Following Roma's dispiriting 3-1 defeat to Torino yesterday afternoon, I envisioned spending the ensuing 24 hours parsing through the Giallorossi's latest league disappointment, pouring over the ins and outs of Pedro's rapid decline, Amadou Diawara's 20-minute disappearing act, Federico Fazio's latest gaffe and what it all meant for the club's grand ambitions.
What I didn't expect, though, was for the entire paradigm of European football to be upended in little more than 12 hours. But that's precisely what happened. Or, to borrow a line delivery from Justin Timberlake as Sean Parker in The Social Network, not happened...happening.
After the 12 “Founding Fathers” of the new European Super League announced their intentions to start their breakaway JP Morgan-financed club competition, the football world as we know it is on the precipice of an unprecedented change.
To get a feel for what this announcement means for the future of Roma, Serie A, and indeed the sport itself, I assembled the crew to discuss the latest Super League developments.
Enjoy, and as always, give us your spin in the comments.
Don’t dissect it too much yet: What are your initial impressions of the plans for the Super League? Were you caught off guard or were you expecting this after so much speculation? Are you excited or vehemently against the idea?
dallagente: I’ve been on the fence about it, and I still am now. It’s a bad idea but it’s not the worst idea in the world like UEFA and others are making it out to be. But I was definitely surprised when national politicians started coming out and condemning it, this time around. That’s what felt different about it this time. And the twist about the ECA negotiating (and even agreeing to) the Champions League re-draft, all the while double-dealing under the table with their own Super League negotiations was a different twist this time around! Especially Agnelli double-dealing on both ends. That adds some sauce to it.
Bren: My first reaction was just pure, unadulterated shock. I feel like we’ve been reading about this for years and it always just seemed like bluster to me—I didn’t think it would actually happen, so this is like a ton of bricks falling out of the sky.
I’d say I’m intrigued by the notion because I’ve always been so fascinated by the different approaches North Americans and Europeans take to professional sports, particularly as it relates to their political and economic structures. America is all about free-market capitalism but our leagues are so successful in part because they’re so socialist, which is a taboo word here. The NFL is THE NFL because they share revenue, equally distribute talent and have a variety of tools to ensure financial and sporting parity.
So I’ll be curious to see to what extent this league follows that model. If it becomes its own full-on league, rather than just an upgraded Champions League, I think their transition into an NFL model would be unavoidable. You’d have to do something to ensure that all 20 clubs and their fans are engaged into the breadth of the season and start each year with renewed optimism.
Ssciavillo: I’m not completely shocked because the rumors have been swirling for some time now. However, the timing is a bit surprising considering we still haven’t emerged from a global pandemic that has wreaked havoc with the global economy and left millions upon millions unemployed; including football employees. And this clearly a financially motivated move. Full stop.
None of this about what goes on on the field and that’s what I hate about this whole thing. The world of football is already dominated by the haves with their super-rich owners. And this makes their domination now absolute. If these clubs have their way and use this as their Champions League and still compete domestically then they will win the domestic leagues every year even more easily than most of them already do.
It’s already difficult enough for the Romas and Evertons of the world to compete. Now, forget about it with the amount of money these Super League sides will be pulling in. There won’t be any more of the Cinderella stories of Leicester City winning in the EPL or Atalanta upsetting big-time clubs in the Champions League. This isn’t what football is supposed to be.
Jimmy: My first impression was shock, then disappointment. I know rumors had been swirling of the big clubs trying to start this Super League for over a decade now, but it always struck me as a bargaining tactic at most. I also thought that the money these clubs were getting from marketing, television deals, and the Champions League would be enough. I guess I didn’t realize that enough isn’t ever really enough, is it?
I’m definitely not excited by the prospect of a Super League at all, or even intrigued like bren. In my mind, it’s a bad thing for most of the big clubs included in the Super League, because somebody has to be losing a lot of those matches; it’s a bad thing for the almost-big-clubs like Roma, Sevilla, or Napoli because it will effectively doom them to never become a big club in their own right; and it’s a bad thing for the small clubs because they really need to play the big clubs at full strength to keep the doors open. That analysis only applies to the clubs who are top-flight, of course; anyone outside of the top flight will probably be even worse off than the Beneventos of the world.
JonAS: I knew a lot of big clubs were sniffing around this idea of some kind of Justice League for football teams. However, I didn’t expect them to unleash this plan after 3/4th of the season, right in the middle of decisive games in domestic competitions, semi-finals etc. Why not wait until Summer?
