Wednesday, October 27News That Matters

A Super League Plan, but No One to Defend It

By contrast, none of his colleagues and co-conspirators uttered a word: not to the news media, not to the fans, not even to the godfathers of their children. Andrea Agnelli, the president of Juventus, had never previously been reluctant to give voice to some of his harebrained ideas about how to improve soccer; now that he had settled on one, he did not seem quite so willing to defend it.

John Henry, Liverpool’s principal owner, has never hidden his belief that soccer needs to find ways to curb its spending, but this time he declined to make his case publicly, although he did offer an apology on Wednesday morning. Nor did the Russian plutocrat or the deputy prime minister of a Gulf state or the activist investor or the owner of a ranch the size of Los Angeles.

There was no attempt to sell the idea, no attempt to outline the benefits, as they saw them. A high-profile public relations firm in London had been hired to handle the launch, and yet as the criticism grew more voluble and more shrill and more ferocious, there was no response whatsoever, no attempt to shape a more favorable narrative.

For all the work they had done, for all the millions they had spent, for all the legal documents they had filed, nothing about this project seemed complete. The architects could not even figure out a way to make each owner produce a statement to be published by their own club explaining why they had joined the breakaway league. It was all, in some way, unserious: There was a cobbled-together website, an uninspiring logo and an American banker, but no broadcaster, no suite of sponsors and, in the end, no commitment to see any of it through.

That is hardly a propitious trait for the custodians of institutions that are, though they are run like businesses and treated as entertainment complexes, also cultural and social touchstones. If they are this disloyal to their own much-cherished ideas, imagine how worrying it would be if they were in charge of things they do not, at heart, care about at all.

And yet there is, in this whole, sorry mess, something deeply encouraging for soccer. What has given rise, in part, to the inequity the Super League was supposed to address is the need to placate this very group of owners, to meet their ever-increasing demands, to give them what they want.