Leaders and Followers – Soccer as Metaphor

As dramatic an example as any of changing relations between leaders and followers unfolded last week in, of all places, the world of sport. In just forty-eight hours was a bloodless revolution that sundered an unholy alliance of American financiers, Russian oligarchs, European tycoons, and Middle East royalty. And it brought to a humiliating end their greedy grab to take control of the world’s most popular sport – known in the U. S. as soccer but everywhere else in the world as football.   

The short ugly life of the so-called Super League was more than a disgraceful display of hubris run amuck. It was testimony to the idiocy of leaders who, in the third decade of the 21st century, ignore their followers – who pay them no mind, treat them as if they didn’t exist. Such callous indifference to people without power works when people with power are willing and able to exert total control. But such control is impossible to exercise on a global level – especially in an arena in which public passions run feverishly high, as they do in soccer.   

Though soccer has become a multi-billion-dollar global business, the game remains closely connected to the cities and communities where clubs originated. The Super League threatened to sever this connection. It would have uprooted the sport from its native soil and make it something different. An elite enterprise much less about playing the game and much more about making money. Big money. Very big money.

The Super League fell so far so fast because the powerful misread the powerless. Well, not so much misread as not read at all. It seems the financiers, the oligarchs, the tycoons, and the relevant royals did not even consider the possibility that their plan would meet resistance so fervent and fierce it would prove impossible to surmount.

Who exactly resisted the plan for a Super League, and how exactly did the resistance manifest itself? The screaming and yelling, the protesting and demonstrating, the rebellion and yes, the revolution started the instant the news leaked, and it was real as well as virtual. Some resistors were from within the world of soccer; some, most, were from without. First were the fans, especially but not exclusively in Britain who in no time flat made their anger known. In turn followed players and coaches; lawmakers and commentators; presidents and prime ministers; and even a British royal – Prince William. Prime Minister Boris Johnson quickly followed suit, licking his chops at what he saw as a political opportunity, threatening to drop a “legislative bomb” on any English club that joined.            

So apparent was the dismay, and so widespread the anger, that the Super League did not so much gradually crumble as quickly collapse into an ignominious heap.  Manchester City was the first to break away from what rapidly became more Fantasy League than Super League – it released a terse statement saying it was out.

It was left to Joel Glazer, one of several billionaire American businessmen who were in on the plan – Glazer is part owner of the other Manchester team, Manchester United, as well as owner with his family of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers – to summarize the fiasco in an abject apology. “In seeking to create a more stable foundation for the game, we failed to show enough respect for its deep-rooted traditions – promotion, relegation, the pyramid – and for that we are sorry.”

“When will they ever learn?” When will leaders learn?  

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