The grim truth behind Arsenal and Tottenham joining European Super League



One curious train of thought to have emerged from the Super League announcement is why Arsenal, ninth in the Premier League table, and Tottenham Hotspur, without a major trophy since 1991, are part of the elite cabal seeking to detonate more than a century of tradition.

Sporting merit should decide who gets to participate after all. Let the league table do the talking. Show us your trophy cabinet.

Except those are all now obsolete measures of what constitutes success for the likes of Stan Kroenke, the Glazer family or FSG.

Social media engagement and downloads of club-specific apps are described with more importance than three points when the various decision-makers jump on conference calls with investors to demonstrate that their enterprises continue to grow.

It is the rankings from the likes of Forbes and Deloitte that are more important. Revenue streams, brand values and commercial deals are what the game is about at this grotesque sharp end; the trophies and titles merely one more avenue to making more money.

Less than a week ago one such list was published by Forbes, naming Arsenal as the eighth most valuable club in the world and Tottenham 10th.

While there is an obvious argument, from supporters of Leicester City and, based off this season in isolation, West Ham United, that they are more deserving of an elite tag right now the financial outlook is the only one that matters.

Forbes, to extend the comparison, places them 19th and 18th respectively. Deloitte’s annual Money League, long held in high regard as a reliable gauge of clubs’ financial strength, had a largely similar ranking when published in January.

Far more unsettling in the case of both North London clubs is how they have behaved during the pandemic. Both clubs availed of a Bank of England scheme, borrowing a combined £295m while pleading that the pandemic had left them in a financially precarious position.

It should not be forgotten that Arsenal had already made 55 redundancies, for the most part laying off people in ordinary jobs rather than multimillionaires without everyday concerns. A penny for their thoughts as they learnt yesterday of their former employer spearheading a plan that could see them bank a £350m signing fee as part of a funding agreement with JP Morgan?

Early in the pandemic Tottenham planned to use the furlough scheme, making a U-turn following pressure from fan groups, and there were even reports that, with the training ground closed, chairman Daniel Levy would ensure the ground staff were earning their salaries by tending to his private lawn.

To think that they are perturbed by optics, however, is deluded.

Chelsea for their part showed a little more restraint before joining up, ultimately deciding that this was a boat they best not miss. But is that enough to make their supporters feel better to see decades of history thrown away? Unlikely.

Those who are also suggesting that the Premier League have reaped what they sowed three decades ago are missing another crucial point: for all the accusations of greed and disrespect in the early 90s, the current English top flight never attempted to make it a closed shop.

That is what makes the Super League plan so repulsive, the shift to a US-style closed shop. Yet it has felt inevitable for some time – even if there still seems a high chance that the plan will be scuppered by a combination of supporter unrest and threats from domestic leagues and UEFA.

The reaction, since the story was first broken by The Times at lunchtime yesterday, has been near-unanimously negative. The existing governing bodies, supporters trusts, the clubs left out have all been vociferous in their disgust and concern.

Which means that should the Super League not come to fruition this time (fear not, a similar proposal will rear its head in the not too distant future), relationships and trust will need to be rebuilt at a moment when the damage already feels irreparable.





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