Amidst the cataclysmic climate of the newly proposed European Super League, FTF have attempted to find some optimism within the sad reality of the game.
In the reeling aftermath of one of football’s most diabolical structural changes through the European Super League, the modern game is quickly turning on the values which it has striven to represent since the foundation of the sport.
Many of its greatest believers have been dubbed by football’s villains as ‘legacy’ supporters and dumped by the very institutions they have helped to build.
Those in charge of the football hierarchy have finally shed their skins, taken off their masks and slammed the button on football’s infinity gauntlet with little regard for the integrity of the sport.
There are two fundamental elements which makes the game the beautiful sport we all love and support.
First and foremost it is the fans. The sense of comradery in the stands transcending onto the pitch. The joy, the loss, the irrational and unbridled devotion. Football games can be turned upside down just by the electric atmosphere within the ground. The new European Super League threatens to eliminate all of this.
The second major threat which the European Super League poses is the threat against fair play. The mere notion that ‘some clubs are better than others’ is an attitude that reeks of elitism and has no place in sport. Football without fair play is an automated engineered product.
What makes football great is that anyone can beat anyone. We can all dream of miracles, Champions League heroics or beating the best teams in the world even when we are playing in the leagues the European Super League will inevitably neglect.
Football at the core is about a bunch of people kicking a ball on grass trying to put it into a goal. We didn’t fall in love with it by watching the big teams decimate the minnows. The moments which sparked our passion for the game are ones which proved anything is possible.
For these two fundamental elements FTF are wholeheartedly against the European Super League.
Fortunately, for now, there will still be leagues outside the top five divisions, who will preserve the ultimate values of the sport. So for those disillusioned by the game, do not give up.
FTF’s writers have decided to suggest a club for every team’s supporters from the Premier League’s top six, that they could turn to if the European Super League goes ahead.
We decided to think outside the box. When we started at FTF we have always valued the stories of those least appreciated in football’s modern circles.
There will be no mention of Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, or Celtic here in the hope that we attract your attention to a less appreciated team in European football.
We attempted to match the club’s with similar profiles and legacies to their appropriate Premier League counterpart.
We hope this will in some ways offer a distraction to the general apathy which surrounds the game at the moment.
Manchester United – Red Star Belgrade
Manchester United’s willingness to join the European ‘Super’ League means that there is now a void for a historic European club to come in and fill. Enter Red Star Belgrade, Serbia’s biggest football club and a giant of European football too.
Currently leading the Serbian Super Liga charts as the league leaders, Red Star are marching towards their sixth consecutive league title.
They’ve done so in style.
Averaging the highest possession of all teams in the league at 64.6%. Not only that, they’ve used that all of that ball dominance to hurt their opposition time and again.
They’ve scored the most number of goals this season in the league with 90 and also conceded the joint fewest in the league alongside their rivals of the Eternal derby, Partizan Belgrade.
Much like their English counter-parts, Red Star are managed by a former legend in Dejan Stankovic and have a well-established youth policy of bringing players through from the academy, which has held them in good stead.
Red Star’s following in Serbia is not unlike that of Manchester United’s in England and across the globe. In their home country, they are revered by most football fans and rightly so. They’ve got some very likeable characters as well. One such player amongst their ranks is Milan Pavkov who scored twice against Manchester United’s eternal rivals Liverpool to give Red Star a 2-0 lead. While most in Manchester would celebrate such a feat with their team-mates and family, Pavkov simply drove back to his farm in Begec to tend to his livestock
On the pitch, Crvena Zvezda are always an exciting watch with goals and assists spread evenly across the team. In Veljko Nikolić and Željko Gavrić, they have two youngsters worth keeping an eye on. Strahinja Eraković is one who has been touted as the next Nemanja Vidic who incidentally made his name wearing the red of a certain Manchester-based outfit, we’ll let you figure out the rest.
Written by: Ninad
Liverpool – Partizan Belgrade
If United fans are going to be flocking to Red Star, Liverpool fans must stand behind Partizan to keep their fierce rivalry alive.
