Don’t let the big boys take away Champions League upsets

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Happy surprises in the first two rounds of Champions League group matches were cheered to the core by an avidly watching world. The delight of Young Boys beating Manchester United was followed by delirious wonder when Sheriff Tiraspol won away to Real Madrid. Just as impressive were the displays of Club Brugge in having much the better of a draw with Paris Saint-Germain and then claiming victory on the road at RB Leipzig. 

Football fans relish tales of the unexpected, and they know these could not have happened in the European Super League proposed by12 major clubs – an idea still being pursued by three of them despite fierce backlash from supporters across the continent.

Young Boys, Sheriff and Brugge are the kind of opponents the historic elite consider to be irrelevant and worthless, the kind forever to be excluded from the Super League. Allow a team from Moldova to play against us? What a joke, they thought. What’s the point? 

Do the giants know better now? Of course not. They despise the uncertainty of such mild shocks. Real Madrid and Juventus, in particular, remain insistent in their desire to forge ahead with the creation of an exclusive Super League, and they keep saying so openly amid widespread derision.

Madrid’s president Florentino Perez is adamant that only his precious Super League can “save football.” They are weasel words. What concerns him is putting a steel fence around Real’s dominant position in the game. What he really means is “protect my club”.

Andrea Agnelli, the president of Juventus, has been equally vocal in his defiance, and equally preposterous in his claims about “guaranteeing the stability of football”.

In a letter to Juventus shareholders he said: “The post-COVID world belongs to Generation Z, people between the ages of12 and 21” – implying clearly enough that the wishes of everyone else can be brusquely ignored. Think of it. If you are aged 22, 32 or 42, you are going to live for most of the rest of the 21st century, but your opinions on the future of football have zero value.

Then came more nonsense dressed up as profound intelligence. Agnelli claimed that with a Super League there should be a “focus on the performances of clubs in European competitions and how they contribute to the developing of talent as core elements in a new concept of sporting meritocracy (something that cannot solely be based on geopolitical and commercial considerations that should be kept separate to the essence of the sport itself).” One phrase immediately leaps out from the flimflam: “a new concept of sporting meritocracy.”

It sounds suspiciously like a break from the only true concept of sporting meritocracy: the one where every club has the chance to rise from grassroots to the Champions League if they are good enough, if they merit progress by their performance on the pitch. That is what Young Boys and Sheriff have achieved, playing with courage, nerve and skill against historic giants, giving the Super League plotters the bloody nose they deserve and proving that European club football’s most prestigious tournament must remain properly open to all comers. 

Agnelli’s “new concept of sporting merit”, never mind those impossibly important geopolitical considerations, wouldn’t allow mere minnows on the pitch against Juventus – not today, not even when Generation Z are sitting by the fireside telling their grandchildren how crazy the world was in 2021. It is an outrage to see Perez and Agnelli still campaigning for their craven Super League. It is bad enough that they may force alterations to the current excellent format by gaining access merely on grounds of historic success.

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