Thoughts on a European Super LeagueBy: Lachlan | November 16th, 2011
I really just thought of writing about this topic this morning, as I came across an article with some recent quotes from Sandro Rosell from Barcelona. He’s apparently sad that Barca can’t make enough money under the current structures of La Liga and the Champions League. From his quotes, I believe what he wants is for the major domestic leagues to reduce their number of clubs. This would reduce the number of league matches for each team, which would thus allow more Champions League matches to fill that void. For neutral fans, this should have some appeal. Rather than seeing the top domestic clubs play an extra eight matches per year against what are currently the bottom four teams in the domestic leagues, there could theoretically be eight more matches against the heavyweights in Europe.
Now, before I go any further, I want to issue a huge disclaimer. I’m really not sure exactly how all the rules and finances are set up, and I have no idea how likely any of this is to happen, due to various legal hurdles. So if this blog contains more oversights than normal, then I’m sure you’ll go easy on me. This is going to be a quickly-put-together sort of blog that just asks questions and presents some theoretical options. I’ll be looking at three ideas for change in this area – Rosell’s tweaking of the current system, a Super League with a defined set of teams, and what I’d like to refer to as the Homey Plan.
OK, with that out of the way, I’ll say that of course the idea of a European “Super League” has been around for some time. Long ago, when our friend Martin used to operate a site called “Martin on Mondays,” he even discussed the idea in his latest blog. The idea under discussion in that blog was a Super League with 20 teams, and those teams would apparently remain fixed from year to year. So those clubs get together and separate from the UEFA “umbrella” entirely, it would seem. How the 20 teams would be chosen is not really certain, and I’m sure there would be considerable whining on the part of the clubs that would be left out. The upside of this plan, however, would be that without promotion and relegation, the domestic leagues could move on from there, knowing which clubs are in and which clubs are out. So from there, domestic relegation and promotion could go on as before, after the removal of a couple of the giant clubs. The downside of this plan, besides the fact that it would create an more drastic separation of “haves” and “have nots,” is that there’s no fair way to pick the top 20 in the first place. For instance, what would you do with Liverpool, who has gobs of tradition and a great fan base, but recent results simply wouldn’t justify their inclusion?
Another plan (the Homey Plan), which I think would be more fair and merit-based, would be to have a more fluid league of 24. Now, right off the bat, that sounds like a lot of teams and a lot of games to be played. With a full home-and-away schedule, that would be 46 league matches. Currently, teams in the Premier League play 38. However, Champions League group stage participants also play anywhere from 6 to 13 total CL matches just right there (not counting play-ins like Arsenal went through this season). So if the CL were abandoned, but league matches increased by eight, the schedule would be roughly as heavy as it is now.
How would it be set up according to merit? My suggestion would be to use current UEFA coefficients to allocate most of the spots in the initial 24-team Super League. I would give four spots to the top country, three each to the next three countries, two to the next country, and one each to the next six. With the remaining three spots, I’d award those to the best-finishing teams in the final year of the Champions League, but from countries not already represented. Let’s take a closer look at how this would work for the first year.
If the Super League were set up for next season, it would include the top four finishers from England, top three from Spain, Germany, and Italy, top two from Portugal, and one each from France, Russia, Ukraine, Holland, Greece, and Turkey. Based on current Champions League tables, the three additional teams would be Apoel Nicosia, Basel, and BATE Borisov.
Moving forward from there, I think it would be good to have the bottom twelve teams relegated from the Super League, with a new batch of twelve promoted. If the number of relegated teams were much smaller, then the league table would get boring by the middle of the seasons. A few teams would be challenging for the title, and a few would be trying to avoid the drop. The ones in the middle wouldn’t have much to get excited about. So dropping twelve each year would keep interest up. The other thing it would do is ensure that the Super League is an attainable dream for those clubs still in the domestic leagues. In particular, and as an example, it would help ensure that there wouldn’t be a team win the EPL several years in a row, and yet have no spot in the Super League to be promoted into.
Regarding the details of promotion and relegation, my plan would be to replace each team on a like-for-like basis. So if Valencia (currently third in La Liga) gets relegated in their first year of the Super League, then the champion of La Liga in the first year would take their place. If Basel gets relegated, then they’d be replaced by the top finisher in the still-existing Europa League, provided that team comes from a league without an automatic qualifier. In other words, the qualifying team from Europa League would not be from a top-11 league, under my plan.
