The European Super League made no qualms about its lack of appeal to so-called “Legacy Fans” - those optimistic, afflicted, deluded, loyal or nostalgic enough to dream the dream year after year, those who, as one banner outside Stamford Bridge last night declared, relish the proverbial cold night in Stoke.
That those same fans would so swiftly bring about its downfall offered sweet poetic justice. But it is also worth basking in what a monumental balls-up the breakaway was on course to make of its attempt to woo the mythical “other” audience which it, presumably, thought would be large enough to stave off public ill-feeling, drone out the dissenting masses and, ultimately, line its pockets.
“16- to 24-year olds aren’t interested in football,” said Real Madrid and ESL president Florentino Perez, an idea that makes a €3.5billion venture designed to win them over seem a rather risky investment. You wouldn’t host a rave in the hope of increasing uptake in over-50s life insurance, nor offer discounted bowls club membership to regulars at the local BMX track.
Young people are, Perez claimed, “more interested in playing video games than in football these days”, a less audacious theory, but one which somewhere along the way became conflated with the idea that 90-minute matches - divided by 15-minute half-time intervals - are too long for the declining attention span of teenagers who, famously, rarely spend more than five minutes on a games console before getting fed up and going back outside to play conkers and climb trees.
At 74, Perez, could be forgiven for being a little out of touch. It was left then to ESL vice-chairman Andrea Agnelli, 55 years young, to prove that the “Dirty Dozen” were indeed down with the kids when - in an interview given before the collapse of the house of cards but not published until afterwards - he claimed the Super League would “simulate what young people do on digital platforms in competition with Call Of Duty and Fortnite”. Erm, how?
Of course, sport has to evolve to stay relevant to an evolving audience, but the grand transformative marketing strategy (now-turned statement of justification) upon which this club of corporate geniuses appear to have settled is this: “Just say it would’ve been like that other thing they like”. Football needs to be more like Fortnite, books more like TikTok, films more like avocados, and opera really ought to sound more like those electric scooters. Because that’s what young people are into, right?
It got better. “Through Fifa you create your own competition, that competition has to be brought back to the real world,” Juventus - or should we say, ‘Piemonte Calcio’ - president Agnelli went on.
Ah yes, Fifa, the most successful sports video game franchise of all time, a game which quite literally seeks to replicate, as accurately as possible, the football landscape that Agnelli & Co. are so desperate to disrupt. A game which full-grown adults and children alike cite as proof of their managerial prowess, since they once achieved the unthinkable (and, of course, highly undesirable) feat of taking Leyton Orient or Mansfield Town from League Two to Champions League glory.
If not that sense of upward mobility, then what exactly is the element of competition that Agnelli so wanted to take from the screen onto the field and into the “real world”?
Perhaps the ultra-popular ‘Ultimate Team’ format, (Perez is no doubt a shrewdy in the transfer market, quick-selling Claude Makelele legends cards and spunking all his coins on in-form Luka Jovic), a game mode where a dead-for-15-years, retired-for-55, Ferenc Puskas can slot into a lineup alongside the Gucci-headband clad Allan Saint-Maximin and profess to have optimal “chemistry”. Even in a poorly-hidden mission statement, uncovered within its website by Guardian journalists admitting to have “little specialist knowledge of coding”, the European Super League did not appear to promise quite that level of innovation.
To give Agnelli his dues, the Super League’s efforts to emulate Call Of Duty were more successful. No doubt there was lots of frantic shouting into headsets last night - “Abort! Abort! Abort!” - and more than a touch of not-so friendly fire, too, as the owners of the six English renegades were dragged off to the gulag by their furious fanbases.
Perhaps they’ll think more carefully before plotting a respawn.