KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —- The breakaway Super League collapsed late Tuesday night after all six English Premier League clubs pulled out.
Later the rump of the Super League issued a statement announcing the suspension of the entire project and leaving the trio of clubs from Italy and Spain also to retreat, shame-faced, into their domestic and European football establishments.
Manchester City set the wrecking ball flying on Tuesday night with a formal statement after Chelsea had earlier signalled their intentions to prepare documentation to withdraw. Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester United and Tottenham quickly followed suit
City said they had “formally enacted the procedures to withdraw”, Liverpool said their involvement “has been discontinued”, while United said they had “listened carefully to the reaction from our fans, the UK government and other key stakeholders”.
Arsenal were the only club to apologise initially, saying they had “made a mistake” and had now heeded their fans and the “wider football community”; north London neighbours Tottenham, in the words of chairman Daniel Levy, said the club regretted the “anxiety and upset” aroused.
Overnight Liverpool owner John W Henry issued a grovelling video apology to fans, manager Jurgen Klopp and the players in which he took full responsibility for the blunder.
Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich led the way on Tuesday afternoon by personally ordering a U-turn in worried reaction to the political, social and supporter backlash against the 12-club breakaway proposition.
The six clubs were announced on Sunday as founder members of the breakaway midweek competition.
The American-owned trio of Arsenal, Liverpool and United were considered the most enthusiastic backers of the project with City and Chelsea joining for fear of missing out on a significant development.
This English exodus cut the Super League down to Spain’s Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid plus Italy’s Juventus, Internazionale and Milan.
Florentino Perez, the Real Madrid president who chairs the Super League, pulled out of an interview with a Spanish television station in the wake of a meeting following the English retreat. Juventus denied reports that Andrea Agnelli, one of the leading plotters, had resigned as president.
Barcelona sources indicated that the club’s board would put Super League participation to a vote among members’ representatives – expected to be negative.
Simultaneously it emerged that Ed Woodward will resign as executive vice-chairman of Manchester United at the season’s end. Supposedly this was not related to the Super League furore and that the timing was entirely coincidental.
The heads of the world and European governing bodies condemned the Super League breakaway but suggested it was not too late to understand that, in Infantino’s words, they could not be “half-in and half-out.”
Fans then came out to swarm around Stamford Bridge in protest against Chelsea’s involvement in the Super League ahead of the night’s goalless home draw against Brighton. Ironically the point edged Chelsea back among the top four who qualify for next season’s UEFA Champions League
Manchester City’s exit followed powerful statements in favour of the status quo by manager Pep Guardiola and captain Kevin de Bruyne.
Guardiola said: “It is not a sport where the relation between the effort and the success, the effort and the reward, does not exist. It is not a sport where success is already guaranteed or it is not a sport when it doesn’t matter where you lose.
“I don’t know what is going to change. [Even if] the people say: ‘No, no, maybe four or five teams can go up and play this competition,’ [then] what happens to the 14 or 15 not playing a good season and every time will be there? So this is not sport.”
De Bruyne tweeted: “This man comes out a little town out of Belgium dreaming of playing at the highest stage possible. I’ve represented the Belgium, German and English league. And also proudly represented my country.
“I have worked and competed against everybody trying to win the ultimate. But the most important word in this is COMPETING.
Premier League unity
“We know this is a big business and I know I am part of this problem. But still I am a little boy who just loves to play football. It’s not about a certain entity in this case, it’s about the football over the whole world. Let’s keep inspiring the next generation of footballers and keep the fans dreaming.”
Earlier the unanimously negative reaction of the ‘other’ 14 Premier League had been expressed in their own statement. This said the EFL was considering “all actions available to prevent [the Super League] from progressing, as well as holding those shareholders involved to account under its rules.”
Mark Bullingham, chief executive of the Football Association, was also firm in the FA’s stance after a telephone exchange with Prime Ministre Boris Johnson. He reminded the six that the FA held the clubs’ competition licences and that disciplinary measures would include a refusal to grant work permit for foreign star players who no longer qualify for freedom of entry since the UK left the European Union.
Super League statement:
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. It would also provide materially enhanced solidarity payments to all football stakeholders.
Despite the announced departure of the English clubs, forced to take such decisions due the pressure out 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.