Football is held to ransom but call European Super League's bluff as Leeds United have own future - Daniel Chapman
LEEDS United’s Under-23s won promotion and their divisional title on the low-key 4G of Aston Villa’s training ground on Friday night.
The players celebrated the best moment of their young lives so far like it was exactly that, only pausing for a huddle with their coach, Mark Jackson.
I wonder if his victory speech dared deflating the mood, to remind some of them that one day this might be the best moment of their old lives, too.
Like the FA Youth Cup wins of the 1990s, winning an Under-23s title is a moment of glory and tension, enjoyed by all while raising expectations.
Leeds were the best team in their league this season, but this isn’t where the players want to be judged.
Joffy Gelhardt, Sam Greenwood and the boys want first-team football and Premier League success, but who in football gets to have what they want?
Jackson can tell them his story.
A standout midfielder in Leeds’ youth team, he broke into the Premier League for a season under George Graham.
Then Graham bought David Hopkin, Alfie Haaland and Bruno Ribeiro, and that was that.
Jackson went to Scunthorpe.
Fans tend to romanticise young players, but fate is rarely kind, even to the best of them.
And after this weekend we can be justified wondering what sort of world these young flowers will grow up in, or what sort of league they’ll play in.
Leeds fans, staff and players have been dreaming of Europe, but what form can those dreams take while football is effectively being held to ransom, pending a depressing and potentially ruinous factional war begun by a faded gang of clubs-turned-brands whose unimaginative plan for clinging to relevance is to make themselves the only relevant league in town?
You don’t have to be anxious about Leeds or Leicester usurping your status if you start a new league without them, and that’s what the proposed Super League boils down to.
Even if it happens, it looks doomed to fail, because it’s a stupid idea developed by morons, and failure usually follows when you combine the thick with the greedy on this scale.
The owners and executives involved in the breakaway can’t even run their own clubs properly, and that’s what has brought them to this mess.
One of the biggest revenue-generating clubs in the world, Real Madrid, is €900m in debt and anxious for the stable income predicted by their Super League.
Because, apparently, it’s easier to tear European football apart than it is to stop paying Gareth Bale €500,000 every week to play golf.
For years, top clubs have been taking the billions on offer from broadcasters, and shoving all that money and more into the pockets of players and agents.
Now clubs can’t understand why they’re all broke, and are desperately grabbing at even bigger pies being promised by investment bankers, cash that will, no doubt, all go the same way.
I struggle to believe that the same Old Trafford execs who negotiated themselves into penury to pay the wages of the scourge of Greece, Harry Maguire, are going to get a better deal across a table from Wall Street’s most ruthless.
The only people guaranteed not to lose from the Super League are the banks.
The problem is that it’s not only themselves the clubs could destroy.
Leeds United, eager to invest in infrastructure, must be wondering what teams they might welcome to an expanded Elland Road, in what competitions, and how much to spend in that case.
Andrea Radrizzani tweeted firmly against the proposals yesterday morning, but he will be under pressure.
He has an investment to make back and future profits to protect.
The proposed devaluing of the Premier League and UEFA competitions proposes devaluing Leeds.
How will he answer if a gilt-edged invitation lands on the doormat at Elland Road, after the umpteenth Zoom call with the 49ers, who might keep asking why a franchise system is so wrong in Europe when it’s so right in San Francisco?
It’s pressure I hope Radrizzani can withstand, because it’s his style of ownership the wish-they-were big clubs want to mitigate against.
Running a football club is easy and that’s why Leicester won’t leave the top four alone.
Invest in your club to increase revenue, use that revenue to pay the best players and coaches you can afford, watch them compete against other teams, learn from success or failure, tweak and repeat.
The problem want-away clubs like Arsenal have is that, with so much money in the game now, more clubs have the resources and the intelligence to make that simple model work, while they struggle to make good on the extraordinary advantages Arsene Wenger gave them.
Football does have a future, but it shouldn’t be shaped by the needs of used-to-be big clubs to service irresponsible debts built up by their incompetence amid delusions of prestige.
Call the Super League’s bluff and let them go, and rebuild a sustainable game without them.
Remember that football is football, whether it’s Messi in the Champions League, or Joffy on a 4G pitch last Friday night.
Remember that Leeds are better at this than Arsenal.
We can have our history and have our future, too.
Daniel Chapman has co-edited Leeds United fanzine and podcast The Square Ball since 2011, taking it through this season’s 30th anniversary, and seven nominations for the Football Supporters’ Federation Fanzine of the Year award, winning twice. He’s the author of a new history book about the club, ‘100 Years of Leeds United, 1919-2019’, and is on Twitter as MoscowhiteTSB.
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Thank you Laura Collins