Europe’s rebel Super League crumbled just days after its launch this week as teams pulled out amid fury from the sport’s authorities, politicians and fans.
Juventus Chairman Andrea Agnelli, one of the leading architects of the European Super League, said the project will no longer go ahead. Earlier its promoters had said it was considering “appropriate steps to reshape the project.”
The collapse was inevitable after all six English clubs involved pulled out of the project late on Tuesday. The Premier League is home to some of the world’s most marketable clubs, and generates billions in sponsorship and broadcasting revenue. On Wednesday morning, Atlético Madrid and Inter Milan also announced their departure, while only Real Madrid and FC Barcelona have yet to comment.
Among the six clubs, Manchester United said it had “listened carefully to the reaction from our fans, the UK government and other key stakeholders.” Chelsea Football Club said it withdrew after considering “the best interests of the club, our supporters or the wider football community.” The club’s withdrawal came amid a protest from fans at its London stadium.
While Manchester City had been the first to go, Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool also followed.
The departure of half the teams has all but sunk the Super League following a barrage of opposition from within the football world and outside it. Executives behind the plan, backed by US bank JPMorgan Chase & Co with four billion euros (US$4.8 billion), sparked anger from fans across the world.
The planned breakaway kicked off a battle with governing body UEFA and national leagues, and even prompted interventions from leaders including British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. While ostensibly over plans to take the cream from Europe’s most prestigious competition – the Champions League – the fight is also about control of a sport whose finances have been hammered by the pandemic, and the biggest clubs want more money.
Initially six teams from England, three from Italy and three from Spain were involved in the proposal for a new league starting in August. They all have broad fanbases, but also significant debts and are seeking to juice broadcasting rights and underpin revenue after a year spent playing in empty stadiums.
UEFA called the new league “cynical” and is pushing ahead with plans for a revamped version of the Champions League. On Monday, the organisation was exploring a six-billion-euro financing proposal from a UK-based asset manager to finance it – and respond to the Super League.
Yet it may be the wider anger that pushed some clubs to rethink. Liverpool FC team captain Jordan Henderson said on Twitter that “we don’t like it and we don’t want it to happen.” There was also a revolt among high-profile players and coaches at other clubs.
Liverpool’s owner John W. Henry, the businessman behind the Boston Red Sox and The Boston Globe, issued an remorseful pre-recorded message on Wednesday morning.
“I want to apologise to all the supporters and fans at Liverpool Football Club for the disruption I caused over the past 48-hours,” said Henry. “I alone am responsible for the necessary negativity brought forward over the past couple of days.”
At Chelsea, which is owned by Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, hundreds of fans gathered at a game on Tuesday evening to protest, chanting “we want our Chelsea back.” The match was delayed by 15 minutes when the team bus couldn’t get past the protesters.
Meanwhile at Manchester United, the club announced that its vice-chairman, Ed Woodward, was set to step down. Woodward, a lightning rod for fans’ discontentment with the club in recent years, was a key advocate of the Super League. It was followed by a statement saying the club had withdrawn.
The 12 renegade clubs said on Monday they intended to sign up another three permanent members and offer places to five more teams each season. The 20 teams would play each other midweek as an alternative to the Champions League.
What irked opponents was the closed-shop nature of the plan, with the 15 permanent clubs never having to face failure to qualify for the tournament. The Champions League is open to the top clubs in each country, though a bad season can mean a big team can still miss out.