Many soccer fans know Apple TV+ for its irreverent comedy series Ted Lasso. Live soccer arrives later this Spring when the MLS/Apple $250 million, 10-year rights deal delivers the MLS Season Pass app, which will feature every MLS regular season and playoff game in one place for the first time.
World Soccer Talk got a first look at the series before it officially debuts on Friday, January 13. The fascinating series peers into one of soccer’s biggest recent controversies in the new documentary entitled Super League: The War for Football.
Directed by Jeff Zimbalist (The Two Escobars), the program is presented in four parts, roughly covering each day from the European Super League (ESL) initial announcement on April 18, 2021 through the withdrawal of clubs and its collapse four days later.
Heavy focus throughout is centered on two men: UEFA president Aleksander Čeferin, and former Juventus and European Club Association chairman (and Super League vice-chairman) Andrea Agnelli. Formerly close friends, we see how the ESL fiasco drove a wedge between them and their roles in the drama the world saw play out over those four days.
“Now the war for football has started”
At the heart of the friction and outrage of course, is the contrast between the big business of (particularly European club) football and the soul of the game and its working class roots.
Čeferin is quoted early in the episode one saying, “The magic of football is hope – that the weaker can beat the stronger. Everybody has a chance. The dream is alive and it should stay alive forever. That you can rise from obscurity. You can do anything from nowhere.” On the flip side, Agnelli states that “I don’t think we should be talking about acts of morality or immorality, they are not part of the business environment.”
It’s a stark difference in outlook on the project and the sport in general.
Overall, the documentary does a good job of evoking the sense of tension and downright outrage felt through much of the soccer world with its atmospheric music and visuals. The day-by-day, minute-by-minute timeline is interspersed with historical context from years prior, as well as follow up material covering the aftermath and present situation.
Commentary from well-known soccer personalities such as Kate Abdo and Gary Lineker, as well as supporters from participating clubs, help tell the story of the emotional impact the saga has had on the soccer world. Contemporary news report footage and commentary is peppered in, such as Gary Neville’s notable takedown of Manchester United and the project and supporting protests outside grounds across England, which gives you the “as it happened” context of the infamous few days as well.
There’s more to the story on Super League: The War for Football
But the documentary is not simply a hit-piece on the Super League concept. Key ESL principles, including Agnelli, Real Madrid President Florentino Pérez, FC Barcelona President Joan Laporta and members of the ESL financial, legal and marketing team are given ample opportunity to lay out their side of the story. Claiming a “silent majority” of supporters who back the creation of the league, and comparing the ESL to the “visionary” creation of the Premier League in 1992, the backers insist such a reformatting of the European game is absolutely necessary moving forward.
Of course, much of this talk comes from the three holdout clubs: Real Madrid, Barça, and Juve. It’s no coincidence that these are historically massive clubs with large debts, in desperate need of guaranteed revenue, and who cannot hope to compete with the near unlimited wealth of Middle Eastern ownership groups of competing clubs.
We all know how the story ends. The so-called silent majority does not speak out in favor of the competition. Governing bodies, players, commentators, coaches and more condemn the project. And large-scale resistance from fans and governments (particularly in England) forced nine of the twelve founding clubs (critically including all six English sides) to publicly back out of the competition just four days after it was announced.
Overall it’s an enthralling four hour watch, a window into perhaps the most important battle within the sport of our time. There is both uplifting joy in the victory won by the fans at scuttling the project, as well as lingering dread as those behind the ESL and others like them still lurk in the game, and are already planning their next steps. Or as Kate Abdo puts it towards the end of the final episode, “The war for football wages on.”
You can watch the trailer for Super League: The War for Football below, and catch it when it premieres on Apple TV+ on Friday, January 13.
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