Power Play: Big-Name Players the Key to Halting the Slide Towards a ‘European Super League’

I hoped something would have changed by the time I woke up on Monday morning. I’m not suggesting I lifted my head off the pillow imagining the whole thing had “been a dream” or anything quite so clichéd, but – perhaps stupidly – I did hope my bleary eyes would focus on a statement from Manchester City, flashed across my social media or stacked up in my notifications, admitting the club had made a mistake.

And, yes, selfishly, it’s specifically a statement from City that I was desperate to see. Even if ‘The Super League’ falls apart – and I’m relatively sure it will, sooner or later – it’s arguable the immense damage has already been done, but I still hoped I’d see some kind of recognition from the team that represents the city I love that they realised they’d lost touch. That they’d been stupid. That they were listening.

Of course, there was no such statement to be found and, as I type this out, the ‘greedy six’ as they’ve quickly been dubbed are open in their apparent desire to tear up football and throw every other club in the country under the bus for the sake of…well, I’m not entirely sure really.

Money is the logical answer, of course. By securing their position at the top table for the next 24 years, Manchester City and their sudden newfound friends can guarantee revenues streaming in from across the globe for almost two and a half decades. Relegation – an inescapable fact of football Man City have contended with more than most – would be a thing of the past and, instead, the 15 clubs (plus five further ‘invited’ clubs on rotation) would play each other in a nice and neat walled garden. They’d be no risk, no threat, and – most importantly – steady and dependable income.

With Manchester City, however, I think the appeal of ‘The Super League’ is somewhat more complex and harder to define than “they just want more money”.

We’re Really Here?

While the financial situations of all of the 12 clubs currently involved differ dramatically, for the likes of City, money isn’t really an issue. The club has spent an immense amount of capital both on players, and on massively improving the environment around the team’s base in Manchester: The training facilities and the stadia that has been built up around the Etihad’s footprint over the course of the last decade can only truly be appreciated in the flesh, and the change it all represents is only really apparent to those who remember the area beforehand.

Whatever your views on the impact of Manchester City’s owners on football as a whole, or the wider conversation about City Football Group’s relationship with the United Arab Emirates, for the local area the arrival of Sheikh Mansour and co. has been an undeniable force for good. They’ve invested in housing, they’ve invested in the community, and they’ve had an undeniable and perhaps surprising presence at Manchester Pride every year. In short, they’ve done everything a football club should do to both foster new links and strengthen existing ones.

It’s been suggested Man City were one of the last clubs to join, pressured by the existing members.

Most importantly – and more than any of the other ‘founding members’ of The Super League – they know what it’s like for a club to fight its way up through the leagues and wrestle itself into the top tier, all within recent memory. As such, it’s all these factors combined that, for me, make Manchester City the odd one out of this so-called ‘elite’ group. They are taking everything they’ve spent the last 13 years building and they’re throwing it in the fire, all for the sake of (if supposed media leaks are to be believed) a fear of being left out.

City are so fixated with being seen by the wider world as a major footballing force, they’re now prepared to cut ties with every facet of their past to achieve this. The fans and what they want suddenly seem to matter very little – overnight, City have transformed into a monster, the footballing equivalent of the new guy at school desperate to fit in with the cool kids, even if doing so means shitting on everyone else in the process. It’s pathetic. 

Let me say that again: It’s utterly pathetic. The clubs Man City want to get into bed with were, just last year, intent on getting the team kicked out of all European competition for the foreseeable future. The likes of Liverpool and Manchester United are not our friends and have spent both time and money in recent years trying to take us down a peg or two. Our decision to suddenly cosy up to them is frankly bizarre.

There’s very little point in me saying any of this, of course. If you’re reading this, then you’re already fully aware of what ‘The Super League’ is and what it means to you. The big question is, can it be stopped?

Player Power

We’ve already seen pundits, the media, and most importantly fans come out against the statement of intent to kick-off ‘The Super League’ as soon as possible, and I think the heat will more than likely be turned up further in the coming weeks. I welcome any punishments both the Premier League and UEFA take against the six English clubs – they need to harsh and, just as importantly, they need to be swift.

None of these measures will change the clubs’ minds, however. There’s one only group of people I think can make a real impact on these billionaires, and it’s the players.

We’ve been told for a long time now that the players hold all the power in the game – too much power, we’re led to believe. They demand high wages, their agents call all the shots, and – if things are going badly – they can pull the dressing room together and get a manager sacked. Indeed, much attention is currently being placed on the managers – the likes of Pep and Klopp, and what they might think about the proposals. While I’d personally like to see all the managers involved condemn ‘The Super League’, the harsh reality is they are all expendable. Pep has lifted City to new heights, but every manager is replaceable, and a club’s success is never dependent on one man.

The players, however, are a different matter. I’m not talking about strikes or even blasting their employers in post match interviews on television – I fully expect all of the teams to turn up and play every fixture they’re required to in the coming days, all before saying as little as possible when a microphone is planted in their face. Rather, there’s plenty that can be said and done behind the scenes to rein in these owners, most notably by the big-name players who are yet to sign extensions to their contracts.

Kevin De Bruyne’s contract extension was recently announced by Manchester City with the all the gusto they’d traditionally give a big new signing, and there’s good reason for that. He’s an incredibly important player for City, both in terms of stringing together Pep’s vision on the pitch and, in the same beat, his position as a statement of intent for the club.

Keeping him on board is naturally designed to show the rest of the footballing world that Man City’s stay at the top table will be a lengthy one. It’s hard to imagine, however, that De Bruyne would have been quite so keen to put pen to paper had he known that doing so would result on him potentially never playing in the Champions League, or even the Premier League, ever again, let alone at the World Cup or Euros for Belgium.

Friend or Foe

I’m not naïve enough to think the big players don’t massively enjoy the huge amounts of money they earn, but at the same time, they are ridiculously competitive people. I cannot imagine a talent like De Bruyne being happy playing in what would effectively be a ‘friendly league’ year in, year out, largely taking on the same teams every season in matches where absolutely nothing is at stake. If City had made their intentions to join ‘The Super League’ clear to him during his recent negotiations, is it likely he’d have signed on the dotted line? I’d suggest not.

I hope that, over the coming weeks, players at all 12 clubs with the kind of standing De Bruyne enjoys slowly, but firmly, make their views known to the higher ups. I truly think it’s only the threat of being left without the stars that power the clubs to glory that will register with the owners of these football clubs: Managers come and go, but players are the people who win the game out there on the pitch and, most importantly, bring the eyes of the world to the game.

Real Madrid President Florentino Perez may think the “world stops” when his side plays Barcelona, but it’s unlikely the world would be quite as interested if both teams were fielding players with all the talent of your average Sunday league team.

If they collectively have the will, the big players can bring these lofty club owners crashing back down to Earth. Somewhat ironically, the people at the top of these self-appointed ‘elite’ clubs are acting like a band of prima donna players intent on giving their manager – in this case UEFA – the boot. It may well take the real players to show them how it’s done, giving ‘The Super League’ – and any other attempts to do something similar later down the line – the damn good kicking it deserves.

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