Seems like every single year we hear a rumor about the biggest clubs in Europe breaking away and forming a ‘super league’. Realistically, this has always been within the realm of possibility since the Champions League was formed and showed us what competition among the best sides in Europe could look like. As the top clubs are more and more represented by players of wide ranging nationalities, the global nature of the sport of football has always implied the lingering question of ‘what if’ there were just the one league to rule them all.
A club like Villarreal would not even be near consideration for a project like this. Not enough history, not enough money, not enough prestige. So what would a world of football look like for these sorts of clubs if the Real Madrids, Barcelonas, and perhaps the Atleticos were immediately gone?
Most notably we would see an immediate deflation of the value of television rights. The billion euro tv deals would be reserved for that grandest league that would certainly have most of the best players. That would make clubs immediately more dependent than ever on matchday revenue, something that clubs in smaller leagues around the world already experience. We can praise La Liga for making tv money distribution more equitable or we can rage about how the big two get too much of it, but we all know that if Barcelona and Real Madrid in particular left Spanish football worldwide viewership would plummet.
Losing the tv money would certainly mean cutting salaries. This would not necessarily translate to losing a large number of players, of course, because other top leagues around the world would be dealing with their own inflation, but we just cannot pay the players the millions of euros we currently do without the tv money. That’s much of what the post COVID-19 restart was initially about, after all: filling those tv contracts so clubs can get paid.
When a power vacuum is created, someone inevitably fills it. In Spain, most of the top flight clubs are the big fish in their own little pond (Villarreal is a clear example of this), both supporting and also feeding off the smaller clubs in their regions to prop themselves up and maintain their top flight status. If only the Big 2 in La Liga left, Atletico would be primed to fill the void, and at any rate clubs like Sevilla with their large stadium and strong history and clubs like Athletic Club built on the backs of their own academies would thrive. Provincial clubs like Villarreal would have to figure out where they fit in this ecosystem, and with the days of 25m transfer fees likely gone would have to find ways to produce better talent from their own academies.
I don’t think you would magically have parity or equal footing when you take out the biggest clubs. Teams like Everton in England or Lyon in France would be primed to gobble up the lion’s share of the titles in the same way a team like Shamrock Rovers did for years in Ireland or Legia Warsaw has in recent years in Poland. Watching these leagues from overseas as we currently do for La Liga would take significant steps backwards and likely send us back to the days when we were trying to find a blocky pixeled stream on a sketchy Russian website, but nevertheless, well built clubs would still be able to thrive at the ‘top tier’. Lower division domestic football, though, is likely another story. The solidarity payments that currently make their way down the pyramids would shrink or disappear altogether, you would see some clubs fold and others go to an entirely volunteer and amateur basis.
In all, clubs like Villarreal need the biggest clubs, as much as we may complain about them. They prop up the eco-system that we’ve learned to thrive in, and if they break off to form a European Super League, the rest of us could be in very serious trouble.