As the Saudi Pro League try to out-do the Premier League in ridiculous spending sprees and inflated transfer valuations in a form of financial doping, Susy Campanale asks what if the Super League is inevitable, but it’s not a European one?
Serie A is the selling league now, only slightly smarter a boutique than Ligue 1 and the Bundesliga, while LaLiga aren’t far ahead now that Barcelona are basically bankrupt, leaving only Real Madrid with any cash in the kitty. The Premier League sucked up all the available money from football, much of it thanks to their revolutionary TV rights deals, but also some frankly shady ownership that massively skewed their finances with ‘sponsorship’ and other side contracts that allowed them to blast through Financial Fair Play parameters with wild abandon. We’ve barely started understanding what put Manchester City in a position to win the Treble while facing over 100 charges of breaching the Premier League’s financial rules. In comparison, the Juventus case seems like some minor creative accounting.
To see some English pundits complaining that the Saudi Pro League is engaging in ‘financial doping’ is frankly hilarious, considering they are just super-sizing the same schtick we’ve seen from the Premier League for the last decade. Who is realistically going to resist when a club comes along and offers to triple their wages, while at the same time giving their team enough to replace half the squad with one player sale? It inevitably also skews the market all over the football world, because if Declan Rice is worth over €120m, then what price should Napoli put on Victor Osimhen, or Inter on Lautaro Martinez?
This has always been my problem with the case presented against Juventus, which without the telephone wiretaps would’ve fallen apart immediately. How much is a player worth? The only answer can be the figure two clubs agree on. If Rice – no offence, but really? – or Mason Mount are worth over €120m, then who is to say some random youth player isn’t valued at €8m? The transfer market has always been relative, and the Premier League clubs started the spiralling valuations, now further exacerbated by the Saudi Pro League.
To make matters worse, the SPL isn’t even within the umbrella of UEFA, so cannot be hemmed in by the ever-changing and yet still deeply ineffective Financial Fair Play regulations. Yet it inevitably affects the football ecosystem and the more great players it poaches, the less it can be ignored.
What I can see happening is the Super League, but not a European one. Andrea Agnelli might get his wish after all, just not quite the way he envisaged it. When so many talents are in a League that nobody watches, when so much money is pumped into the football system and when more and more random tournaments are hosted by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, like the World Cup, the Club World Cup, the Italian and Spanish Super Cups, for how long can they be excluded?
It feels like the ultimate endgame for the Saudi league, and it really is one entity rather than different clubs competing against each other, is to bring the Mountain to Mohammed. They are trying to make themselves so big and rich as to be impossible to ignore. At that point, already facing the pressure to keep expanding the Champions League, UEFA will eventually cave and ‘share’ a Super League that includes teams from Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which will allow them to host some games in those stadiums built for the World Cup and everyone will benefit from the extra revenue. Financial Fair Play will be abandoned, as if it’s doing anything remotely useful now, and the Saudi investors will happily pay for everyone to come to their party, much like those pop stars who are paid millions to perform one private gig.
UEFA and FIFA won’t give a damn about the human rights concerns or the moral ethics, because they are already experts in mercilessly cutting out anything from broadcast that isn’t part of their sponsorship package. That is the ultimate aim of this whole sportswashing plan. That is the final stage, to be part of the football elite not just as owners behind the scenes, but front and centre with everyone else coming to them. The sad thing is, most fans will happily embrace it, as long as they get to buy star names and still gloat over petty local rivalries.