Football anyone?

Which relationships can you really trust?

You would have thought it impossible to create a breakaway European Super League (ESL) without the support of fans, footballing bodies or government. Yet, the architects of the ESL thought otherwise.

They proposed to formalise a new league where the structured payoffs were to be considerable. In doing this, they believed the clubs would only need each other and themselves, ignoring the key relationships outside of the immediate group. This proved to be a major miscalculation.

The people behind the ESL should have recognised they’d failed to see – or were too arrogant to accept – they had left out social relationships that mattered. This epic failure meant their plan never gained public support and saw sworn enemies join together to defeat the proposal.

It’s been claimed that the relationship between the “out of touch owners” of the clubs and the fans has been trumped by the politicians, who care about voters and know how much voters care about football.

The English clubs all quickly withdrew from the ESL. Those outside the group, whose influence the ESL grossly underestimated, gave lurid, even terrifying hypotheses of what could happen. ‘If you form your league, all police support will be removed.’ ‘Punitive action will start unless you give 51% of your company to the fans.’ This hit home, and the whole sorry affair seems to have ended without proliferation or escalation to litigation[i].

It is against this backdrop that I thought it worthwhile to write this article on relationships and non-proliferation agreements.

I am not commenting directly on the football plan, but as a mediator and dispute resolution specialist looking in from the outside.

At Moot, we spend time with our clients, learning about their relationships and what led them to the miscalculation that put them on a path to ‘war’ in court.

You’d be surprised how much trust can be generated between people, even when they have entirely different values.

There are three relationships: –

The first relationship is between those in the group who are the signatories and have the authority to bind the parties on the terms and conditions of the agreement.

The second concerns the relationships among the group members.

And finally, there is a third relationship between the signatories in the first group and those who remain outside of the agreement.

We decide whether our clients are in a rationalist or binding relationship.

If it is a rationalist one, we know that interest-based calculations are vulnerable to changes in the payoff structure of the interactions.

For example, why pay a loyalty bonus to a leaver? Or hire a removal firm from the town you’re leaving?

In a binding approach, trust is viewed as an ongoing process that’s enhanced by an increase in the exchange of reliable information, greater acceptance of interdependence, and confidence in others living up to mutual agreements.

The ESL sought a binding approach, completely misjudging how politicians would be motivated by the outcry from the fans – the third group.

Would the outcome have been different if those behind the ESL had forged a trusting relationship with the third group, which they could value independently of the payoff structure? Who can say?

One thing is sure though. The future is never risk-free!

Mark Linnell
21 April 2021



[i] Extracts from Jan Ruzicka and Nichols J. Wheeler, The puzzle of trusting relationships in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty

Alex Wickham, Politico London Playbook 21 Apr 21


Moot Hill dispute resolution Leicestershire