For the past week, all football conversations were dominated by one particular theme. Even in Argentina, regular programming on the composition of Boca Juniors' midfield or whether Bianchi or Gallardo is the superior football mind had to take a back seat to events in Europe, where the Super League burst into life in a blaze of anger and acrimony.
The plan, which proposed to take the continent's top (or, at least, richest) clubs and set them aside from the herd in separate competition, lasted barely 48 hours. What on Sunday appeared to be a JP Morgan-funded hurricane was by Tuesday barely a gentle breeze, as vicious opposition from a precarious coalition of governing bodies, national governments, fans and former pros forced most of the teams involved to back down. At the time of writing just three of the 'founders,' Real Madrid, Barcelona and Juventus, remain committed, thus seeing off what was to date the most serious challenge to the established order since the concept of the European elite going it alone first began to gather pace back in the 1990s.
The Super League may have gone the same way as Argentina's own Superliga, then – although that ill-fated competition at least managed three editions before its demise – but projections of a happy new world of altruistic clubs and fan power are rather premature. UEFA remains in control and free to continue their own plans for ever-greater riches, and the European powers-that-be's own plans for an expanded Champions League are barely superior to those on offer from its rivals. Luckily, the Copa Libertadores was on hand this week with a reminder of how magical football can be when it sets its mind to it: upsets like Bolivia's Always Ready dispatching Internacional and last year's finalists Santos falling to Ecuador’s Barcelona in their own backyard showed it is the unpredictability and potential for David vs Goliath mismatches which makes the sport such an intriguing spectacle.
If nothing else, we can only hope that the recent debacle makes the power-brokers of the South American game more reluctant to blindly imitate their counterparts across the Atlantic Ocean.
For years the Champions League has served as the role model for CONMEBOL. Some of the changes have been trivial, such as obliging both teams to walk out together ahead of kick-off and scrapping the epic entrances of yesteryear. Others, most notably the adoption of a single venue on neutral territory for the final, are a more significant slap in the place for fans without the means to follow their teams across the vast South American continent. And let us not pretend that, given the chance, the region's elite would not try exactly the same gambit.
Back in 2016 and led by then-Boca chief Daniel Angelici, 15 clubs (including four of Argentina's 'big five,' with River Plate, Racing Club and San Lorenzo latching on to Angelici's coat-tails) from across CONMEBOL formed a power bloc to negotiate better terms. The South American Club League eventually fell flat, partly due to doubts over Angelici himself as the figurehead and partly thanks to the time-honoured formula of throwing more cash at the problem, as a sharp increase in Libertadores and Sudamericana prize-money placated the would-be renegades. For his part, the Boca chief, who had seen his team land outside continental competition that year, was determined: “If CONMEBOL say no to us, I won't rule out a new tournament being set up.”
South America holds the distinct advantage of counting on fan power which is both more numerous and stronger than in Europe, where the vast majority of teams are in private hands rather than formally owned by members. As we have seen, though, that has done nothing to avoid the countless instances of interference in the top flight from the Argentina Football Association, leaving us with the swollen, unloved hybrid of the Copa Liga Profesional. Vigilance and activism on a constant basis are necessary to blunt the ambitions of directors and presidents willing to change football beyond in the quest to earn a quick buck.