Written by Andy Jones (@TheRamblingHam)
Since Sunday evening the whole football world has been in a state of shock. As reports of a new European Super League started to trickle out over the weekend, many fans across Europe and in particular England feared the worse for the beautiful game.
On Sunday evening 12 of the continents ‘biggest’ clubs revealed plans to launch a new competition dubbed ‘The European Super League’ and the fallout from this decision has shaken the football world to its very core. The clubs in question are from three european countries; England, Spain and Italy and included; Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United, Manchester City, Tottenham; Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Real Madrid; AC Milan, Inter Milan and Juventus.
Three days later though, fans, players, coaches, pundits, the sports governing bodies and even government voices had been heard and the plan now seems dead in the water.
As of writing this article only Real Madrid and Barcelona had yet to be heard from and nine of the 12 clubs have now withdrawn from the agreement they announced on Sunday, with Juventus, alongside the Spanish titans, still clinging on to the concept their President, Andrea Agnelli, had been at the centre of.
Chelsea and Man City pulled out first on Tuesday evening with the rest of the English clubs following suit later that night. Prime Minister Boris Johnson had described the breakaway group as a “cartel” and had threatened to drop a “legislative bomb” to prevent any super league being created by a monopoly of rich and powerful football clubs.
Once the six clubs from England made the dramatic U-turn, Agnelli, who is also the Vice-President of the newly formed European Super League, admitted the league was unlikely to go ahead, saying: “To be frank and honest no, evidently that is not the case.”
After the ‘Big 6’ of the english game dropped out it wasn’t long until their partners across the Channel started to get cold feet as well. Ac Milan, Inter Milan and Atletico have also expressed their desire to pull out of the proposed league – leaving just Real Madrid, Barcelona and Juventus the three remaining clubs still clinging on to the idea.
UEFA and FIFA, the European and world governing bodies respectively, were incensed by the proposal. UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin held no punches when he spoke at the
UEFA congress saying it was” disgraceful” and “self-serving proposals” that were fuelled by “greed”.
He added: “This idea is a spit in the face of all football lovers and of society as a whole. We will not allow them to take it away from us.”
The two governing bodies threatened to ban players who played in the league from competing at the European Championships and World Cup, whilst the clubs concerned could face expulsion from this season’s current Champions League. This along with fan power seems to have stopped the proposal in its tracks – for now at least.
What was proposed then and why did it cause such an outrage?
It is not the first time a ‘European Super League’ has been banded around the footballing world but this time there was a formal commitment made by the 12 clubs in question and the format of the proposed tournament had a very uncompetitive and unsporting feel about it.
In essence the 12 clubs wanted to create a league that would challenge the UEFA Champions League with the clubs main focus on generating profits in a closed shop league.
All the founding members would be guaranteed to compete year in year out without fear of relegation, regardless of performance or sporting achievements – this goes against everything football stands for – a sentiment shared across the board.
AFCB Bournemouth manager and former Real Madrid and Tottenham defender, Jonathon Woodgate, spoke to NERVE SPORT ahead of his sides Championship tie with Millwall prior to the announcement that the English clubs had pulled out.
“I think what’s going on has been disgusting and to be honest with you It goes against everything that football stands for, the promotion and the relegation etc..
“[It] creates a closed shop, prevents teams like Bournemouth climbing all the way from League 2 to the Premier League and spending five seasons there, then where do they go from there?”
The Cherries boss added: “No Champions League, what the best competition in the world it’s a travesty.”
It is not just the professional game that felt the creation of a ‘European Super League’ was in contrast to the values and traditions associated with the beautiful game.
Ringwood Town Manager, Richard Morse, was “disappointed with it” and insisted he didn’t “want to see it”. The club operates at step 6 of the pyramid structure and Morse felt the proposed league would not be for the good of the game.
He added: “I know its a global sport now, all I can see now is Liverpool play Real Madrid in Los Angeles or Chelsea v Atletico in Bangkok – that’s what’s going to happen – it’s just not right.”
A league with no promotion or relegation may be the way the sporting model works across the pond in the US but here in Europe and especially in England, where 150 years of strong, fair and competitive competition has thrived, this is just not a model fans, players or anyone associated with the game could get on board with.
The fact that the owners of these giant institutions had a complete lack of empathy and disregard for fans has also infuriated people.
Social media exploded with fans across all 12 clubs expressing their emotions and feelings whilst TV pundits like Jamie Carragher and Gary Neville dissected the plans on Sky’s Monday Night Football programme calling on players, fans and coaches – in fact all people involved in football to stand up and fight back and that is exactly what happened.
What have the English clubs said now and where do we go from here?
Chelsea fans gathered outside Stamford Bridge ahead of the clubs Premier League tie with Brighton and the club listened. The London based club was the first to step away from the proposal with the club saying it “would not be in the best interest of the club”.
The Blues were soon followed by Manchester City who explained they had ”formally enacted the procedures to withdraw” and their cross-city rivals United said ”We have listened carefully to the reaction from our fans, the UK government and other key stakeholders” adding they remained “committed to working with others across the football community”, the club’s owner Joel Glazer has also penned an open letter to fans apologising.
An Arsenal club statement said “It was never our intention to cause such distress” and their North London neighbours, Tottenham, released a statement from Chairman Daniel Levy who said “we regret the anxiety and upset caused by the ESL proposal” but failed short of an actual apology.
Current Premier League champions, Liverpool, whose own vice-captain, James Milner had spoken out against the Super League after the draw with Leeds on Monday night released a video of owner John W Henry who apologised to fans directly.
He said: “I want to apologise to all the fans and supporters of Liverpool Football Club for the disruption I caused over the past 48 hours.”
“And I want to apologise to Jürgen, to Billy, to the players and to everyone who works so hard at LFC to make our fans proud.”
What is clear from these statements is that each club has its tail between its legs and the wounds will take a long time to heal. Fans feel like the owners of their clubs just do not care and despite the reversal in the decision to break away from the status-quo, the relationship between fans and owners is a chasm that feels impossible to overcome right now.
However, there may be positives to take from the past three days. Prime Minister Johnson, spoke during Prime Minister’s questions earlier today and revealed a “root and branch investigation into the governance of football” and that the investigation would “look into what we can do to prompt the role of fans in that governance” and that the decision for clubs to pull out was “the right result”. This is a step in the right direction.
Sky Sports News are reporting the investigation will look into the fit and proper persons test – which is in place to ensure clubs are not sold to people who will harm the game – and that an independent regulatory board may be set up to control the football industry to prevent anything future breakaway leagues.
While most people are not against change and evolution within the game – in fact many do believe some sort of restructuring would benefit the sport – the overwhelming feeling amongst all those involved in football is that any such changes must be in the spirit of the game and maintain the integrity of competition and not be driven purely by money and greed.