Inclusion of Arsenal and Tottenham in European Super League shows how flawed it is

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
Sam Dean
·5 min read
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
Granit Xhaka and Harry Kane.
Granit Xhaka and Harry Kane.

In announcing that they are among the 12 founding teams of the European Super League, the official websites of Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur both published statements on Sunday night which referred to themselves as “leading European football clubs”. To which the instinctive response is to ask: leading? By what measure?

If there was any doubt before that these plans for a Super League are motivated by money, then the inclusion of Arsenal and Tottenham is the ultimate proof. How else would they have received an invite to this select club, if it was not for their revenues and their off-field commercial success?

It certainly cannot be on footballing merit, which is fitting given that those behind the Super League clearly intend to strip the idea of footballing merit from the game. Arsenal last won the title in 2004. Tottenham have not done so since 1961. Neither team has ever won the European Cup, and neither team even played in the Champions League this season.

The other 10 clubs must have been so busy plotting their breakaway that they did not notice that Arsenal are currently ninth in the Premier League table, or that Tottenham are seventh — so far away from where they want to be that Jose Mourinho has been sacked.

“Leading European football clubs”? Tottenham did not look like a leading club against Everton on Friday night, nor did Arsenal when they scraped to a draw against Fulham on Sunday.

Stan Kroenke, the Arsenal owner, surely cannot believe his luck. It is 10 years since he took a controlling stake in the club, and in that time the institution has withered to such an extent that this year will mark their fifth consecutive season outside of the top four. Having overseen a near-relentless decline, he now stands to profit from a historical success in which he played no part.

“Not surprisingly this action has been taken with no consultation or dialogue, continuing the silence and contempt that Kroenke has shown for Arsenal supporters since day one,” said the Arsenal Supporters’ Trust (AST).

The Tottenham Hotspur Supporters’ Trust, for their part, said their team’s board has “betrayed the club, its history and the magic that makes this game so special.”

How fortunate for Tottenham that this is all happening now, rather than 20 years ago. In 2001 they finished 12th in the Premier League, while fourth-placed Leeds United reached the Champions League semi-finals.

How fortunate for Manchester City that this is all happening now, rather than 15 years ago. In 2006 they finished 15th in the Premier League and were one year away from being bought by Thaksin Shinawatra.

And how fortunate for Arsenal that this is all happening now, rather than in 2026. Their trajectory since Kroenke took over has been in one direction, and there is little sign of that changing any time soon. In a footballing meritocracy, they are sliding towards mediocrity. It is a game that Kroenke is losing — no wonder he wants to change the rules entirely.

Of the Super League’s 12 founding members, Arsenal and Tottenham surely stand to gain the most from ripping up the existing model. It can be no surprise that their owners would like to compete for a new elite competition, largely because they are currently so far away from being able to compete for any of the elite competitions that already exist.

The involvement of Arsenal and Tottenham prompted plenty of mocking from fans of other clubs, many of whom found themselves laughing at the thought of these struggling teams coming face to face with Real Madrid or Barcelona. Tottenham could not cope with Dinamo Zagreb’s Mislav Orsic, for example, so how will they fare against Lionel Messi?

However true these taunts might be, they miss the point. It will not matter to Kroenke, for example, if Arsenal are battered every week. What is the worst that can happen? They can’t lose their place in the league. They will just shrug their shoulders and try again the following season.

Perhaps Josh Kroenke, the owner’s son, might promise fans that new players will be signed, prompting a renewed sense of excitement among the supporters at the start of each campaign. Rinse and repeat, and watch the money roll in.

“This represents the death of everything that football should be about,” said the AST. “As fans we want to see Arsenal play in competitions based on sporting merit and competitive balance.”

As for Tottenham, perhaps they hope a new fly-on-the-wall documentary following Mourinho’s replacement might keep the fires burning for their supporters.

Or maybe the Tottenham “franchise” will be sold to the world as the plucky underdogs of this Super League. One can almost imagine the pitch to new Asian and American fans: “We haven’t won a major honour in the last 30 years, support us on our quest for Super League glory!”

As is so often the case in football, it is the fans who have best captured the reality of what is unfolding.

“It is driven exclusively by greed,” said Football Supporters Europe. “The only ones who stand to gain are hedge funds, oligarchs, and a handful of already wealthy clubs, many of which perform poorly in their own domestic leagues despite their inbuilt advantage.”

Of them all, it is Tottenham and Arsenal who will consider themselves the most fortunate to be invited to this ghastly party. Routinely out-thought and out-fought by “smaller” clubs, they would rather pull up the drawbridge now than continue to be exposed by football’s existing meritocracy. Their owners are motivated by greed, clearly, but also by fear of losing what they have.