The grand idea behind the European Super League (ESL), a coterie of 12 ‘best’ soccer clubs, seems to be falling apart with all six English Premier League teams withdrawing from the competition on Wednesday (April 21) amid rising protests.
The ESL is designed to rival the UEFA Champions League format, which is currently Europe’s top annual club competition.
The other six clubs – Spain’s Atletico Madrid, Barcelona and Real Madrid and Italy’s AC Milan, Inter Milan and Juventus – have not responded to the development yet.
Manchester City was the first to withdraw though Chelsea was the one who first gave a hint it may opt out when team manager Thomas Tuchel said the team would prepare documentation of withdrawal. Manchester City confirmed on Twitter that they have “formally enacted the procedures to withdraw” from the League.
Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester United and Tottenham followed Manchester City by officially withdrawing from the proposed league that caused a lot of furore in the football world with governments, leagues and fans getting involved.
The Super League responded to this development by saying it would reconsider “the most appropriate steps to reshape the project”. The official statement read: “Despite the announced departure of the English clubs, forced to take such decisions due to the pressure put on them, we are convinced our proposal is fully aligned with European law and regulations. We are convinced that the current status quo of European football needs to change.”
Juventus chairman Andrea Agnelli told an Italian newspaper la Repubblica that the remaining six clubs will stay together and the ambitious project still had “a 100% chance of being a success”.
The clubs said ‘sorry’
There was restlessness all over since Sunday (April 18) when the 12-team European Super League was officially declared.
Liverpool, meanwhile, said their involvement in the proposed breakaway league “has been discontinued”.
A Manchester United statement read: “We will not be participating in the European Super League.”
The Gunners (Arsenal) released a statement on the club’s website on Tuesday evening, in which they notably said sorry for joining the breakaway competition. Its statement read: “We needed no reminding of this but the response from supporters in recent days has given us time for further reflection and deep thought. It was never our intention to cause such distress, however when the invitation to join the Super League came, while knowing there were no guarantees, we did not want to be left behind to ensure we protected Arsenal and its future.”
“We made a mistake, and we apologise for it,” the statement added.
Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy said: “We regret the anxiety and upset caused by the ESL proposal. We felt it was important that our club participated in the development of a possible new structure that sought to better ensure financial fair play and financial sustainability whilst delivering significantly increased support for the wider football pyramid.”
Chelsea confirmed they have “begun the formal procedures for withdrawal from the group” that they only joined “late last week”.
UEFA welcomes decision of ‘Big Six’
President of UEFA, which regulates football in Europe, Aleksander Ceferin was relieved by the six league teams’ decision. “I said yesterday that it is admirable to admit a mistake and these clubs made a big mistake…I know they have a lot to offer not just to our competitions but to the whole of the European game,” said Ceferin.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson posted on Twitter: “I welcome last night’s announcement. This is the right result for football fans, clubs, and communities across the country. We must continue to protect our cherished national game.” Earlier he had vowed to “thwart” the ESL, and likened it to a “cartel.”
Why did fans oppose the new league?
The reasons for a backlash are many, but primarily the opponents of ESL cited elitism and exclusive nature of the proposed tournament as reasons for their anger that poured on the roads. Critics said such an exclusive tournament will kill healthy competition and will only serve the purpose of filling “greedy” club owners’ pockets.
The fans were perplexed by the ESL announcement on Sunday. As a matter of fact, several coaches and players too expressed surprise saying they were completely unaware of the development.
A day after the announcement, fans of the Premier League “Big Six” (top 6 teams of English Premier League) walked to their stadiums to register their protest.
Chelsea supporters raised slogans at Stamford Bridge while Liverpool supporters’ decided to remove their flags from The Kop, protesting the owners’ decision to “put financial greed above integrity of the game”.
“We, along with other groups involved in flags, will be removing our flags from The Kop,” Liverpool supporters’ group Spion Kop 1906 wrote on Twitter.
“We feel we can no longer give our support to a club which puts financial greed above integrity of the game.”
Fans said a tournament like Champions League is exciting and unique because it gives every European club a chance to qualify thus making the event highly competitive. The ESL, in contrast, kills competition and promotes elitism, fans said.
This season, West Ham and Leicester stand a good chance to qualify for the Champions League because of their impressive show in the English Premier League. On the contrary, Arsenal and Tottenham, who were to join the ESL, were languishing down the points table.
Under fans’ pressure, Manchester United executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward, who was a part of the European Super League plan, hurriedly declared he will quit by the end of this year.
Meanwhile, top players of the six clubs had already expressed their displeasure over their management’s decision to be a part of the breakaway league.
Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson took to Twitter to say his team’s “collective position” is they do not want the Super League to take place. Several Liverpool fans used Henderson’s message and re-posted on their walls.
About the European Super League
Real Madrid president Florentino Perez, who was named the European Super League’s chairman, had argued in favour of the exclusive tournament saying it was necessary “to save football” because young people are “no longer interested” in the game because of “a lot of poor quality games”.
The Super League is a controversial new breakaway league featuring 12 established “founding clubs” – Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Man City, Man Utd, Tottenham, Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Juventus, Inter and Milan – set to rival the Champions League. Three more founding clubs are still yet to be confirmed.
The 15 clubs will be competing in the tournament on a permanent basis, unable to be relegated. Three additional guest teams will fill the remaining spots each year, based on their success in their respective domestic leagues.
It is understood that clubs playing in the Super League will still feature in their domestic leagues, but with the competition for the top four all but removed, and with their Super League presence never in danger, the tournament could threaten to imbalance football forever.