The task of piecing the last few days together in a coherent manner is, for me at least, impossible, both because of the freshness of the events of the Super League — announcement and evident collapse — and perhaps more so because of the vast, vast amount of information that we, the fans, simply don’t know. For these reasons, most judgments and views on matters related to the Super League seem speculative at best.
What I am trying to say, I think, to quote the father of the essay Michel de Montaigne, is that “these are my own thoughts, by which I am striving to make known not matter but me,” i.e. that in the disparate considerations below I’m not involved in any sort of effort to convince anyone of anything. This is just a mind at work.
So here we go: thoughts on the Super League, Andrea Agnelli, Italy, losing, and other things.
On the viability of different outlooks
One’s conclusions depend on one’s metrics.
In the case of the Super League, I think the extreme range of reactions can at least in part be attributed to the different ways in which people view football. If you think football is primarily a business, another mechanism for maximizing profits, a system of good, better, and best products, then that will inform the way you process and judge all of this. If you hold perhaps a more romantic view of the game as a form of artistic human endeavor that ought to be guided but not inhibited by the restraints of profit-seeking, then that will inform the way you process and judge all of this. More than likely you’ll think something else, or think a blend of things.
All of this is a roundabout way of saying that there are a lot of different ways of thinking about the Super League, and I think that’s natural and OK.
Arguably the best thing about Italy is its provincialism, a word that sometimes has a negative connotation but in Bel Paese’s case is really the definition of what makes her such a beautiful country.
Italy was not unified until the mid-19th century. From the fall of Rome in the fifth century and for the next thousand years, independent city-states cultivated independent cultures, languages, habits, cuisines, and customs. None of these cities existed in a vacuum, of course, but the fact remains that the balance between individual expressions in Italy and a national (or geographical in this case) ethos was for most of the peninsula's history weighted more in favor of the former, and if you spend any time in Italy you know how beautiful this is and how much it is still true today.
I happened to be in Sardinia when Italy as a nation officially turned 150 years old. I remember a little procession in a little piazza one morning; there were trumpets involved and some uniforms. All in all, it was a very modest affair.
Several days later, there was the celebration of a long-standing Sardinian horse festival — with an elaborate, complete set of rituals and traditions — and there were, in the small town of Oristano, thousands and thousands and thousands of people. Industry stopped. Shops and restaurants closed down. The city physically transformed to accommodate the festival, which has its roots dating back at least 500 years and likely beyond that.
I saw over and over in the last few days an idea defending the Super League that went something like this: “Would you rather watch Juventus-[inert small club, whether Italian or Croatian or French or Turkish] or Juventus-Manchester City?”
The big games will always be there; they’ve always been there. But, for me, without the small ones, without the provincial clubs taking off the gloves every time against Juventus, none of this is worth it. This year alone, the Old Lady has drawn or lost to Crotone, Benevento, Verona, Fiorentina, and Torino. A team from Portugal knocked us out of the Champions League. I know the Super League wouldn’t have ostensibly eliminated games against smaller clubs (although it would’ve relegated them to league play), but the movement that direction seems frightening to me.
Andrea Agnelli and the uselessness of intentions
I admit I’ve been struck by the degree to which people care about intentions despite outcomes.
I think most of us — certainly not all — believe that the epic failure of the Super League has not been good for Juventus. In a best-case scenario, the flop will probably intensify the deeply-felt hatred that many people and clubs in Italy feel for the Old Lady; in a worst-case scenario, UEFA attempts to make an example out of Juventus with some sort of concrete repercussion like a fine, transfer ban, or worse. If this happens, whether the consequence was just or not, what good were Agnelli’s intentions?
Still, from my perspective, this whole endeavor is bad for the club, and maybe very bad. It’s certainly bad PR if nothing else, and if Agnelli is trying to create a brand with global reach and appeal, then that seems bad.
In the end, I don’t think it matters much if Agnelli had good intentions for the club. He played a part — a large part it seems — in a laughably doomed Super League project that, justifiably or not, makes Juventus seem like one of the ring leaders of global sport elitism. While the cartoon narrative of Agnelli and the Super League teams as villains and the fans as victims is overly simplistic (if not severely misguided), it is, in fact, the narrative, and that also doesn’t seem good.
Agnelli seems to have been so blinded by his desire to see this project come to fruition that he either failed to see or failed to consider the power of a fairly predictable outcome (i.e. the backlash from fans, players, media, and smaller clubs, and then the subsequent collapse of the Super League). He’s either not intelligent, which I don’t think is the case, or out of touch, punch-drunk in love with his own vanity project, which is what I’m inclined to believe with plenty of caveats that in the end I know very few facts about this whole debacle.
The Super League, though, is hardly Agenlli’s first misstep over the last few years. It’s not difficult to argue that the Cristiano Ronaldo project — which Agnelli continues to double down on every time he’s asked about it; this is interesting when considered against the recent rumors that Max Allegri claimed Ronaldo was inhibiting the team’s growth — is a really similar situation, just more protracted. The intention was good, perhaps; the outcome has not been.
All of this may bring us more to the point that objectives for Juventus as a brand and objectives for Juventus as a football team may be occasionally at odds. I don’t think it would take too many rhetorical gymnastics to argue that Juventus have, in fact, progressed as a brand while regressing as a football team over the last few years, although the latter of these two things has caused some financial harm with the repeated Champions League failures. The financial situation doesn’t seem great, but with the pandemic it’s difficult to make too many firm judgments on that topic, and I’m not (nor do I care to be) an expert in that arena.
Maybe Juventus are a more powerful global brand now than pre-Ronaldo, than three or five or seven years ago. That’s fine. It doesn’t change the fact that this isn’t a very good football team, one that frankly doesn’t deserve to be advancing past the round of 16 in the Champions League. This isn’t a very good football team, and yet the wage bill is absolutely enormous.
You can’t win and you might lose
Someone told me once, rather cynically, that “you can’t win and you might lose.” I hate to bang the drum of sporting sadness right now, but that’s how I’m feeling — about the sport in general and certainly about this farce of a club.
I loathed the Super League. I also think UEFA and FIFA are corrupt governing bodies with fatal flaws. The new Champions League format has, as many have pointed out, a very Super League-y feel to it.
I’m not sure where the club goes from here or where the sport goes from here. I don’t have any suggestions, and even if I did it wouldn’t matter. The main thing I want is to follow a team with a badge that plays good, inspired football with the resources at its disposal.