On Sunday, some of Europe’s biggest soccer clubs (we’re calling it soccer here, sorry) announced their intention to break from their current regional leagues and form a new organization called the European Super League. The announcement was met with criticism, dismay, and frustration from all corners of the sports and sports-adjacent world. But perhaps the most surprising high-profile plea came from an emotional James Corden on his Monday night show.
As you might expect of an Englishman hosting an American late-night show, Corden started with a brief explanation of the existing league system and how exactly the Super League would change it for the worse.
In the current setup, most countries in Europe have their own pyramidal league structures. The best teams compete in the league at the top, like the Premier League in England, while smaller teams compete in lower leagues all the way down to the amateur level. Through a promotion and relegation system, teams can move up or down in leagues depending on how they perform each season.
This system tends to keep each country’s best teams — the ones with the most money, in almost all cases — at the top of its most prestigious league. However, it also lets smaller teams compete, which often provides some of the best narratives and most exciting moments. The problem with this, from the perspective of the top teams, is that those same smaller clubs get a chunk of the revenue from the extremely lucrative TV deals for the leagues in question, even when they do comparatively little to draw attention or viewers.
“These teams, these owners, are killing — they will kill hundreds of other football teams that compete with them, and have competed with them many times over the years,” Corden said, adding that making this move is “disregarding the fan bases of those teams and disregarding the fan bases of their own teams, who are devastated about [this] too.”
It is, as Corden said, an inherently greedy argument by those clubs at the top. But it’s also a difficult one to reason against for some soccer fans, particularly in America. While Corden has a clear-eyed, emotional connection to the English and European idea of soccer — which he characterizes as a grassroots sport with clubs founded by working-class people — most American fans have only jumped on the European soccer bandwagon in the past two decades, and they’re overwhelmingly fans of the world’s biggest and best teams.
The European Super League’s ultimate plan would be to feature 15 permanent teams, with five more that rotate in every year from various domestic leagues. The league currently has 12 teams onboard, including Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea, Barcelona, Real Madrid, and Juventus. To put it another way, it’s basically a list of everyone’s favorite European soccer clubs — minus Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern Munich, two current holdouts.
So the clubs — and JPMorgan Chase, their financial backer — aren’t necessarily wrong when they say that they’re the only teams that people want to see play. Where they are wrong is in suggesting that blowing up the current system is the solution.
UEFA, the governing body of European soccer, has threatened to expel the teams from certain European competitions if they go through with the creation of the new league, and has even said it will ban the players on those clubs from competing in the World Cup. The Super League would effectively be the end of international soccer, at least in its current form.
And this is where James Corden comes back into the picture. Corden’s emotional segment was a perfect explanation for his American fans of why they should care, and an excellent example of how much sports, and soccer in particular, can mean to people.
“It’s hard to express how much these communities rely on football — not just financially, which is considerable,” Corden began, after noting that the owners had repeatedly cited the coronavirus pandemic as a reason to form the European Super League. “Football’s, like, a focal point of a town’s hopes and dreams. That’s what it is, you know, and these dreams, they’ve just been shattered — not just in Britain, all across Europe. And the reason these dreams have been shattered and discarded is so that a group of billionaires can buy themselves a bigger boat, or a second boat.”
Impassioned cries from fans may not be enough to save European soccer from itself, but a voice as loud as Corden’s joining the chorus is certainly a good start.