How a power vacuum atop the Premier League has English football sleepwalking towards a Super League
The Big Six – Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United, Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur – do not appear to be in any hurry to replace former chief executive Richard Scudamore and there’s a reason for that
While international football takes the spotlight, the future of the domestic game is being determined behind the scenes. This week the European Club Association (ECA), will complete a two-day general assembly in Geneva. The main subject of discussion will be Uefa’s proposed reform of the Champions League in 2024.
There is little unanimity among the clubs about the direction the sport should take. What almost everyone agrees is that football is emerging from a period of rapid change and, in the course of two decades, has become bloated by money. At least at the top end. And in England.
Huddersfield Town finished bottom of the Premier League last season and received £97million in television money. Only Barcelona and Real Madrid earned more in domestic broadcast cash. The changes being promoted by Uefa and debated in Geneva are driven by this situation. A wave of envy and resentment has swept across the continent as Premier League television rights spiralled upwards.
The English top flight achieved its wealth by producing a very attractive product but it also benefited from strong leadership. Richard Scudamore, the former executive chairman, was an excellent negotiator and had a clear sense of purpose that brought 20 clubs with competing interests together. Scudamore’s aim was to make the clubs wealthier. That is something they could all buy into. An alternative name for the top flight could be Greed United.
The avarice remains but the leadership has gone. Scudamore stepped down in November and 10 months later there is no sign of a replacement. While seismic changes are being plotted across Europe, the Premier League is drifting without either a chief executive or a chairman. Susanna Dinnage accepted the role as Scudamore’s replacement last year but the Discovery Channel executive changed her mind quickly. Tim Davie, the chief executive at BBC Studios and the second choice, also turned down the position. Since then there has been a vacuum at the helm.
Who benefits from this? The Big Six – Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United, Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur – do not appear to be in any hurry to replace Scudamore. They pay lip service to the primacy of the domestic leagues but, as much as Paris Saint-Germain or Ajax, they resent that the likes of Huddersfield get such a large share of the television windfall. That does not necessarily mean that they are out to undermine the game at home but self-interest is the driving force.
The Big Six can see the value of a variation of the Champions League that pits them more regularly against Europe’s most famous names. There are plenty of clubs across the continent who privately believe it would be a positive innovation but pour scorn on the idea in public. The ECA is likely to come out broadly against Uefa’s blueprint for a 32-team, four-group competition with two teams in each mini-league relegated each year but it is a matter of fine tuning rather than fundamental opposition to the concept.
A third Uefa competition will act as a sweetener for some of Europe’s smaller leagues so it is not just the biggest clubs who will embrace the new age. At the heart of the plans is the idea that England should not be allowed to become too rich and powerful. When the Big Six realise that the Premier League’s contingent in the new revised competition will probably be capped at four, at least two of the clubs will wish they had not played both sides.
Europe is only part of the challenge. Fifa and Uefa are looking to reform the game’s calendar in 2024. The face of football is changing.
Scudamore is a wily strategist and it is hard to escape the thought that the 60-year-old got out at the right time. His successor – whenever they are eventually named – will have their hands full. The next few years will be a testing time for domestic divisions.
The Premier League needs a supremo who can galvanise resistance to any threat to the integrity of the top flight and convince the Big Six that their future is rooted at home rather than switching their emphasis towards Europe. The longer the delay continues, the less likely it becomes that the next chief executive can achieve those aims. Forget managing England, replacing Scudamore might be the real impossible job.