Chelsea, Manchester City, Arsenal, Liverpool, Tottenham and Manchester United are all withdrawing from the Super League less than 48 hours after they agreed to help found it, leaving the controversial plot in ruin after fierce blowback.
Their decisions came amid widespread criticism of the plan, hatched by 12 top clubs from England, Italy and Spain, to break away from the existing structure of European soccer and form their own exclusive league.
But two days after agreements were signed – and one day after Real Madrid president Florentino Perez said the agreements were binding – the Super League was reportedly “suspended.”
“Given the current circumstances, we shall reconsider the most appropriate steps to reshape the project,” the league said in a statement. It’s unclear who, exactly, “we” is.
The other six teams – Barcelona, Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid, Juventus, Inter Milan and AC Milan – have not yet announced their plans, but the project likely cannot continue without the English clubs.
The fallout has already begun as well. Manchester United CEO Ed Woodward will leave the club. Liverpool lost a sponsor. Juventus president Andrea Agnelli, one of the Super League’s most reviled architects, had to deny reports that he was resigning.
How the Super League collapsed
Chelsea’s decision, the first domino to fall, came an hour before the Blues kicked off a Premier League match at Stamford Bridge, their London home. Chelsea fans protesting the Super League blocked the team’s bus route to the stadium. Petr Cech, a club legend, had to plead with fans to let the bus through.
Chelsea’s and Man City’s backtracking dealt a major blow to the league, and led to an emergency meeting among the dozen clubs Tuesday night. Hours later, the other four English clubs decided to follow Chelsea and City.
“We made a mistake, and we apologize for it,” Arsenal said in a letter to fans. “As a result of listening to you and the wider football community over recent days we are withdrawing from the proposed Super League.”
Fan backlash played a major role in the league’s collapse. Legal challenges and threats likely did as well. Both Chelsea and Man City are set to play in the Champions League semifinals next week, and UEFA, the European soccer governing body that opposes a Super League, had threatened to kick both clubs out of the semifinals.
The 12 “founding members” were also unsuccessful in their attempts to woo elite clubs from Germany and France. In their Sunday statement, they said they “anticipated” that three others would join them as founders. But those three others – Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund and PSG – rebuffed the league, weakening the founders’ leverage.
Governments and politicians, including United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson, had also opposed the Super League, and promised to do anything in their power to prevent it. Johnson commended Chelsea and City for their backtracking, and called on others to follow – which they later did.
FIFA, soccer’s global governing body, and UEFA also fought fiercely, and promised to ban the Super League founders and their players from the Champions League, the World Cup, and all other sanctioned competitions going forward.
“We have listened carefully to the reaction from our fans, the UK government and other key stakeholders,” Manchester United said in its withdrawal statement.
The intensity of the blowback – including from players and fans of Super League clubs – likely exceeded the founders’ expectations. Several of the plan’s engineers are foreign owners, who may have underestimated fans’ passion for their clubs and their reverence for the theoretically meritocratic European soccer model. The Super League proposal would have given the founders permanent status, while forcing non-founding clubs to earn their way in. It contradicted all current European soccer competitions, which are “open,” meaning participation in the top competitions is earned via on-field success.
Pundits and fans condemned the owners’ greed in the aftermath of Sunday’s announcement. On Tuesday, some fans celebrated the league’s apparent collapse – and the role they played in it.
Dozens of Chelsea fans outside Stamford Bridge sang: “We saved football.”
The fallout, though, is just beginning. The 12 clubs all left the European Club Association, an umbrella body representing the interests of hundreds of teams. Executives, such as Agnelli, left their posts at the ECA and UEFA – whose president, Aleksander Ceferin, called Agnelli a serial liar.
“We weren’t aware that there were snakes among us,” Ceferin said Monday. “Now we know.”
It remains to be seen whether UEFA, FIFA, and domestic leagues, such as the English Premier League, will opt to punish the Super League clubs for their defections, or whether negotiations will begin and concessions will be made along the lines of what the Super League clubs wanted in the first place.
UEFA issued a laudatory statement shortly after Man City’s withdrawal, officially the first of the six, to “welcome City back to the European football family.”
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