Football leagues in Scotland, Benelux and the Nordic countries have always been weaker than those in England, Germany, Spain and Italy. Free movement of players and the end of nationality restrictions brought about by the Bosman decision (ending restrictions on the number of foreign players in a team) have only accentuated this weakness as players have sought greater fortunes in leagues other than the ones where they were born and developed – thus denuding the smaller national leagues.
It is difficult for clubs to migrate to stronger leagues in other countries for a variety of reasons – not least that they would have to start at the bottom of the national “pyramid”. Super leagues are therefore logical and press reports that PSV Eindhoven has been in talks with Celtic and Rangers and other clubs in smaller countries with a view to setting up a Euro-League come as no surprise. However, sports governing bodies will need to approve any new Euro-League unless clubs wish to leave the system altogether.
Can the clubs force governing body approval?
The principle of freedom of movement established by the Bosman case having triggered this process of structural change, competition law is unlikely to play much of a role in determining the outcome here. European Commission interference in the structure of national “pyramids” of sport is too politically insensitive. What is likely to be decisive is the power of broadcasters. If the absence of PSV Eindhoven and Celtic etc from the Champions League is acceptable to broadcasters, they won’t try to pressurise the governing bodies to approve the proposed Euro-League and PSV and fellow clubs could end up competing with the Champions League containing the best clubs from England, Germany, Italy and Spain.
Such a stand off would be bad for the sport, and is unnecessary. The governing bodies in small countries must surely see that their best interests would be served by allowing their major clubs to “escape” onto a larger stage (subject to some provision on promotion and relegation). Only if this is allowed to happen will nationally qualified players contemplate remaining where they were developed and the negative consequences of the Bosman case will find a market solution at last.