in early 2023. The league’s future rests almost entirely on the outcome of a European Court of Justice judgment.

The case, referred to the European Union’s highest court of appeal by a court in Madrid, was brought forth by the three remaining proponent clubs of the ESL: Juventus, Barcelona, and Real Madrid. They assert that FIFA and UEFA’s role in the framework of football is fundamentally anti-competitive, and that their blocking of the ESL was the move of a monopoly, which breaches European competition law.

In contrast, UEFA contends that a “closed” league itself restricts competition and therefore its action to block the formation of the league was justified.

A judgement is expected to be made in early 2023, and a non-binding, advisory recommendation as to the outcome of the case will be made by the European Court of Justice’s advocate general on December 15.

And while the core of the arguments boils down to the intricacies of European Union competition law, a finding in either direction will be a monumental moment. If the ESL was to win, it would gain a legal foothold which may well instill confidence in the original member clubs, encouraging them to return to the fold. It would breathe new energy into the entire idea.

A finding in favor for UEFA on the other hand, would prove disastrous for the ESL. Without any popular support or legal foundation, hopes of bringing the remaining clubs back on board would quickly disintegrate.

For Barcelona and Real Madrid especially, the ESL is seen as an imperative to recoup a decade of ailing revenue. A protracted court challenge, through another nefarious route, would likely set any potential ESL creation back several years at least, which only accentuates their financial black holes.

And despite an apparent change of heart from the other nine clubs that originally signed up, some of them will be watching on carefully.

liverpool meta

In October, Liverpool and Meta announced a deal that will see the club partner with the social media giants to sell officially-licensed Liverpool merchandise in the metaverse. It’s the first deal of its kind between Meta and a European super club, and will see Liverpool take a cut of the revenue.

Even more recently, Manchester United announced the release of an NFT collection — an extension of their sponsorship with Tezos, a blockchain platform operator.

We’ve already seen clubs like Barcelona, Inter Milan, and Chelsea foray into the murky world of cryptocurrencies and NFTs through sponsorship deals. It’s one of the many methods that the world’s biggest clubs have used to tap into new revenue streams and markets around the globe, as fan bases become more international.

As the biggest clubs pivot to both catering for a global fanbase and extracting wealth from new markets, it’s clear that spaces like the metaverse and various other intangible items are going to increasingly become priorities. It means that sooner or later the tried-and-tested architecture of European football is going to need realigning to facilitate a change in interests.

And when the issue of the ESL arises again, perhaps with a new legal mandate, it’s this kind of promise that will be most tempting to the clubs sitting on the fence.

As long as a burning ember of the ESL idea remains, the potential for it to turn into a cataclysmic firestorm is always around the corner. It may seem like the outburst of protests and subsequent back-tracking in April 2021 was enough of a dousing to extinguish the fire, but that was only a temporary fix.

During the World Cup, some fans will face a glaring moral dilemma. It’ll be all too easy to forget that in the background, the ESL continues to rumble on, steadily building momentum ahead of a courtroom showdown in early 2023. It’ll be all too easy to be morally fatigued after the World Cup. But the conscientious fan must recognize the importance of this moment in the future of football as we know it, and remain diligent.

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