There is a hero in the nearly four-hour documentary thriller Super League: The Game off the Field and his name is UEFA President Aleksander Čeferin. The sinewy Slovenian lawyer and karate crack, in office since 2016, is built into a hero early on in the four-part documentary by American filmmaker Jeff Zimbalist (“The Two Escobars – Colombia, Football and Drugs”). As a man who keeps his word, loves football and places values such as justice and fairness above commerce.
At the beginning of the documentary, Zimbalist has to explain to the global – or is it the American? – audience why promotion and relegation are fair and that many times more people are interested in the Champions League final or even the Premier League than in it the Super Bowl. The English championship of Leicester City in 2016, when a recently relegated team prevailed against the (at that time still) six “big clubs” in a fabulous season, which received almost inexhaustible financial resources from sheikhs, oligarchs or American billionaires, can be considered true Fairy tales of the football romantics are told again.
The documentary is about the contrast between an open sporting system, in which dreams like Leicester’s can come true, and that of the Super League presented in April 2021, in which the best teams on the continent compete against each other in a kind of “closed shop”. should play. Because you can’t be relegated from this Super League and are always qualified, income can be planned much better.
The major American bank JP Morgan wanted to pay each of the twelve clubs that made a secret pact behind the back of UEFA, which is organizing the Champions League, 3.5 billion dollars at the start of the Super League. The fact that things turned out differently, that the Super League project was proclaimed out of nowhere within three or four days and failed after Europe-wide protests from fans, politicians and Čeferin’s clever crisis/fight management, is what the documentary on Apple TV tells a little about too detailed, but quite exciting and in the usual noble picture standard of current streaming sports documentaries.
An episode of the film is dedicated to each day of the UEFA Congress in Montreux in April 2021, when events escalated. It’s structured like a political thriller: Who said what and when? Who was talking to whom and about what? And in which speech did it all culminate? As a reminder, twelve major clubs had declared their willingness to take part in the Super League at the time. From Italy Juventus Turin, AC Milan and Inter Milan. The Spanish clubs FC Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid. Finally, the Premier League representatives Arsenal FC, Chelsea FC, Liverpool FC, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur. Other major clubs such as Paris St. Germain and FC Bayern Munich were soon to be given the right to join, but they did not appear as initiators and decided “followers” of the whole thing.
“On the consoles, kids only play the best clubs against each other, you have to adapt to the real world,” says a financier to Real Madrid president and Super League fan Florentino Pérez in the film. Football as a global fan product with no local connection. “The Super League would be as if there were only blockbusters to be seen in the cinema,” says an opponent of the Oberliga. If you want to see art house or surprising films, you may have to switch sports.
Aleksander Čeferin’s drawing might have turned out to be a bit too idealistic for the filmmaker, because he too stands for increasing commercialization. Even if perhaps for one that gives the financially “necessary” growth a touch of justice and cross-financing of smaller leagues, countries and clubs. In the documentary, Čeferin is allowed to tell how he – born in 1967 – grew up in socialist ex-Yugoslavia, where the company boss and a craftsman lived next door in houses of the same size.
Čeferin’s friendship with European Club Association man and Juve boss Andrea Agnelli has long secured peace between the big clubs and UEFA, part one of the documentary reveals. Later, Agnelli will betray Čeferin, the godfather of his youngest child, because he will secretly become a founding member of the planned Super League. To this day, the Slovenian cannot forgive the Italian industrialist for this.
In general, it is amazing that almost all the big club bosses, all of them super-powerful and super-rich men, were available for interviews with the documentary. However, there is one exception: Gianni Infantino, who as FIFA President has also repeatedly been Čeferin’s opponent, jumped to the side of his colleague in a speech at the said congress. He is also against the Super League. Clubs that participated would have to live with the consequences. And that meant: exclusion from UEFA and FIFA events, including world and European championships. In addition to the Europe-wide protests by fans, media and politicians, another reason why prominent players from future Super League clubs soon distanced themselves from the idea.
According to testimonies in the film, Gianni Infantino, and this is where the Apple documentary gets “investigative” in the last part, is said to have known about the breakaway clubs’ Super League plans. And in return for their support in his plans for an extended Club World Cup, they have promised his support. When the wind changed within the four landslide days shown in the film and more and more Super League clubs said goodbye to their own advance, the politician Infantino probably also rowed back, according to the documentary, to practice solidarity with UEFA.
The four times almost 60 minutes “Super League: The game off the field” show that the first big money attack on the last remaining asset of commercial football, its sporting permeability, has been repelled for the time being. But even in the Champions League, the big clubs will be given preference after a reform based on “previous performance” from 2024. In addition, powerful pullers like Pérez and Agnelli have by no means given up on the Super League project. For them, there is no alternative to further commercialization in order to save the product football in the global competition for attention. One can only hope that they are wrong.
Originally Posted by “Did Infantino Want the Failed Super League?” comes from Teleschau.