Rome fell in a day

A couple of thoughts about the collapse of the so-called European Super League.

First, it’s impossible to overstress how badly thought-out the entire enterprise was. The twelve clubs who signed up to create the Super League did nothing to get any of their constituencies on board. They didn’t even inform their managers and players. The one refrain from the managers interviewed about this – the managers who had to go out and face the press and public while the people who made the decisions were hiding in their penthouse apartments – was that they didn’t know anything more than the journalists: They found out at the same time the journalists found out. Moreover, the massive loan these executives had secured from J.P. Morgan was essentially an advance on television revenues, and they hadn’t made or even attempted to make a TV deal. If no TV deal had been forthcoming, or an unexpectedly poor one, then all of those clubs would have been on the hook for paying back a loan that at least some of them simply do not have the resources to pay back. It was a pyramid scheme, and a badly designed one at that. 

The second point is this: The chief makers of this fiasco are extremely unlikely to resign or be fired. (Ed Woodward is out, but he was on his way out anyway — I don’t think he would’ve been fired over just this, because Manchester United has been the least apologetic of any of the English clubs — and only Arsenal issued a straightforward apology that acknowledged the damage done.) There’s no way Florentino Pérez should still have a job, but I cannot imagine any circumstances in which he will get what he deserves; nor, obviously, can he. Andrea Agnelli remains confident in his excellent judgment and enjoys mocking his critics, despite being an absolute clown. And they can be so serene because they quite obviously do not give a rat’s ass about the clubs they work for or the game their teams play. They don’t care! It doesn’t matter to them! If, as a result of the stupidities of Agnelli and Pérez, those two great old clubs Juventus and Real Madrid had to close up shop, shut down altogether, do you think either Agnelli or Pérez would acknowledge any responsibility — or even lose five minutes’ sleep over the catastrophe? Of course not. It’s unthinkable. Somehow or another they would get a golden parachute and that would be just fine with them. Whatever wrath was directed their way by the press would mean absolutely nothing to them. This is what we mean by the word “shameless”: people cannot be shamed when they’re permanently content with their own behavior and care not a whit about the views of their fellow human beings.

It’s the fans who care, the fans who love the game and love their clubs, and they are the ones who are hurt by all this — and by the manifold corruptions that led up to it and that remain in place. And, as the Agnellis and Pérezes of the world know, this means that the fans will come back. The fans actually have the power to force change: if they were to stop attending the games — once attendance becomes possible again — if they were to boycott the clubs’ merchandise, if they were to boycott the television sponsors, they could make something happen. But we all know it won’t play out that way. People don’t just love their teams; in a cruelly mechanical surveillance-capitalism world they need the emotional hit that comes from investment in the successes or failures of their club. It’s surely asking too much of them to demand that they take meaningful collective action. And that’s why at the end of all this Agnelli and Pérez, or in any case people very much like them, will still be running the big clubs. They have the freedom that comes from not caring about anything but their own bank accounts.