European Super League

European Super League: A Debacle or a Justifiable Threat to UEFA’s Monopoly over European Football?

The European Super League has sparked debate across all football fanbases ever since its inception. The league, which was announced in the middle of the lockdown period, has been in controversy for the last few years. While the initial premise of the Super League sounded promising, fans were quick to dismiss it as nothing but a stain on the beautiful game and label it as a scheme for the top clubs to get richer, increasing the gap between Europe’s wealthy and those who were not so affluent. 

While the original reaction from fans was strong enough to get the idea of the league dismissed from various clubs who were initially set to participate, the idea of a European Super League has seen a surge in popularity and controversy with the recent ruling by the European Court of Justice and the latest UEFA Champion League format change. The current developments may leave you wondering if the Super League was a debacle in the first place or if it was quickly squished as it dismayed UEFA’s monopoly over European football.

What is the European Super League?

The European Super League (ESL) was a proposed breakaway football competition involving some of Europe's wealthiest and most successful football clubs. It was announced in April 2021 by twelve founding clubs: AC Milan, Arsenal, Atlético Madrid, Barcelona, Chelsea, Inter Milan, Juventus, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Real Madrid, and Tottenham Hotspur. The ESL intended to rival UEFA’s most prestigious football competition, the UEFA Champions League.

Initially, the proposal faced widespread criticism from fans, football governing bodies, players, coaches, and even governments. Critics argued that the ESL would concentrate power and wealth among a select few clubs, undermine the competitive balance of domestic leagues and traditional European competitions, and alienate grassroots football.

Due to the immense backlash, within days of its announcement, several clubs started withdrawing from the ESL project. By the end of April 2021, all six English clubs (Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, and Tottenham Hotspur), along with Inter Milan, AC Milan, and Atletico Madrid, had officially pulled out. This effectively led to the collapse of the European Super League before it even began.

However, a few clubs stuck around, namely FC Barcelona, Real Madrid, and Juventus, with all of them providing enough fuel in the flame for the European Super League to live to fight another day. Since the initial proposal and the subsequent backlash, the ESL has amended its format to include a pyramid-like structure that would allow clubs of all backgrounds to participate, allowing for a holistic participation schedule. 

Despite these changes, UEFA has continued to unhealthily suppress the ESL, with a European Court of Justice arriving at the same result in December 2023. The court ruled that UEFA and FIFA had abused their position of power and unlawfully suppressed the formation of a new competition in Europe. 

UEFA and its Problem with the ESL

The very formation of the European Super League was based on doing away from UEFA and its ruling over European football. Currently, UEFA organises all inter-country football competitions, both at the club level and at an international level. The initial founding members of the ESL alleged that UEFA was a selfish organisation that was focused only on printing money for itself, ignoring the welfare of clubs and players alike.

Furthermore, the ESL argued that UEFA was the sole profiteer from prestigious club competitions such as the Champions League, and this was substantiated by the worsening financial conditions of many of the initial members of the ESL. Clubs such as FC Barcelona, AC Milan, Inter Milan, and Juventus have all been hampered economically despite all of them being domestic champions at least once in the last 4 years. The clubs argued that despite their domestic success, they were impeded economically due to UEFA’s financial prohibitions and their history of being financially amoral.

The Super League was aimed to be a breakaway from UEFA’s monopoly over European Football and instead offered a system where the clubs themselves would be much more financially profitable. UEFA has been in charge of all European football competitions for decades and was quick to recognise the threat of the ESL. UEFA was quick to hand out sanctions and threaten bans to the clubs who accepted the ESL proposal, which then led to 9 clubs pulling out of the project.

While the initial format of the ESL was a flawed one, and the criticism it received from the fans was very deserved, the ESL has gone on to change the format of its competition for the better, while UEFA has made some erroneous changes to the structure of the Champions League. 

Initially, the ESL was designed as an invite-only competition, catering just to the European elite. This was later changed to incorporate a pyramid structure comprising various tiers of football clubs that could all have a shot at glory. Meanwhile, UEFA has introduced a new format of the Champions League that is set to increase the number of matches played each season, as well as replace the existing group-stage level of the competition with a model that looks to be conspicuously similar to the one proposed by the ESL. The new model removes various groups and instead replaces them with a league-style table which will see the top-ranked teams proceed to the knockout rounds after the conclusion of each head-to-head matchday.

Not only is the latest system of the Champions League unbelievably unoriginal, it simply adds to the notion that UEFA truly does not care about the well-being of either clubs or players. The added matches to the new format add additional strain on the players’ workloads, which are already at an all-time high due to the introduction of new competitions such as the Nations League, another venture undertaken by UEFA. Additionally, it is very unlikely that the clubs themselves will see the profit that the extra matches bring to UEFA’s pocket, with the European agency set to pocket all of the profits. 


While the initial proposition of the ESL was egregiously flawed, and it received the correct reactions from the fans, UEFA’s response to the whole incident was worth noting. UEFA recognised the threat that the Super League posed to its monopoly over European football, highlighting decades of exploitation against clubs and players. 

While I agree with the supposition that the original Super League idea was one that inherently challenged the ideals of the beautiful game, the monopoly that UEFA has been running isn’t so far away, either. With all the new competitions that UEFA has been introducing, as well as the latest changes to the Champions League format, UEFA’s outlook towards financial profit is clear as day.

With the recent European Court of Justice ruling, I hope that the ESL emerges as a clear competitor to UEFA’s offerings. Currently, the Super League sits in a tentative position as many of the initial founders were bullied out of it by UEFA’s sanctions. It will be interesting to see how the European footballing sphere develops in the next few years. 

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Samar Takkar

Samar Takkar is a third year undergraduate student at the Indian Institute of Psychology and Research. An avid tech, automotive and sport enthusiast, Samar loves to read about cars & technology and watch football. In his free time, Samar enjoys playing video games and driving.

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