Atletico Madrid CEO Miguel Angel Gil says that the LaLiga champions abandoned the European Super League project as he felt that the move “betrayed” the club’s fans.
European football was rocked by April’s developments that saw 12 of the biggest clubs on the continent announce breakaway plans from their domestic leagues and UEFA’s competitions.
It caused ruptures in the game that are still being mended today, with FC Barcelona, Juventus and Real Madrid still committed to the project despite the withdrawal of the remaining nine teams.
Those nine clubs withdrew within 72 hours of the plans being made public, and while the Atletico board pulled out of the project, Gil believes that reform is required.
“We took [the decision to join the Super League] in just 48 hours, but it took another 48 hours to understand that we were putting two essential things at risk: one, traditional football, which had brought us here, with its good and bad parts; and on the other hand, what we perceived as the rejection of our social mass,” said Gil at World Football Summit’s WFS Europe event, held at Atletico’s home of the Wanda Metropolitano stadium.
— Wanda Metropolitano (@Metropolitano) September 22, 2021
“These things made me think and with the club’s shareholders we realised that the Super League was not going well. It was as if we were cheating on those who had always followed us, so we decided to leave.”
Gil was a fitting first speaker at WFS Europe, where he explained that the current infighting within football is like that of a family squabble that puts clubs in the middle of warring leagues and governing bodies.
“In this continuous confrontation between the institutions, the only ones who suffer are us, the clubs. Like a father and a mother arguing with the son who is in the middle,” added Gil.
“That situation can only end in one scenario, that of emancipation, I am leaving home. And this situation, if it is not remedied by the institutions, will end up happening, it will not be the Super League but there will be some change for sure.
“A season of 55 or 60 games seems barbaric to me. It makes no sense to create more competitions to have more matches and generate more revenue when we are already living on the edge. We pay the wages of the players, for what? And then not being able to dispose of them when they get injured.”
While Gil kicked off day one of WFS Europe’s hybrid debut at the Wanda Metropolitano, a legendary panel consisting of former Barcelona hero Samuel Eto’o and Real Madrid icons Fernando Hierro, Predrag Mijatovic and Fernando Sanz closed things out in style.
Eto’o, taking part on behalf of his Samuel Eto’o Foundation, used the opportunity to call on football to look to generate money for worthy causes beyond the game itself.
“Football will continue to grow because there is a major economic interest. But we need to think about the most important ways to make money beyond football,” said the Cameroonian.
Hierro, who had earlier featured as an investor of football technology company Fly-Fut, explained that the rise of data and technology in the sport must be embraced.
“Football needs passion and heart, but it has to evolve,” he explained. “Technology must take part.”
Elsewhere, there was a sincere focus on women’s football at both stages.
On the Main Stage, DAZN’s Arbesa Kastrati discussed their trident with UEFA and YouTube to bring elite women’s football to a wider audience.
Kastrati said: “This is a three-way partnership with ourselves, UEFA and YouTube as well. We will offer all games completely free on our YouTube channel for two years with the hope that in the final two years of the deal, the audience will migrate to the channel. We wanted to make women’s football accessible, make it visible. The initial reaction from sponsors has been incredible which reinforces the point about the women’s game being untapped and throwing up new avenues of opportunity.”
🗣️ "Football will continue to grow because there is a major economic interest. But we need to think about the most important ways to make money beyond football."
— World Football Summit (@WFSummit) September 22, 2021
N3XT Sports’ Arianna Criscione backed up Kastrati’s point, saying that the women’s football audience needs to be looked at entirely differently from the men’s game.
“Why are we comparing men’s and women’s football?” asked Criscione. “Yes, it’s the same sport, but when it comes to content, it’s different. Women give more to fans and are more approachable.”
The first hybrid event in World Football Summit got underway with hundreds of attendees tuning in online to join those attending face-to-face in the stadium.
It also saw speakers dialling in remotely, with advertising guru Sir Martin Sorrell one of those taking to the virtual stage.
Sorrell said that, with the landscape of sport changing so quickly, football as an institution can no longer avoid political issues – as it has tended to in the past.
“We like to try and isolate sports and politics but that’s not the case,” said Sorrell. “They’re intertwined, and we saw that in Tokyo.”
WFS Europe resumes on Thursday, 23 September with another stellar lineup of speakers, closing with a Q&A with LaLiga president Javier Tebas.