On an extraordinary night for the proposed European Super League, the six English teams who had signed up sensationally pulled out of the breakaway venture.
Here we take a look at the latest state of play.
What was the European Super League proposal?
On Sunday night a group of 12 clubs – including the Premier League’s so-called ‘Big Six’ – announced they had signed up to a new Super League, which it was intended would feature 15 ‘founder members’ who were protected from relegation and five additional sides on an annual basis. The new competition would start “as soon as is practicable”, according to the press release confirming it.
It was intended to be played midweek and run alongside the domestic leagues.
Who is behind the European Super League?
The 12 founding members were English sides Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea, Spanish trio Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid and Barcelona, plus Juventus AC Milan and Inter Milan from Italy.
In addition it was revealed that Real Madrid president Florentino Perez, who is believed to be the 'brainchild' of the format, would hold the chairman’s role.
Liverpool’s John W. Henry, Manchester United's Joel Glazer, Arsenal's Stan Kroenke, and Juventus' Andrea Agnelli would all take up positions as vice-chairmen of the league.
The American owners of Man United, Liverpool and Arsenal were believed to be drivers of this proposal. They wanted it to mirror the ‘franchise’ version of sport in the United States.
In their own announcement, the breakaways clubs state 'The Founding Clubs will receive an amount of €3.5 billion solely to support their infrastructure investment plans and to offset the impact of the COVID pandemic.'
Why was the ESL proposed?
For some of them, it stemmed from a disagreement between some of European football’s superpowers and UEFA over commercial control of the revamped Champions League, which is due to start under a new format from 2024. On Friday, the UEFA clubs competition committee – including a number of representatives from breakaway clubs – had given its blessing to UEFA’s proposals before a dramatic change of direction.
Why have Premier League clubs withdrawn?
Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham have all confirmed they will take no part. There had been almost universal backlash towards the Super League from football’s authorities, other clubs, players and spectators, and even from Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the Duke of Cambridge. Broadcasters also waded in to distance themselves from the project, raising questions about the viability of any league.
This was a backlash and uniting of fans around the country that has rarely, if ever, been seen before. Several of the clubs said in statements they had listened to the fans and admitted they had got it wrong.
An emotive Arsenal statement read: “The last few days have shown us yet again the depth of feeling our supporters around the world have for this great club and the game we love.
“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.
“As a result of listening to you and the wider football community over recent days we are withdrawing from the proposed Super League. We made a mistake, and we apologise for it.”
United executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward has quit, while there are conflicting reports in Italy over Juventus chairman Andrea Agnelli’s position at the club.
What happens next with the European Super League?
The project appears doomed, with the Super League announcing it is considering “appropriate steps to reshape the project” in the wake of the exit of the English clubs. Just the six non-English teams are left standing, although there were reports Atletico Madrid and Barcelona were also planning to pull out. Last season’s Champions League finalists Bayern Munich and Paris St Germain had already rejected the chance to join the group, which was a big blow given their status. What happens with the billions of pounds in start-up money put forward by American bankers JP Morgan is anyone’s guess.
What has the European Super League said?
In a statement, the ESL said: “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 as was demonstrated today by a court decision to protect the Super League from third party actions.
“Given the current circumstances, we shall reconsider the most appropriate steps to reshape the project, always having in mind our goals of offering fans the best experience possible while enhancing solidarity payments for the entire football community.
“The European Super League is convinced that the current status quo of European football needs to change. We are proposing a new European competition because the existing system does not work.
“Our proposal is aimed at allowing the sport to evolve while generating resources and stability for the full football pyramid, including helping to overcome the financial difficulties experienced by the entire football community as a result of the pandemic.”
What might the impact of all this be?
If we take it as read that the Super League will not go forward, it arguably lances a boil which has been festering for more than three decades.
Europe’s big clubs can surely no longer hold the threat of a breakaway over the heads of UEFA, because the evidence is there that no-one really wants it.
It might even pave the way for a more equitable future for the game at European level, and it has had the side benefit of triggering a fan-led review of football governance in England which has been long called for and may lead to new, German-style ownership models being enshrined in law if supporters’ groups get their way.
It could be a revolution, but not as Florentino Perez intended on Sunday night.
Will the European Super League clubs still face sanctions?
There is the possibility of some punishments being handed out as deterrents, but UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin has repeatedly urged the clubs to come to their senses, and will be pleased and relieved if they all do.
However, with their negotiating position weakened, some of the concessions to the big clubs in the 2024 Champions League revamp – like the ‘safety net’ of two qualification places based on historic performance and teams playing 10 matches in the group stage – might be looked at again.
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