This past Saturday, the winner of the FA Cup was decided, as Leicester City was able to defeat Champions League finalists Chelsea 1-0. The most prestigious cup in England, the win caps off years of Premier League play from Leciseter that has seen them rise from competing in the third level of English football back in 2008, promoted twice to return to the Premier League in 2014, and then surprising the world by winning the league in only their second season back, in the 2015-2016 campaign. The Foxes since then have been a mainstay in the top-flight league, and have established themselves as a side who are frequently in the running for qualifying for European competitions. While we are now weeks removed from the Super League debacle which consumed European football for a whole week, the Leicester City FA Cup win allows us again to examine what a super league would have done to the game, and why it stands contrary to the very foundations of football and the idea of competition.
A quick lesson on the structure of most football leagues is necessary, as the major sports of the US don’t follow this format. Within each nation there are multiple levels each with their own teams. These leagues follow a system of promotion and relegation, which simply described, sees the top teams in a lower level league being promoted to higher levels, whereas the worst teams are relegated to the league that is a level below. This merit based system leads to teams in the leagues actively playing in order to gain promotion, or at the very least avoid relegation to a lower level league. At the highest of levels, performing well means qualifying for either the Champions League or the Europa League, competitions which pit the best European clubs against one another.
How did the Super League fit into this format? Well, in practice it would’ve completely broken away from the mold and done something that had only been seen predominantly in American sports. The idea consisted of having 15 permanent members of the newly formed competition, who would remain regardless of their performance within it. There would then be 5 additional teams within the Super League, who had qualified for it due to their performance in their own domestic leagues(though this process had never been established). It seemed also that the Super League would have been an additional competition to the likes of the Champions League, meaning teams would have likely been playing in both throughout the season. In the case of England, this Super League would have included the likes of the Premier League winning Manchester City, and City’s co-finalist in the Champions League Final, Chelsea. However, the FA winning Leicester CIty didn’t get the invitation to be in it, despite beating the likes of Chelsea and Manchester United in order to win England’s prized cup.
Ultimately, the Super League was about revenues, at least in the case of England’s teams who signed on to the venture. Owned by wealthy conglomerates outside of the country, such as John Henry’s Fenway Sports Group ownership of Liverpool, the main concern for these owners was and still is profit margins. These clubs were seen as investments which could help line the pockets of these owners, rather than clubs with years of traditions and fan bases that would look to preserve the spirit of competition which these teams have stood by since the creation of the English league system. With the format of the Premier League and its revenue sharing practices, the likes of Liverpool and Manchester City do inevitably lose out on a larger profit in the name of keeping newly promoted sides afloat. Hence the attempted creation of the Super League, the richest clubs in Europe looking to split revenues amongst themselves and create an additional avenue for further profits with additional games and potential lucrative television deals.
To provide further evidence that the Super League was nothing more than a cash grab that would have damaged the competitive integrity football is founded on, let’s look at the richest clubs in England. All six of the Super League Clubs(Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea, Tottenham, and Arsenal) make up the top 11 richest clubs in the world. Arsenal was last among the English teams, worth 388 million euros.
Leicester City was listed 22nd among the world’s clubs, at 171 million Euros. In reality, the owners of the Super League teams were willing to destroy the integrity of the game in order to make up for lost profits due to the pandemic and to set themselves up for bigger profits in the future.
So what do the failed Super League and Leicester City have to do with each other? First and foremost, Leicester City was not one of the six English clubs included in the proposed Super League. Despite being able to capture the FA Cup, and beating two Super League teams on the way to it, Leicester City would have had to still qualify for it, despite proving themselves already to be one of the best teams in England. The leagues of Europe are played with the principles that domestic success should be rewarded with entry into European competitions, whereas poor play is followed by relegation. In reality, it wouldn’t have been the best teams who continually made the Super League, just the richest ones.
Meanwhile, these Super League teams could potentially be relegated due to poor domestic league performance, but due to the nature of the Super League, they would have still made it every year.
Secondly, we wouldn’t be able to experience stories like Leicester City if the Super League came to fruition. From a third level squad in 2008 to now one-time Premier League Winners, current FA Cup winner, and established first-level team, the journey that the Foxes took and the excitement and story it told was only possible because of the way in which the leagues are set up. There is something magical and exciting in seeing a squad work their way up from the lower leagues of their nation and become an established and formidable side. While it’s not a story that gets to be experienced every year, when it does happen, it is always entertaining to see. Why then should we limit the successes of these teams by limiting their participation in higher competition? If the Super League had actually succeeded, irreparable damage to the Champions League financially could have meant a more limited field for teams. And with only five teams qualifying all across Europe for the Super League, there would have been no guarantee of Leicester City entering European competition. The Super League would have only consisted of wealthy teams who’ve had successes in the past, and the stories of teams like Leicester City would have been limited to domestic success, and nothing more.
The owners of these Super League teams should have come to understand, based on the reaction of the football world, that Europe does not want an American model for their competitions. Relegation and promotion encourages teams to go out and look to make their teams the best they can be. With American sports, teams can and do tank, intentionally not putting out the best team they can so they can bank on a high draft pick at the end of the season. It’s an issue that all four major American sports have, but not one seen in football for a number of reasons, least of which is that relegation can spell disaster to teams and their profits. A Super League would have gotten rid of this principle, and allowed teams to field subpar squads for these matches, in order to preserve their teams for domestic games and potentially games in the Champions League. Leicester City has defied expectations consistently since returning to the Premier League, and their success should remind everyone why the Super League was such a poor concept from the beginning.