Most European soccer teams involved in the renegade Super League, including all six English clubs, have withdrawn from the league less than 72 hours after they agreed to help found it, leaving the controversial plot in ruin amid fierce blowback.
The clubs announced their reversals in statements. Manchester City was the first to do so. Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham, Liverpool and Manchester United followed Tuesday night. Atletico Madrid, Inter Milan and AC Milan split Wednesday morning, and Juventus issued a statement acknowledging the withdrawals, leaving only Real Madrid and Barcelona unspoken for.
Juventus president Andrea Agnelli, one of the Super League’s most reviled architects, admitted Wednesday morning that the “project” was no longer “up and running.”
Its suspension 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 just two days after agreements were signed – and one day after Real Madrid president Florentino Perez said the agreements were binding – the league fizzled out. Juventus said “necessary procedures” to dissolve it “have not been completed,” but most founders intend to complete them.
“Given the current circumstances, we shall reconsider the most appropriate steps to reshape the project,” the Super League said in a statement Tuesday night – though its unclear who exactly was behind the statement.
The fallout began Tuesday as well. Manchester United CEO Ed Woodward will leave the club. Liverpool lost a sponsor. UEFA, the European soccer governing body who so strongly opposed the Super League, moved to welcome the clubs back to the establishment. But the sport can’t simply move forward as if these three unprecedented days never happened.
And whereas some Super League founders expressed remorse in their withdrawal statements – Liverpool’s American owner, John Henry, took responsibility and apologized to fans Wednesday morning, saying the saga was “something I won’t forget” – others stood by their intentions.
“I remain convinced of the beauty of that project,” Agnelli said.
How the Super League collapsed
Chelsea’s decision, reportedly 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 former player and now club executive, 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 had threatened to expel both clubs before those games.
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 celebrated the league’s collapse Wednesday morning.
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, mentioning Agnelli and Woodward by name. “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.
Ceferin, the UEFA president, issued a laudatory statement shortly after Man City’s withdrawal to “welcome City back to the European football family.”
Early Wednesday morning, he released a broader statement: “I said yesterday that it is admirable to admit a mistake and these clubs made a big mistake.
“But they are back in the fold now and I know they. have a lot to offer not just to our competitions but to the whole of the European game. The important thing now is that we move on, rebuilt the unity that the game enjoyed before this and move forward together.”
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