Breakaway league just another step in the globalisation process
Irish fans of the English Premier League already consume their football through television
Sheikh Mansour’s money, not some intrinsic merit, has funded the success at Manchester City. Most of the other top clubs also have rich owners. Photograph: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images
The reaction among football fans to the proposed breakaway European Super League has been predictably furious. The plan, with a permanent membership of elite clubs, strikes at the very heart of what football fans believe is fundamental about sport.
This is that you succeed through merit. If you bring together the best players, you marshal them with a capable manager, and you play well then you will get to the top. Then you become the team everyone wants to beat and you need to get even better to stay at the top.
This is a fiction. It was true of football many decades ago but it is no longer the case. What drives success now is money and plenty of it. Do Manchester City fans see themselves as champions-elect because of merit? They have won more games than other teams so on the face of it that seems a reasonable conclusion.
But they are where they are because of luck. They are as successful as they are because they were bought by Sheikh Mansour and his billions have bankrolled their success. They are not alone in that, most of the other top clubs have rich owners.
But what if Sheikh Mansour had instead bought Newcastle United, West Ham, or Everton? Would these clubs now be among the elite rather than the clubs to be left behind in the second-rate national leagues?
This is the conceit that football fans no longer seem to want to recognise. Just as in society where we claim to have a meritocracy that rewards hard work and talent, so in football having enough money gives you an insurmountable advantage.
Uefa and the national European leagues have reacted sharply to the Super League proposal. What did they think would happen as they continued to ignore the growing financial strength of the top clubs. Did they think the owners of these clubs cared about the history and tradition of national competitions and the pyramid structure?
The football associations have a difficult choice now. They should prevent clubs that join the Super League from competing in national competitions. This will increase the risk of consumers turning away from a league with little at stake.
Players that join Super League clubs should be precluded from Uefa-governed competitions, or prevented from joining national league clubs for a period of time after playing in the Super League, if that is not outside of EU employment law.
These moves will make the Super League a more risky proposition for all concerned. Will a huge initial pay day – which will probably be used simply to pay the wages of superstar players – compensate for a loss of longer term stable income.
Looking closer to home, it is notable that so many Irish fans of English football clubs are also up in arms. These fans seem to have a blind spot when it comes to seeing they are part of the globalisation of football that has led steadily to the Super League proposal.
Irish Premier League fans already consume their football through television. Their current experience of football is similar to what is proposed in the Super League, except for the games against lower table opposition.
These fans are largely fooling themselves that they are part of a club and community. The clubs they care about see them as part of the global market place for television figures and merchandising sales.
Irish fans of the Premier League have bought into the entertainment aspect of the sport and now the soap opera dramatics, which has put an even greater divide between them and their beloved clubs.
Hopefully this discussion about the Super League and what it shows about the relentless globalisation of football and its transformation into a worldwide television-based form of entertainment, will make some Irish football fans realise that they have a choice.
They can continue to be distant, digital consumers of elite football, watching players that are as unrelatable as Hollywood stars. Or they can look around them and see football being played within the community, they can see clubs that represent their cities and towns, and with which they can build a meaningful relationship.
The standard of football in the League of Ireland will not match what fans will see on their television screens when they watch they Super League. But the experience of supporting your local team is real and it creates moments that are more enjoyable for being real..
Dr Declan Jordan is Senior Lecturer in Economics and researcher with the Centre for Sports Economics and Law in UCC