Year in a word: Super League

(noun) the proposed elite professional football tournament orchestrated by top European football clubs to break away from the rest

Close to midnight on Sunday April 19, a dozen of Europe’s biggest football clubs announced they would launch a new “Super League”. This would be an exclusive tournament played for big money, in which teams would be guaranteed their places every season.

It was also a radical project that sought to destroy the sport’s cherished “pyramid” system, a romantic ideal that suggests any side, no matter their size and stature, can reach for the most glittering prizes.

The cabal of über-rich club owners who cooked up the breakaway did not properly assess their opposition. Fans, politicians, players and commentators were fierce in their criticism, leading the Super League to collapse within days of being unveiled.

Nine of the original clubs involved have backed away. John Henry, the billionaire owner of Liverpool, issued a grovelling apology. The US billionaire Glazer family, owners of Manchester United, felt forced to dampen supporter anger of their involvement by offering a deal to allow fans to buy shares in the club.

However, three clubs — Spain’s Real Madrid and FC Barcelona, as well as Italy’s Juventus — remain committed to the Super League, launching legal cases in an attempt to revive the concept. Yet even if Europe’s courts side with the remaining rebels, it is unclear that any team will join them.

Florentino Perez, the billionaire president of Real Madrid, claimed “football will die” without the Super League, believing more money, rather than less spending on players is what the modern game needs to be sustainable.

The Super League plan has become a byword for the hubris and avarice that tarnishes the world’s favourite game. But the fight back also shows most understand that sport’s romantic appeal comes from a sense of fair play, with winners decided on the pitch, not within boardrooms.

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