By Tim Leberecht
One is hard-pressed to think of an uglier nemesis of beautiful business than the idea of the European Super League that collapsed after backlash from fans, coaches, players, even governments. It would have effectively locked the richest football (soccer) clubs into perpetual games with one another and scuttled the competition of talent as we know it.
In the wake of the protests, all six English clubs withdrew their participation, with some of them — Manchester United and Arsenal — apologizing to fans (in fact, even the leading bank behind the effort, JP Morgan, apologized). Some of the damage will be hard to repair, but for once, it seems, passion for the “ballet for the masses,” as Shostakovich called football, prevailed over arrogant greed.
The only two teams defending the project are Spanish superclubs Real Madrid and FC Barcelona, the latter a club that has always boasted its slogan “Mes que un club” — to be more than a club. With the decision to stay in the Super League, Barca has ceded the moral high ground.
What makes the club’s position even more shocking is that it is proud of its youth academy, the famous La Masia, which has produced talent such as player legends Lionel Messi, Xavi, and Andres Iniesta. The Super League is the very antidote to the idea of upward talent mobility. With clubs not being able to be relegated, it is essentially a gated community that substitutes financial power for genuine talent. That of course is not a new phenomenon in professional football, but never before has it been displayed more shamelessly.
The Super League is a caricature of the idea that sports rewards the best performance; it is indeed anti-sports.
Is the backlash against the Super League a pyrrhic victory on the road to the ultimate sell-out, or a real turning point that may restore some of the romance? We’d like to believe the latter. Fans have realized their power and gained new collective agency. The Super League fiasco may have served as the reminder that the professional football world needed that the beautiful game is more important than business.
With the words of the writer and fan Nick Hornby: “Please be tolerant of those who describe a football moment as their best ever. We do not lack imagination, nor have we had sad and barren lives; it is just that real life is paler, duller, and contains less potential for unexpected delirium.”
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Tim Leberecht is the co-founder and co-CEO of the House of Beautiful Business, a global platform and community for making humans more human and business more beautiful.