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The billionaires hell-bent ​on ruining football must be brought to heel

James Moore
·5-min read
<p>Liverpool and Arsenal are two of six English teams involved in plans for a European Super League</p> (Getty Images)

Liverpool and Arsenal are two of six English teams involved in plans for a European Super League

(Getty Images)

Billionaires, big businesses with global brands, and a Wall Street bank with a multibillion-dollar financing package – this is where everyone’s supposed to cheer “goal!”

The new European Super League, which will see England’s “top” six clubs (including Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham) break from the Premier League, is surely going to bring in investment and, ah, jobs (maybe) and investment!

And at the front of the queue should be the government with its pom poms, playing cheerleader for the “free market” while saying “look it’ll bring in investment and, ah, jobs (maybe) and investment”.

That’s how big corporate actions are supposed to be greeted, right? Not as something to be concerned about, because the billionaire football bosses are ultimately investing in Britain! Aren’t they?

It shouldn’t come as any surprise that people behind this thought they'd get away with it. In their business lives before they started adding sports clubs to their collections of fine wines, and mansions and racehorses, they’ve always got away with such actions and they’ve usually been feted for doing so.

Their wheeling and dealing? Applauded, generally regardless of the jobs axed, the prices hiked, the damage done. There are gushing profiles courtesy of a compliant financial press. Dinners with politicians. Sometimes honours.

The modern Trumpian tactic of saying black is white and white is black again and again and again and having people believe it? It isn’t new. It’s been going on forever in corporate circles.

The owners of these clubs and their pals have been carving things up to their liking and conning us with the line that it’s capitalism, and everyone wins from the trickle-down when it’s red in tooth and claw, for years, in multiple arenas.

And people have largely bought it. Oh, there’s been the odd grumble here and there. A critic or two to put the other side in the media, but the point is that those in power have largely bought it too, usually with the aid of some lobbying (and we’re now seeing the messy results of that too aren’t we) and so it goes on.

It’s taken a step so naked, so brazen, so blatant in its unadulterated greed that it eclipses even football’s everyday variety, so shameless about its cynical attempt to fix the market, to get the people who usually greet stuff like this with an airy “of course, just make sure the cheque’s in the post” with the word “no”.

That must have come as quite the shock to the people behind this. They aren’t used to hearing that. This sort of sound and fury is strange music to them. Even their players, whose silence they might have hoped to buy with the prospect of a fat cheque, even they’ve been protesting. As well they might. A lot of them follow the NFL and they know that the next step in the sort of closed oligopoly envisaged by the creators of this league must be a salary cap.

Reading the room, the politicians, whom the money men usually divide and rule, are now promising action. But what sort of action?

Well, that’s where it gets interesting. One of the steps under consideration is using competition law to bring a halt to this, which is by far the least radical option, and thus the most palatable to ministers, and also some sort of joke.

Competition law is supposed to keep business honest but it rarely does. Corporate actions are always announced “subject to regulatory approval” but it’s vanishingly rare for that not to be granted.

Oligopolies like that one envisaged, even outright monopolies, can be seen wherever you look.

There are just a handful of banks of any size in this country. Ditto insurance companies. There’s a single search engine (Google the number of people who use Bing if you don’t believe me). Facebook, Apple and their mates buyout potential threats to their businesses every day. Amazon has crushed whole retail sectors beneath Jeff Bezos’ boots.

Competition is what the modern model of capitalism is supposed to be all about but it’s a lot less intense than its defenders would have you believe. Part of the reason is that the laws that are supposed to enforce it are as weak as a three-year-old’s first shot on goal. No wonder lawyers have been doing the media rounds saying it won’t work.

Alternatively, there’s the genuinely radical option of following Germany’s model in which fans are given majority voting control of clubs. Such a – dare I say it – stakeholder model would be very welcome beyond football. There are a few examples knocking around that work pretty well.

But forcing it through would require politicians to take on the billionaires and their lobbyists, and their PR people. It would involve that little word “no” spoken firmly.

I’ve already seen people muttering about the “loss of investment” in the English game as a risk if they did that. Next, they’ll be explaining why it can’t be done. Too complicated you see.

We’ve heard these arguments before. It’s the reason the people behind this are probably minded to batten down the hatches. They probably think that they’ll win if they do because they always have.

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