Have You Heard Of The Atlantic League?
This week, the news about the proposed European Super League has stirred up the still waters of the football world. The biggest schism of the recent history of association football has attracted some praise and far more critics. On one hand, it may have been nice to see more high-profile matches among the best clubs in Europe. Just think of the multitude of new soccer betting options that would’ve appeared at Betway and other bookmakers, more exciting and perhaps more unpredictable than the average Champions League matches, or the quality football that we could’ve followed. On the other hand, we should also consider the financial implications of the move, the fact that the revenues of the clubs would’ve grown significantly through it – and consider the possibility that this, indeed, was little more than a cash grab.
Apparently, though, the European Super League is falling to ashes as the majority of founding clubs stands to withdraw.
This is not the first attempt of football clubs to create a parallel football league. Aside from the idea of a Super League, that emerged sometime in the late 1990s, there was another attempt to create a parallel tournament, this time involving less wealthy clubs: the Atlantic League.
The Atlantic League
PSV Eindhoven CEO Peter Fossen and president Harry van Raaij came up with the idea of the Atlantic League in the early 2000s. At the time, like today, there was a major disparity between the more financially successful clubs and those who did well in their national leagues but couldn’t stand up to the biggest teams in other countries. The latter was left behind both in financial revenue and their ability to attract high-profile players to strengthen their ranks.
The two approached several local teams in the Netherlands as well as other countries – Belgium, Portugal, and Scotland, among others – with the proposal to form an international league of their own, competing among them.
Fossen discussed the idea of the Atlantic League with Lars-Christer Olsson, who served as UEFA’s marketing director at the time. By this time, the league had the support of several Dutch teams, including Eindhoven and Ajax, Scottish teams like the Rangers and Celtic, Belgium’s Club Brugge and Anderlecht, Sweden’s IFK Göteborg and AIK, Denmark’s Brøndby IF and F.C. Copenhagen, and Portugal’s Benfica and Sporting CP.
Progression and relegation
The Atlantic League would’ve maintained a system of promotion and relegation similar to the one in place for the Champions League. The least successful clubs in the Atlantic League would’ve relegated to their respective national top-flight leagues, being replaced by each one’s champions. The league would’ve provided the participating teams with the possibility to promote to the existing European club competitions like the UEFA Cup and the Champions League.
The UEFA, of course, resisted the idea. While the league’s officials did admit that there are disparities between the largest clubs and their smaller counterparts, UEFA chief executive Gerhard Aigner rejected the idea, proposing a revamped UEFA Cup instead. Moreover, the organization insisted that if the teams were to break away to set up their own league, they would be banned from participating in Europe-wide competitions like the Champions League.
The idea of leagues complementary to national competitions has resurfaced in 2008, and once again it was met with resistance from UEFA citing fear of the proliferation of non-national leagues, then once again in 2016 but this time more like a reminder for the UEFA that there is life beyond the top teams from the three big competitions.