The 2023/24 season of European club football kicks off the traditional curtain-raiser of the UEFA Super Cup.
Theoretically, qualifying for the Champions League began on 27 June (just 17 days after last season’s final between Manchester City and Inter) but the Super Cup has been viewed as the season opener since Anton Witkamp, a journalist at the Dutch publication De Telegraaf, dreamed up the competition in the early 1970s.
At its inception, Witkamp said of the competing teams: “More than money and glory, they were pursuing the right to be called the best.” The economic reality of the modern game has seen some of the Corinthian spirit fade but the Super Cup remains the first available prize of the European season.
Here’s everything you need to know about the 2023/24 edition of the competition.
The 48th UEFA Super Cup will take place on Wednesday 16 August 2023, after the first weekend of league football for the English and Spanish top flights.
When the first official Super Cup was contested between Ajax and Milan, it was held in January 1974. The Dutch European Cup winners overcame the absence of Johan Cruyff and the wintry conditions to earn a thumping 6-1 aggregate victory. It has been held at the start of each season since.
For the first time since 2007, a UEFA club competition final will be held in Greece as the Stadio Georgios Karaiskakis in Piraeus hosts this summer’s Super Cup. The fixture was initially scheduled to be held in Russia’s Ak Bars Arena in Kazan.
However, a lot has changed in the world since the vote in March 2020. UEFA have taken a strong stance since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, banning the nation’s clubs from their competitions as the governing body distanced itself from the dictatorial state.
When it became clear that the fighting would not cease, UEFA’s executive committee stripped Kazan of its hosting rights in January 2023.
Witkamp’s first concoction of the competition was held over two legs so that both clubs could generate revenue from a starry home fixture. Barcelona’s 3-1 aggregate victory over Borussia Dortmund in 1998 was the last edition before the competition moved to a one-off final in a neutral venue.
For a brief period, the Super Cup was beholden to the golden goal fad. But for 20 unbroken years between 2002 and 2022, the competition followed the traditional rules of extra time and, if necessary, a penalty shootout, if the two teams could not be separated after 90 minutes.
However, 2023 marks another change in the format. If the score is level when the referee blows the final whistle of normal time, the teams will immediately move to a penalty shootout without any extra time.
Interestingly, this decision to scrap the additional 30 minutes comes after a run of five extra-time goals across the last five Super Cups.
The Super Cup is contested between the winners of UEFA’s two most prestigious club competitions – the Champions League and the Europa League – in the previous season. Witkamp dreamed it up as a way to combat the fact that “football is often a hymn to relativity” – the winner of the Champions League may not necessarily be better than their Europa League equivalents.
The original intention of the competition was somewhat undermined when UEFA ensured that clubs can drop out of the Champions League but still compete on the continent. Sevilla followed that exact route, exiting the group stage of Europe’s premier club competition before winning a record-extending seventh Europa League title.
Incidentally, Sevilla finished third in a Champions League group containing Manchester City. Pep Guardiola’s side defeated the La Liga outfit home and away by an aggregate score of 7-1 on their way to the club’s first Champions League crown.
City’s only previous European title was the 1970 Cup Winners’ Cup – which came just before Witkamp began to scheme. Therefore, this will be the club’s first foray into this particular competition.
Guardiola does boast experience in this arena. After winning his first two Champions League titles with Barcelona, Guardiola claimed the 2009 and 2011 Super Cups, defeating Shakhtar Donetsk and Porto.
Two years later, Guardiola inherited a Bayern Munich side that were champions of Europe. While the Catalan coach couldn’t defend that title in Bavaria, he began his Bayern tenure with victory in the 2013 Super Cup, besting Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea on penalties after Javi Martinez equalised in stoppage time of extra time.
If City are beginners at this level, Sevilla are bottlers. The Andalusian side have reached the Super Cup seven times – only Barcelona (nine) and Real Madrid (eight) can better that tally. Yet, Sevilla have only won the European curtain-raiser once.
At the club’s first attempt in 2006, Juande Ramos steered Sevilla to a 3-0 victory against Frank Rijkaard’s bleary-eyed Barcelona. Jesus Navas, captain of the 2023 Europa League champions, started that night in Monaco.
Thereafter, Sevilla have lost five consecutive Super Cup appearances, comfortably the most in the competition’s half-century history.