We saw them, wealthy club owners – three sets from the United States – with their paws in the cookie jar, like rabid raccoons raiding a woodland camp.
Can’t blame a billionaire for trying. After buying their way into fabled soccer teams that grew on the affections of humble fans all over Europe, a dozen club owners showed their contempt for the fans…and the players they have “bought”…and for the history of the best soccer leagues in the world.
It’s our toy. We can do what we want.
In case you are not up on this spectacular pratfall by rich people, let me say briefly: twelve of the best clubs in England, Italy and Spain were plotting a separate mid-week tournament involving 15 “permanent” members and five annual “guest” clubs. They would defy the structure of European soccer because…well, because they are rich guys, and they wanted more.
But their heist sputtered immediately in the past few days, and now the owners will be forever remembered for their blatant stick-em-up.
It is quite fitting that three of the rapacious owners who would have undermined European soccer are from the United States-- John Henry of Liverpool, Stan Kroenke of Arsenal and the Glazer family of Manchester United.
Other ownerships come from other countries -- Middle Eastern potentates and Russian oligarchs and other such worthies from Italy and Spain. No negotiations. Just a power grab in the middle of the night. Shame.
European soccer has become so big that even rich Americans began buying into hallowed clubs that have evolved from local lads pounding a muddy leather ball, on rudimentary fields for the entertainment of friends and neighbors. The fans and players created nasty local/regional rivalries, known as “derbies” like Liverpool-Man U or Arsenal-Tottenham.
For decades, fans who supported these clubs -- mostly men – were herded into dismal stadiums, forced to stand, putting up with rudimentary “restrooms” and grubby “food.” Fans were herded behind locked gates, and if a fire or riot broke out, they were left to work it out for themselves, sometimes at the grotesque loss of life.
Via television, and the creature-comfort example of American football and baseball stadiums, European soccer has evolved, with more luxurious settings and sometimes even “family sections” where men dare bring their wives and daughters.
As European clubs relaxed their quotas for foreigners, the best players in Latin America and Africa and Asia and even this distant soccer outpost of North America flocked to western Europe. The leaders noticed the success of the Super Bowl of American football and created ways to make money via all-European mid-week tournaments and calling it the Champions League.
Good grief, wasn’t that enough, all that money and all those epic games, with the best players in the world traveling and running like well-paid hamsters on a wheel?
One reason the Champions League had succeeded in recent decades is that it was based on a meritocracy. True. Clubs could show some brains and ingenuity and upgrade themselves to the top ranks of the national leagues, thereby qualifying for the Champions League.
You may notice that six of the 12 willing teams of La Cosa Nostra (Our Thing) – to be called the Super League, how creative – were from England. Arsenal. Chelsea. Tottenham. Liverpool. Manchester United. Manchester City.
I looked it up, and in recent decades, other clubs in England managed to qualify for the Champions League tournament – Leeds United, Blackburn Rovers, Newcastle and Leicester City.
But some owners wanted more. They got together and dreamed up a Super League of the in crowd and invited guests.
What Messrs. Henry, Kroenke and Glazer never saw coming was the rage of fans who survived the nasty old pits, who stood in the rain and snow, to create these leagues. Nor did the American owners and their arrogant colleagues dream that their hired help – mere players and even cheeky club managers like the Spanish (Catalan) Pep Guardiola of Manchester City – would go public, immediately.
The rest of this epic pratfall – rich and arrogant men, tripping in muddy streets -- is in the newspapers and on the air waves and the Web. I am quoting Rory Smith, the European soccer correspondent for The New York Times, as he updated the epic failure:
“But it was not only how quickly it all dissipated — Sunday’s future of soccer did not even make it to Wednesday — but how easily those who had designed it and signed on to it seemed to capitulate.”
The schemers are probably not embarrassed. Also, they are still rich.
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These people in the video made English soccer, not some Yankee carpetbaggers looking to make more money off other people's sport. (These blokes are rooting for the national team, but you get the point of who built English soccer.)
“They may hate the cultural context they now find themselves teaching in, but they love their work. The Achilles’ heel of schoolteachers, one all too easily exploited by politicians, is that they love their students.”
(One of the best reads in the NYT these days is Margaret Renkl, in Nashville. In her latest post, Renkl describes the dedicated core of “born teachers” – the majority, she submits.)
(From Madeleine Albright in one of her final interviews in February):
“Putin is small and pale,” I wrote, “so cold as to be almost reptilian.” He claimed to understand why the Berlin Wall had to fall but had not expected the whole Soviet Union to collapse. “Putin is embarrassed by what happened to his country and determined to restore its greatness.” – Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, recalling her first meeting with the relatively unknown Vladimir Putin in 2000. – The New York Times, Feb. 23, 2022.