After all Partizan and Red Star is a world renowned derby. Known simply as the ‘eternal’ one fought with venom and blood, sweat and tears on the pitch.
Much like Liverpool, Partizan’s big change of fortunes happened due to structural changes back in the 1950s. Partizan did not appoint Bill Shankly of course, but instead it was a captain turned coached who spearheaded the club’s change of fortunes in Stjepan Bobek.
Bobek spent 15 years at the club as a player. Like Shankly, when Bobek was appointed manager, he changed Partizan’s colours to black and white (Shankly changed Liverpool to an all red strip). Many see this as a pivotal turning point in the club’s history helping to establish Partizan into the institution that it is today.
Overall, Bobek managed the club in two separate stints during the 1960s and 70s and like Shankly, Bobek also helped to mastermind Partizan’s first league title in well over a decade. Understandably he remains an indelible figure at the club even after his passing.
One of the few Balkan clubs to have reached the final of the European Cup, Partizan have proud European traditions and a loyal fanbase called the Grobari. They have often lived in the shadows of Red Star Belgrade which will be familiar to Liverpool fans. However, Partizan have also enjoyed their very own golden eras.
The current team will have a familiar name in Lazar Markovic who is a leading figure for Partizan as the vice-captain. There will be no Salah, Mane, Firmino and Jota. However, a Markovic, Holender and Asano trio will be just as exciting. Between the three of them they registered 53 goals and assists in the Serbian Super League this season and have been scintillating to watch. All blessed with similar traits to Liverpool’s front three, such as fluid movement, pace and power, Liverpool fans will find it easy to settle in and watch Partizan week in week out.
With plenty of local players like Nemanja Jovic, Milos Jojic and Filip Stevanovic in the side, they will also fill the Trent Alexander-Arnold and Curtis Jones hole in your heart.
Written by: Ben
Manchester City – Red Bull Salzburg
New investment during the mid to late 2000s completely changed the fabrics of Salzburg. Does that ring a bell? Around the same time as Salzburg were being turned into Red Bull, at Manchester City the City Football Group came in and changed the fundamental values of the club.
In Austrian Salzburg are now the dominant force in football with elite stars like Patson Daka and Enock Mwepu. Like City, they are part of a bigger mechanism and organisation with partner clubs all around the globe in Brazil, Germany and North America.
Salzburg play fun attacking football and will often sweeps teams outside, but they’re not immune to the occasional slip up, like Man City losing to Leeds United. Salzburg have lost to Sturm Graz twice and Wolfsberg once this season which has not made their league title pursuit as smooth as it seems on the surface.
Salzburg have scored 75 goals this season so far, meanwhile Manchester City have 67 league goals. Meaning you are guaranteed goals watching this club.
In terms of tactics, Salzburg do not play the tiki-taka 4-3-3 Guardiola formation, Marsch’s system is more fluid and tends to favour a 4-2-2-2 line up. However, both like to utilise their wing-backs and create ample opportunities for their strikers.
Like Guardiola, Marsch is a likeable character who is often well-dressed and has fresh new ideas in the game. His modern coaching approach has made him liked even among neutrals which will certainly be familiar to City supporters.
Young stars like Daka will fill the Foden void and it will be easy to fall back in love with football watching this club week in week out.
Written by: Ben
Arsenal – FC Basel
For a club that hasn’t experienced much in the form of silverware since 2016, FC Basel and Arsenal’s tales are a bit similar.
Basel’s domestic dominance has somewhat been shaken by BSC Young Boys’ emergence in recent years. The capital-based outfit have claimed the Swiss Super League title for the past three years. They have quite simply outnumbered their league rivals in every possible manner. Thus, mirroring some of Basel’s dominance earlier in the 2000s and until the early 2010s as well.
Nonetheless, they remain one of the giants of Swiss football and much like Arsenal, have some very exciting talents in their ranks.
Both clubs have share quite a lot in common, including players as well. Mohamed Elneny joined Arsenal from Basel in January 2016. Granit Xhaka is another former Basel player donning the red of the gunners. Another common factor is that these are two clubs managed by former players. Patrick Rahmen played for Basel across two different spells and also came through the youth ranks at the club.
