The Harder They Fall: The Rise and Collapse of the European Super League

by Tom Athron ’21

Source: The Comeback

Published May 3rd, 2021

If you ask any member of the European soccer public, the sport died on April 18, 2020, and subsequently resurrected two days later.

On April 18, twelve of Europe’s largest clubs, from England, Italy, and Spain, announced their intentions to split away from UEFA and form their own European Super League, a midweek competition that would be separate from UEFA’s soccer competitions, and would be governed by the founding clubs themselves.

The league would supposedly be a closed shop system containing 20 teams, with 15 founding members immune to relegation, a critical part of the European soccer system.

Out of the planned 15 founding members, only 12 were announced: Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester City, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, Juventus, Internazionale Milano, and AC Milan.

Fan backlash was immediate and immense, with many declaring the “death of football,” and condemning the foreign owners for trying to “Americanize” the sport for creating a league that would follow the American sports model. This was coupled with the fact that the project was primarily spearheaded by American owners, specifically the Glazer Family, John W. Henry, and Stan Kroenke.

Leeds United players wore protest shirts before their match against Liverpool on April 19th, with fans of Liverpool also hanging banners in protest. Later, Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson organized a meeting of all the Premier League team captains to try and find a way to fight against the Super League project.

Major public voices, including former players Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher, and Prime Minister Boris Johnson also spoke out against it and vowed to prevent its success. Neville held back no punches on Sky Sports, saying “I’m a Manchester United fan and have been for 40 years of my life but I’m disgusted, absolutely disgusted.”

“Honestly, we have to wrestle back the power in this country from the clubs at the top of this league – and that includes my club,” Neville continued.

It was obvious to many that the project was dreamt up simply for the goal of creating more profit for the owners of the clubs involved, despite the statements of Real Madrid chairman Florentino Perez. Despite claims it was supposed to consist of historical European elite, four of the clubs involved had never won a Champions League or European Cup title, while many other historic clubs were disregarded.

Threats were made to the clubs involved, including expulsion from domestic and European competition, and the banning of players from international competitions like the World Cup.

At around 6:50pm GMT, on the back of the mounting fan anger and an April 20th protest, Chelsea officially began the process of preparing documentation to withdraw from the group, according to Sky Sports and the BBC. Although due to the match with Brighton, a statement wasn’t released until the early hours of the following day.

Half an hour later, Manchester City began preparations to withdraw from the group, releasing an official statement at 9:20pm. “Manchester City Football Club can confirm that it has formally enacted the procedures to withdraw from the group developing plans for a European Super League,” the statement read.

In the next few hours, the other four English clubs all announced their intentions to withdraw from the Super League within seconds of each other.

Meanwhile, Liverpool players released a joint statement against the Super League: “We don’t like it and we don’t want it to happen… our commitment to this football club and its supporters is unconditional.”

By April evening, Manchester United vice-chairman Ed Woodward also resigned, to the delight of many fans, signaling more cracks in the ESL project.

The following morning, Atletico Madrid and Internazionale left the project, AC Milan following soon after. 

As of April 23rd, only two of the initial founding clubs, Real Madrid and Barcelona, continue to support it. Juventus chairman Andrea Agnelli answering the question of whether it could continue with “To be frank and honest, no. Evidently that is not the case.”

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