Coefficients would continue to be important going forward too, and here’s how I would work that. Let’s say Belgium (currently 12th) raised their coefficient above Turkey at some point, based on Europa League performances and so forth. Then they would have an automatic spot. However, they could only take that spot if/when a Turkish team got relegated. Then Belgium would retain their automatic place in the Super League as long as their coefficient remained in the top 11.
By structuring relegation/promotion in this way, there would be minimal disruption to domestic leagues. Most teams getting relegated back to domestic leagues would be replaced by teams from those domestic leagues, so the numbers would even out. However, there would be times when a team is relegated back to a domestic league, but no team is promoted. Domestic leagues would simply have to figure out a way to handle this, but I don’t think it would be too hard. If a team were sent back to the Swiss League, for instance, then that league could simply promote one less team from the lower division that year. It would take some moving around to be sure, but it could still be done. But again, in general, most teams relegated to domestic leagues would simply be replaced by promoted teams, and the numbers would balance.
So what would be the advantages to such a plan? Obviously, neutral fans of the game would enjoy seeing a lot more heavyweight matchups across Europe on a regular basis. That’s the real selling point to the whole thing. But I think there would be other benefits as well. I think it would make the Europa League action a lot more exciting, since it would include better teams AND allow certain teams an avenue for promotion to the Super League. And the other real advantage would be to make domestic competitions a lot more interesting, with a host of new teams having realistic hopes of winning a league title. So what a domestic league would lose in top-end quality, it might make up for it somewhat in more competitive balance.
For instance, supporters of Hearts in Scotland have a “fanzine” called Always the Bridesmaid. According to the article I just referenced, if not for Celtic and Rangers, Hearts would have won 21 domestic titles. So you think they’re really happy about the existence of the Old Firm giants? Certainly it’s a help to the domestic league financially to have the giant clubs around, but I can also see why the lesser clubs wouldn’t mind seeing the bigger ones move on. Now of course in the example I listed, Celtic and Rangers wouldn’t move on the Super League, but would rather stay in Scotland. But the point is still the same regarding other clubs around Europe who are “always bridesmaids,” but would have new hope for a domestic title if the local giants moved on to a new league.
On the other hand, there are a couple of immediate objections, so let me take these one at a time. First, there’s the sense that countries would be losing their biggest clubs to Europe, and domestic fans wouldn’t get to see them in person as often. So if you’re a fan of Aston Villa, you might miss a chance to see Man Utd, Chelsea, etc on a regular basis. But that’s still bittersweet for them, since they traditionally don’t win a lot against the big teams anyway. Plus, all teams would still participate in domestic cup competitions, as always. So there would still be ample chances for domestic clubs to see their rivals from the Super League in the FA Cup or Carling Cup.
A second objection to the Super League is something I touched on earlier – money. Obviously, some people would not want to watch La Liga or the Bundesliga if the top teams were removed from those competitions. Meanwhile, the “rich would get richer” in the Super League. I don’t like that at all. So my thought would be to distribute a percentage of Super League profit to the domestic leagues and their clubs, according to how many teams from that country are in the Super League. So a country producing four clubs to the Super League would get the most, but even the Swiss League, in my example, would be compensated for Basel taking up residence in the Super League in the first year of its existence.
The hope financially would be to grow the economic pie for everyone, but still have regulations built in to prevent the Super League teams from financially pulling away from the pack. Overall, I think more people would watch European soccer if my plan were put into place. How many times to fans have to sit through Real Madrid or Barca thrashing some hapless La Liga opponent 5-0? It happens quite often. The Super League with a very fluid promotion/relegation structure would create a highly competitive and interesting Super League, but also would make domestic leagues more competitive, and would make the Europa League more relevant as well.
OK, well there’s a quick version of my plan, as compared to the other plans that have been out there for a while. Again, I’m sure the legal hurdles would probably prevent it from happening, but at least I can dream a little bit. You can voice your thoughts in the poll below. And we’ll be around for this weekend, when we finally get back to real game action.
Which of the following plans would you prefer?
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:10.