Initially hired as the assistant of then manager Ciriaco Sforza, he was given the permanent job earlier this month due to the lack of success under Sforza.
Rahmen has quite the task on his hands to take Basel back to where they once were. Much like Arteta has at Arsenal, both men will need the time and backing of the board to take their teams to the next level.
For Basel, the future is certainly looking exciting with the likes of Arthur Cabral and forward Afimico Pululu who can be likened to Bukayo Saka for his versatility and life-long connections with Basel. With the youngsters, there are also experienced heads in the side like Valentin Stocker, Ricky Van Wolfswinskel, Timm Klose, Fabian Frei and Pajtim Kasami. The squad has the right blend of talent and experience to topple Young Boys’ dominance in the coming years. Their challenge will certainly be one worth keeping an eye on away from the European Super League.
Written by: Ninad
Tottenham – AZ Aklmaar
A club that performs towards the higher reaches of their respective league, seeking to assert themselves as European regulars, with an eye for developing academy graduates and playing good football.
This could easily describe Tottenham Hotspur, but squint and rub your eyes and AZ Alkmaar present themselves before you.
AZ are a fascinating young team, currently tied in second place in the Eredivisie with PSV Eindhoven. They lack the material honours of their fellow red and white wearers, having won just two Eredivisies to PSV’s twenty four. However they have matched the more illustrious side in recent years, including finishing second in the shortened 2019/20 season.
In many ways this resonates with the historic battling of Tottenham. Forever seeking to establish themselves within their own city let alone their own country or league, modern times have been far kinder and rewarding to Spurs than the decades preceding the reign of Mauricio Pochettino.
AZ employ a faithful academy vision, seeking for at last half of their senior squad to have progressed through their youth ranks. Their current team embodies this ideal. Captain Teun Koopmeiners, still only twenty three, has risen to prominence as a terrific thinker and midfield passer. Calvin Stengs and Myron Boadu are exciting attackers, whilst vice captain Owen Wijndal has developed into a dynamic left back. None of these players are older than twenty three, and have played together since childhood.
This youth-first approach is something Spurs once claimed. Talisman Harry Kane will forever be revered for his growth at the club into a world class striker. Ledley King too. Harry Winks and Andros Townsend are others to have made that step from junior to Tottenham senior. Whether the developments outlined late on Sunday night change this are unsure.
AZ Alkmaar will never be a guarantee of success. Their development may come in flashes, with spells of brilliance and startling talent offset by the need to sell said names eventually. However their philosophy of nurturing their young and giving them their chance, let alone making them into outstanding players such as Koopmeiners and Stengs, is a holistic and affirming one. Their appearance in Europe next season could help define many of these young talents, and will be fascinating to watch.
Written by: Tom
Chelsea – Shakhtar Donetsk
A bit like Chelsea, neutral fans will be surprised to know that Shakhtar Donetsk’s history stretches all the way back to the pre-World War Two era.
However, it wasn’t until the 2000s when Shakhtar really started to assert their dominance on the modern game thanks to new investment and ambition.
Chelsea fans will certainly resonate with a club of Shakhtar’s status.
Over the last two decades, like Chelsea Shakhtar have been able to establish themselves as European stalwarts and often cause major shocks in European competitions. Their defeat of Real Madrid this season was proof.
Like Chelsea, Shakhtar have an impressive youth academy and regularly develop the best players for the Ukrainian national team. In fact the club’s U19 side reached the final of the UEFA Youth League back in 2015 losing to Chelsea of all people.
There will be no Mason Mount, but Shakhtar do also have an exciting young team with plenty of potential. Stars like Manor Solomon, Tete, Fernando and Marcos Antonio are especially fun to watch.
Valeriy Bondar meanwhile reminds us a bit of Fikayo Tomori.
In Luís Castro Shakhtar have an ambitious coach who started his career from the ground up, much like Tuchel at Mainz. Castro comes with fresh ideas and has fortified the club’s defence meanwhile also establishing a fluid offensive style going forward.
Written by Ben.
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