There is no better way to start an article than hyperbole and when the world of sport perfectly opens the door for it, its hard to pass up the opportunity.
Football might have just seen the most dramatic and important 48 hour period in its history. After years of suggestions, whispers and heavy hinting, 12 of Europe’s most powerful sides announced a breakaway Superleague in the middle of the night on Sunday. Despite the strange hour of its birth, the league received two days of condemnation from sports fandom as well as “moral giants” such as Paris Saint Germain, UEFA and an alliance of powerful national football associations. Scrapping for TV deals and a complete set of founding members, the SuperLeague died on Wednesday with a mass exodus of clubs that have left just Real Madrid, Barcelona and Juventus standing at the time of writing.
No clear PR lines. No TV contracts lined up. No firm commitments from three of the supposed "founders". Total amateur work from those involved and they deserve absolutely everything that's coming to them.— Grace Robertson ️⚧️ (@GraceOnFootball) April 20, 2021
Firmly at the center of this maelstrom, Real Madrid and Florentino Perez’s reputation has taken a massive hit. Not that social media has ever been the home of reasoned debate, but “Perez” name has been trending for two days, mostly filled with fans who want him to join his co-conspirators in resigning while a small minority have opted to back him with the Estamos contigo Presi (We are with you Presi) hashtag doing the rounds on Twitter since the Superleague’s collapse.
Much like the Superleague itself, Florentino Perez is not the cackling Disney villain he will be made out to be over the coming months. Whatever about his diabolical execution, Real Madrid’s current president surface level intentions with the Superleague was to cut our corrupt and filthy rich middle men and executives in the sport and secure the long term financial future of Real Madrid in the face of a devastating pandemic. His error was believing that in the face of problems that the whole of the game suffer from, the rich were the real victims and that their bloated self-worth made them worthy of being the controlling force in the game.
In this sense, Real Madrid fans have no obligation to trust, let alone, defend Perez’s actions over the last 24 hours. He wasn’t alone in thinking the Superleague was a good idea, but no one put their public profile on the line for it like Perez did. He has been a quiet supporter of the idea for years, he all but announced his intention to seek a Superleague to socios during the General Assembly in November, was the league’s first (and last) chairman and was the only Superleague honcho to do a live interview on the subject.
Certainly a hot take in the current climate but Perez is a very intelligent man and even a fool would have known that, in putting his reputation on the line for the Supereleague, he was also bargaining the club’s. Despite this clear fact, he never once consulted the socios that are supposed to own the club on whether they felt comfortable with this arrangement. The argument can be made that club members have no say on issues like this, however, that not even a temperature check seemed to be taken about how fans would feel about spearheading a Superleague is quite unforgivable. Things have been this way for quite some time and hence not likely to change, however, its been a long time since Real Madrid’s “democratic” processes were under the limelight as much as they have been in recent months. Coupled with the financial constraints of the socio model, perhaps some thought is needed into how the club is run.
Real Madrid shouldn’t be the only ones doing some soul searching. Many talking heads over the last two days have prefaced the European Superleague’s greed with how football has always been like this. One too many were surprisingly comfortable with this issue preceding Sunday and one too many were happy to end all arguments about the Superleague with said statement, perhaps as a silent consolation when they inevitably ended up watching it. Despite how annoying persistent reminders of how crooked the game has been over the last century, I’m not going to hide from the fact that I was, at best, ignorant of the issue or, at worst, callous to the plight of teams outside of my own.
One way or another, it wasn’t until the problem came into my own backyard that I really started caring about how money-oriented the sport we love has gone. I can’t imagine I speak for myself in this, pick up any history book and you will immediately note that often humanity has needed an obvious issue to become something of a sick parody of itself before we felt the need to address it. Fans, for the large part, have rejected the idea of a Superleague, but, helping ensure it won’t happen is akin to escaping the frying pan and jumping into the fire.
The forces that run this game are obscenely broken. Just in recent years, they have stood idly by as people died for their upcoming World Cup hosts and, as they allowed bribes to dictate the preceding hosts, are allowing the tournament to go ahead. In the face of a contagious pandemic that has killed 3 million people and affected the lives of billions, they are still insisting that local authorities put fans well being at risk by allowing them to return to stadiums this summer for the European championships just the tournament will be a financial success. They offer no representation or protection for the most vulnerable elements of this sport, allow players to exert themselves beyond the call of duty with almost no authority safeguarding their interests and continue to line their pockets with money of fans who barely ping their radar.
Even now, having defeated the Superleague, the spirit of fair play and meritocracy face immediate threat due to incoming Swiss model for the Champions League. These issues are just ones that a fan of one of Europe’s most privileged clubs can think of and its likely just scratching the surface. Fans and players have discovered their own worth in the last 48 hours, they have a say in the image of this sport and, having now so vehemently opposed a Superleague, have an obligation to continue fighting for the values that have been made so important over the last 48 hours.
As for Florentino Perez, he told El Chiringuito on Sunday/Monday that football was dying and he was right. Perhaps with some time to reflect, he might attempt to address that issue in a more altruistic manner rather than the self interest fueled fantasy that was the European Superleague.