The Champions League will get some sort of reboot soon, details were announced not so long ago so the timing of this Super League was very painful for UEFA. That and the fact there’s still a pandemic going on and a lot of clubs were hit by this and people’s morale is at an all-time low.
The news of 12 money-grabbing clubs organizing a private party for themselves and their rich associates sans financial rules. It creates even more tension, just look at the reactions of fans from Milan, Manchester, or Liverpool.
In your mind, what was the motivation for these 12 charter clubs? Is it more about money or more about escaping the confines of UEFA regulations? Something else entirely?
dallagente: It’s definitely about money and business, but for everyone involved. Not just the people are at the top. Overt greed is found right at the top, but it’s not like the clubs further down the umbrella are the bright-eyed mom-and-pop store they like to make themselves out to be, either. When people think of Serie C or D clubs, I’m sure the image that comes to mind is one of a club that’s close to its fans. But in reality, since 2014, Serie D clubs have actively been trying to focus on winning new TV deals and could care less about fans attending the game. If Serie D clubs could live off TV and zero audiences tomorrow, there are longstanding fans of those clubs who genuinely believe their club would turn their back on them and shut the gates to take the broadcast money.
There are only a handful of clubs around the world that go out of their way to give the best matchday experience because their brand is big enough that they can afford to do that, and they’re arguing that’s not worth doing if the smaller clubs are just going to sweep poor business under the carpet behind them.
Bren: That’s an excellent point. I guess, in some ways, the answer is obvious: this is financially driven, but I have to imagine there is a lot of ego at play between these 12 executive boards and the folks at UEFA, which is why I think they’re destined to thumb their noses at FIFA/UEFA and all these FAs before too long—this won’t last as a midweek only competition for long, this is bound to be it’s own fully developed, 38 matches per year kind of thing. So I’d say money is at the root but ego and control are nice ancillary benefits for these clubs.
Ssciavillo: It’s clearly a financially motivated decision. They can say it’s about having all of the world’s best teams competing with each other, but that’s just a front. They want to make the most money and in turn, eliminate any non-traditional threats to their dominance; like the Leicesters and Atalantas of the world.
Jimmy: Not to be overly repetitive, but it’s money. I agree with Dalla that there’s no such thing as an “ethical football club” these days, even in Serie C or D, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t more ethical and less ethical clubs. I’d also agree with Steven that the owners of clubs like Arsenal, Tottenham, and Manchester United are probably getting more and more worried by the minnows who are breaking into the Champions League. I love when clubs like Leicester City or Atalanta can burst onto the scene; for an owner like Stan Kroenke, who wants guaranteed income with minimal squad investment, that’s a nightmare. Guaranteeing entrance into The Super League for these founding clubs is how these owners can guarantee higher profits than before, no matter what product they put out on the field.
JonAS: Let’s ask this to ABBA, shall we? Money, money, money, must be funny. Hmm, ok, Meja perhaps? It’s all about the money, all about the dum dum da da dum dum. Right. Pink Floyd, anyone? Moneeeeeey, it’s a crime. Uh. What about you, Stevie V? Dirty cash, I want you, dirty cash I need you oh. Well ok, that sums it nicely.
As of right now, this will be a midweek replacement for the Champions League but what do you think this means for the future of domestic leagues? Can they survive this split? Is it inevitable that the Super League becomes a full-on league in and of itself?
dallagente: I don’t know anything near enough on this subject to answer that lol There was an interesting article a while back, I forgot on which site, where a football fan out of Wales wrote about Welsh clubs breaking away from their federation. The clubs left behind suffered, and he argued that was a sign that national football would die after a European Super League breakaway. But I’m not sure that’s the best parallel to draw.
Bren: Yeah, it is way too early to predict whether or not that’s the end goal, but to me, it seems inevitable. Once they figure out how to really get this Super League rolling and to really monetize it, they’ll soon realize they don’t need the domestic leagues at all. And who knows, maybe the Super League itself expands and has multiple divisions or conferences with 50 or 60 clubs.
Ssciavillo: I do think that this will kill domestic football one way or another. If these teams are allowed to remain in their domestic leagues then they’ll financially dominate the competition even more than they already do, which will lead to even more dominance on the pitch. Their transfer budgets would grow exponentially.
