Much has been made of the European Super League, many whispers, not a lot of definitive plans. I’ve wondered which clubs would take part. So, let’s actually sit down and do it. A disclaimer that these are musings rather than a thoroughly researched post. There is a point to all this though (you can skip to the end, it’ll be caps locked, if you want).
Let’s start with Italy, because the whole thing seems to be being pushed by various Italian teams who are worried about current or potential future troubles.
Juventus, AC Milan, and Inter are probably automatics through a combination of history and current power. Also, neither Milan team are going to want to stay in Serie A if the other is in the Super League.
Roma will probably want to be in it, given a mix of being the capital’s biggest team, current power, and a fairly decent history. If the Super League were happening soon, Napoli would almost certainly feel entitled as the recent closest challengers to Juventus. Lazio would probably feel hard done by if Rome got in but they didn’t.
Assuming that the five teams mentioned before them were seriously in the mix for the Super League, Lazio would probably also be jumpy about staying in a Serie A without those big sides (as well as a bunch of other Europa League-level sides). Maybe they don’t have the weight to throw around like Roma or a current-quality Napoli would, but even so that’s five sides into the Super League.
Let’s jump back to somewhere I know more about. Manchester United, Arsenal, and Liverpool are probably automatics through a mix of history and quality. But Chelsea and Manchester City also have considerable weight to throw around.
Given Spurs’ ascendancy, they’re unlikely to want to be left as the big fish in a small pond, and have a decent history of their own to call upon. That’s about everyone who has a decent claim, though. After them are a bunch of teams like Southampton, Everton, West Ham, who don’t have the quality or history of quality to really put up a decent argument.
Barca and Real Madrid, of course. Atletico will insist that they get put in too, given that they’ve been legitimate title contenders for a while now.
But then you’ve got a strong bunch beneath them, albeit at a noticeable step down. Athletic Bilbao have never been relegated, won La Liga 8 times and come runner-up 7, and have a decent current quality; Valencia could make an argument based on history and relative recent strength (although present quality may undermine them).
You then have teams like Sevilla and Villarreal who have generally been Europa League standard in recent years, and could have legitimate concerns about the future of La Liga without any of the big 3, and would probably feel hard done by if either Bilbao or Valencia looked like they might get included.
Bayern Munich and Dortmund are musts. Varying East and West German league combinations give German clubs a shorter history, and the next most decorated club with even a chance at the Super League are probably Schalke. Bayer Leverkusen, though not a dominant side, may feel iffy about the Big Fish, Small Pond prospect.
This is also where ‘what happens to the Champions League’ questions come in. For the past decade(?), Leverkusen have been there or there abouts for Champions League qualification, which is no mean feat, and could stake a claim for the Bundesliga’s ‘third’ team after Bayern and Dortmund.
If there’s no elite competition for them to be in, few threats left in the Bundesliga, and just the prospect of a Europa League which will become a fight amongst the clubs not good enough for the Super League… Well, that’s a bit of a depressing future. Better to fight for inclusion into the Super League and make a strong argument about their current quality and loss of revenue without Bayern and Dortmund.
PSG will get in. Lyon have a strong claim. Marseille have a historic claim, though their current state may put them leave them out of things. But missing out on the Super League would and being left in a Ligue 1 where Lille, Monaco, Saint-Etienne, Nice, Rennes, and Caen are the pool of bigger fishes is likely to feel like a big slight to what is a very proud/stubbornly annoying club.
Others, such as Saint-Etienne (the club who’ve won the most Ligue 1 titles) could have historic claims, but a lack of anything notable in the 90s, 00s, and 2010s undermine any claim they might have.
PSV and Ajax are both going to want to be a part of it. Feyenoord are, according to Wikipedia, part of the Big 3 of Dutch football, and would probably be disgruntled about Big Fish Small Pond syndrome (hereafter BFSP syndrome). But then letting Feyenoord in might be a floodgate-opening precedent.
In fact, letting both PSV and Ajax in seems a little like giving too much to a Dutch football whose European footballing power has waned significantly and, on recent achievements in Europe, may not merit getting in. But can you really allow one in and not the other…?
Portugal’s Big 3 – Porto, Sporting, Benfica – are likely to want to join, and Portugal as a nation probably deserve a spot. But who to choose? I dunno.
Celtic and Rangers might be wise to lobby speculatively. Scotland have a hugely rich (well, long) footballing history, and are responsible for the tactical innovation that is: passing the ball.
(No, seriously, back in the day when only England and Scotland played, England dribbled like idiots and Scotland played a radical game of passing the ball to one another. Without the Scots, who knows, maybe football wouldn’t have taken off. But then, all of this happened around a century ago, that might not count for much now).
Will Turkish teams try and lobby? Russian? Probably. I forget what other countries are in Europe (just in case you were thinking this was a serious thinkpiece), but that probably means they don’t matter all that much.
THE POINT is that, if you assume Russia and Turkey get something of a token place, that’s about 30 teams. And if you are giving Russia and Turkey a token place then Belgium will probably want one too, Greece maybe too, and then the also-rans like Everton, Fiorentina, Sevilla etc will feel like they have a chance of avoiding uncertainty and falling revenues to join where the big bucks will be.
Everton might privately concede that, on quality grounds, they wouldn’t qualify, but they have a good history and imagine how the fans would react if their neighbours Liverpool went straight into the Super League and Everton didn’t even put up a fight?
As teams above them get included in the Super League, others will get BFSP syndrome, being dissatisfied at missing out and being lumped with smaller revenues and opportunities outside of it.
Arguably, the Super League would be comparable to American sports leagues like the NFL, MLB, NBA in terms of a grouped, marketable product where watchers on that continent could conceivably not have a properly local team* to root for, BUT where they will almost certainly have a local team (colleges in America, puny little league football in Europe).
*Local team in what would be considered the English sense, where one could attend games every week and has season tickets and stuff, where life may get in the way of attending but travel doesn’t.
All these leagues have 30 or 32 teams. My not-quite whittling down of European Super League teams turned out to have 30 teams (and honestly I didn’t manipulate it in order for it to turn out like that in order to prove the point).
Maybe leagues that span an area the size of a continent work out better with 30 teams, either to ensure a distribution of representation or to pander to current powerful teams.
That then raises the issue of how football fans would take not just a European Super League, but one which potentially split into different divisions in an American league style. But that’s something for a different article.