Will a European Football Super League ever happen?
- Updated: May 19, 2020
The topic of a European League is raised with predictable regularity. Anyone who thinks this is a new phenomenon is mistaken. Way back in 1957, the English Football Association called a meeting of the four home countries, together with Spain, Italy, Germany, France, and Belgium, to explore the possibility of some kind of European link-up.
At the time, the English First Division (the precursor to the Premier League) was being heavily criticized from all quarters. Improvements to air travel and a growing interest in European competitions led the authorities to believe a European League could be arranged in addition to the existing domestic leagues.
Matt Busby warned of Euro League difficulties in 1957
Manchester United manager Sir Matt Busby described the concept as “wishful thinking” and suggested that the idea was a long way off. He pointed out the scheduling complications and also the impact it might have on the domestic league which was the lifeblood of the game in England.
The Red Devils had only entered the European Cup the year before (1956) and made it to the semi-finals where they were beaten by Real Madrid. Before the competition began, they were offered the chance to withdraw from the English League to cope with the fixture congestion. They only declined because they had such a strong squad with at least 18 players good enough for the first team. By April 1957, they found themselves competing for a League, FA Cup and European Cup double and their squad was stretched to the limit. At one point, they played six matches in 11 days.
Discussions still ongoing today
Since those early discussions, the idea of a European Super League has never gone away and some of the most supportive voices have been raised again in recent times. Juventus chief Andrea Agnelli has expressed his desire for a different kind of European competition based on past success and prestige of the teams. The fear is that this league could become a closed shop and damage the current domestic structure.
The idea is not popular with fans, even those whose clubs would be involved. There is an appetite for some minor changes but not in the way currently proposed. Fans enjoy the rivalries at domestic and international level and the current structure allows enjoyment of both. There may also be resistance from the betting industry which has a huge interest in domestic football. The European domestic leagues are the biggest markets for wagering with more customers than ever enjoying the benefits of online betting. A switch to a European Super League could hurt many domestic teams who are reliant on sponsorship from the betting industry.
Domestic football also helps to shape the different performances and playing styles of the leagues across Europe. Because the game is played differently across the continent, it makes European competition a very different challenge for the top teams. A European Super League could eliminate some of the identity which makes each competition unique. It would also deny us the opportunity to see smaller teams such as Atalanta make an impact on the European stage.
It is now 63 years since the idea of a European League was first floated and many of the issues raised back then still ring true today. Right now, it still seems a long way off.