If the Super League does become its own weekly league and these teams leave their domestic leagues then those domestic leagues will have a hard time staying relevant. Without their cash cows to bring in revenue, I’d imagine the trickle-down effect would be immense. Even the so-called big teams that aren’t in the Super League like Roma, Napoli, and Lazio would have a hard time commanding the same TV contracts without Milan, Inter, and Juve. That lack of income would then hurt player recruitment, as most stars would gravitate toward the spotlight and riches of the Super League. Slowly but surely, many of the domestic leagues would be in trouble.
Jimmy: Nah, the domestic leagues are probably toast if this goes through. Winning Serie A won’t mean very much if there are a couple of top clubs who aren’t in the competition, fighting it out in The Super League. You’re no longer the best in Italy; you’re the best in Italy minus the clubs with actual power.
JonAS: It will be the death of domestic leagues as we know it. If the Super League turns into a success, then this won’t simply remain a European tournament as a side dish but a bigger, badder, better version with more teams/rounds. The whole package. And then the smaller teams will have to be satisfied with bread crumbs. Really, will people around the world even watch Everton vs West Ham for the Premier League title? Or Valencia vs Sociedad? Atalanta vs Hellas? Gone will be the romantic tales of a Leicester City, Deportivo, or Montpellier.
Okay, this might be difficult but spin this as a positive for the domestic leagues and the teams that are essentially left behind.
dallagente: Now we don’t have to put up with the Europa League anymore? It was becoming a joke competition that existed only for the CL rejects to win parachute payments for their failures, every year.
Bren: Haha, yes! Good riddance to the Europa League. The only thing I can scrape up would be, if these 12 clubs leave completely, we’ll have some pretty heated rivalries between other clubs who were always kept at arm’s length by the Juves, Bayern Munichs, and PSGs of the world.
Ssciavillo: The only benefit would be that the leagues would be more competitive domestically because the dominant clubs leaving should create parity.
Jimmy: There’s no benefit. If the dominant clubs leave, the money will disappear too, creating a vicious cycle of declining profits, players abandoning the league, and clubs maybe even having to shutter.
What does this mean financially and reputation-wise for a club like Roma or Everton or Atalanta—the ones who are intermittently in the Champions League. Will they ascend to some sort of elevated middle class with these mega clubs gone, or will this split increase the disparity in talent and wealth?
dallagente: It’s a good question. All I can say is I feel like retaining your star names comes before worrying about youth recruitment, if you want to survive. But youth recruitment would definitely need a re-think, and maybe even an expansion, as you’d need more scouts to stop kids getting signed up by ESL scouts on exclusive development deals. I’m now imagining a world where there are private youth development academies like WWE NXT.
Bren: Yeah, that’s what my initial thought was, too. Will the Super League be the domain of established players while everyone else leans on U-23s or older free agents? I’m still skeptical this will all actually come to pass, or at least be sustainable, but if it does go off without a hitch, clubs like Roma and Atalanta will be in an awkward spot: they’d simply be the best of the leftovers. If these 12 clubs stay in the domestic leagues, the income disparity is going to be absurd.
Ssciavillo: Not only would recruitment be difficult but like Sean said star retention would be difficult. What would keep someone like Zaniolo at Roma or Milinkovic-Savic at Lazio if they have the chance of making exponentially more in the Super League. Also, with the resources these Super League clubs will have, they’ll likely invest heavily in snatching up the best youth, as well. Rosters of the Romas and Evertons of the world would definitely suffer the effects of the Super League.
Jimmy: I know I said there’s no benefit for domestic leagues on the whole, but if Roma are excluded from The Super League, you can kiss the idea of the Giallorossi winning meaningful silverware any time in the near future goodbye. It’ll be the same for the Evertons, Sevillas, and Atalantas of the world. Sure, you didn’t expect titles year in and year out by supporting them before this new alignment, but the promise of winning a supremely important title, either in Europe or domestically, is why you follow a club like that. People like to say that one title in Rome is worth ten in Turin; that would no longer be anything remotely close to the case if The Super League proceeds as currently envisioned.
JonAS: Even more firesales I’m afraid. Unless Roma could ‘qualify’ every now and then for the remaining spots in the Super League in some sort of knockouts. I guess the Giallorossi will have to rely heavily on scouting talents or cheap 33+ fading stars instead of signing household names. Roma will always be at the end of the line. Good luck keeping Zaniolo and Pellegrini.
What does this mean for your fandom in general? Will this change the way you engage with the sport? Will your interest increase or decrease because of this split?
dallagente: I’ve gotten used to supporting Roma for the good-looking jerseys, I don’t support trophies or wins. So as long as the kits stayed the same and talent recruitment wasn’t affected, it changes nothing for me realistically. I watch the 4th or 5th best league in the world, where the football regularly gets beaten by better opposition, who play on better pitches than Italy, whenever Italian sides meet them in continental competition. I think the implications of this are a bigger dilemma for Premier League, La Liga, or Bundesliga watchers than me.
My interest was already waning as it is. I’m in my mid-thirties, where I can’t justify getting worked up over football anymore. I’m sometimes embarrassed by how football fans make themselves out to be helpless victims of their fanaticism, I struggle to justify it to my family or any woman in my life. I can’t speak for Steve but whenever we get on the podcast, I’m conscious to make sure how we approach Roma topics isn’t just a breeding ground for arrested development among grown adults. Football (the spectacle, not the sport) is a guilty pleasure in my life, right now. It’s only the women’s side of football (which is getting to be more of a business anyway) that really changed the tone of that, and made me feel like we were covering players whose careers actually hung in the balance of what we write about them, in the last couple of years.
Bren: That’s very well said. One’s relationship to professional sports definitely changes as one ages. As an American, I’m not too bothered by this because, as I’ve said, this is just S.O.P. for us—sports exist to make money and the elite leagues will do whatever it takes to secure a larger and larger slice of the pie. I seldom watch football without Roma anyway, but I’ll certainly be intrigued by the first few Super League seasons, but I’m curious to see how they keep it interesting.
Ssciavillo: I don’t think it’ll change my interest in Roma as a club because we obviously don’t support Roma for trophies. If anything, Roma becomes one of the favorites in Serie A with the northern sides leaving. So, maybe we might actually win trophies. We’d still have the derby to look forward to, but I would miss matches against the big Italian sides domestically and having a crack at the Barca and Bayerns of the world in Champions League. And I’d likely avoid watching the Super League out of principle alone. Plus, they’d probably command some huge streaming service payment to tune in.
Jimmy: If this all goes through (which I’m skeptical of, quite frankly), it’s going to change how intently I follow football. I’ll still love Roma, but to me, Roma being a favorite in Serie A without Juventus and the Milan clubs would ring incredibly hollow. Will I still support the club? Of course. But I won’t pretend that effectively destroying Roma’s chances of becoming a champion of Europe won’t affect my love of the club and European football more broadly.
JonAS: A piece of me died when Totti retired. Another piece died when De Rossi left. Taddei, Perrotta, Cassetti, Cassano, Samuel, Vucinic—I miss the romanticism or the good old Spalletti days. Now, under Team America everything is so professional and dull and commercial-ly. Stats, social media, managers. I still love AS Roma but I’m glad I have witnessed the 2002-2010 era. The world has changed. Gosh, I sound like a 70-year-old. Let me get my crutches and pour out some tea for you. Biscuit, sonny?
Okay, lastly—and be honest—would your opinion of this split change if Roma were one of the 12 charter clubs guaranteed a Super League lifeline in perpetuity?
dallagente: Yeah, you know me. If Roma joined, I’d find more reasons to play devil’s advocate and argue why Roma was always a club with a dark soul. It’d be refreshing for Roma to come out and be the bad guys, for a change, even though the novelty would wear off fast.
Bren: Agreed, I’d be on top of the world right now if Roma were one of these 12. Just imagining what they could do with that money is tantalizing.
Ssciavillo: I disagree. I’d be more embarrassed if Roma was part of this calamity. But, that’s probably the idealist in me speaking, who still sees football as a game of the people and not of the elite.
Jimmy: I’d probably feel the way a lot of my friends who support Big Six Premier League clubs feel right now: betrayed, angry, but also a little bit grateful that their club isn’t being left in the dust.
JonAS: Of course. So I can scream ‘so long, suckerssss’ to Lazio, Napoli and Atalanta.
Pick one song to be the official Super League anthem
dallagente: WWE - Vince McMahon/The Corporation - No Chance In Hell
Bren: “Money” - Pink Floyd
ssciavillo: Mo Money Mo Problems- The Notorious B.I.G.
Jimmy: C.R.E.A.M. - The Wu Tang Clan
JonAS: Macho Man - Village People. It has to be.
Now that you've heard our say, give us your thoughts: will the Super League spell the eventual death of domestic football as we know it?