On Sunday night, a piece of news broke that had the potential to change the landscape of European football forever.
Led by Real Madrid president Florentino Pérez and backed by investing bank J.P. Morgan, twelve top European clubs (including six Premier League clubs) announced their decision to join a breakaway league called the ‘Super League.’
Dubbed the ‘Dirty Dozen’ by the British media, the English clubs involved in the Super League are Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur.
The other six clubs are three from Spain – Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid and Barcelona – and Italy – AC Milan, Inter Milan and Juventus.
The move has been almost universally condemned by the football world. Fans have protested outside their club’s stadiums with placards. Former Manchester United right-back and Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville said he was ‘disgusted’ by the move.
Such is the backlash to the concept that Prime Minister Boris Johnson himself commented, as well as members of the Royal Family and even former UKIP leader Nigel Farage.
The Super League was seen by many as an attempt to Americanise a European sport, on a financial and cultural level.
Due to the format of the tournament, there would be no promotion or relegation for participating clubs, and the twelve founding clubs would never face any consequences for losing, irrespective of performance.
Therefore, many considered this to undermine the game, as the spirit of competition would be drastically reduced. Without the threat of relegation, clubs would have no incentive to improve. Clubs would be essentially franchises; nothing more, nothing less.
The European model is a combination of both financial interests and a meritocratic culture; the amount of money a club earns and the consequences of not gaining enough points correspond to one other. The American model is almost wholly driven by profit.
Put simply, many considered the Super League to be anti-competition, anti-community and anti-meritocratic.
The proposal collapsed after all six English clubs dropped out in the same evening, as well as Atletico Madrid and Inter Milan. At the time of writing, the only three clubs who have not officially dropped out are Barcelona, Real Madrid and Juventus.
Timeline of Events
Sunday, 18th April: News breaks out concerning the announcement of the European Super League. Twelve clubs announced their intention to join the ESL, including Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United.
Monday, 19th April: Following the night before, widespread condemnation across the football world.
UEFA announces potential punishments for clubs and their players who play in the ESL, including being banned from UEFA competitions (mainly the Euros, Champions League and Europa League) and FIFA competitions (mainly the World Cup).
Tuesday, 20th April: English fans take to the streets to protest against the ESL. Chelsea fans lay siege to Stamford Bridge, blocking the road so the Chelsea players could not enter for their game vs Brighton. Former Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech pleads with the fans.
Manchester City become the first club to officially announce their withdrawal from the ESL. By the end of the evening, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur all left. Arsenal release an apology on their website.
Wednesday, 21st April: Atletico Madrid, Inter Milan and AC Milan depart from the ESL. Liverpool owner John Henry releases a grovelling apology video to the Liverpool fans. ESL founder and Juventus chairman Andrea Agnelli admits that the ESL ‘can no longer happen’, due to the departure of 9 clubs.
The death of the ESL is confirmed.
Manchester United vice-chairman Ed Woodward resigns.
Thursday 22nd April: The Premier League urges certain figures who also work for one of the would-be breakaway clubs to resign from their positions on the committee board, and considers sanctions for those clubs.
Manchester United fans break into Carrington training ground, and successfully demand to speak with Ole Gunnar Solskaer and Michael Carrick about the ESL.
Friday 23rd April: Real Madrid president and ESL founder Florentino Pérez says that the project ‘is not over’. Arsenal fans demonstrate against Stan Kroenke and the Arsenal hierarchy at the Emirates Stadium on Friday, in an attempt to pressure him to sell the club.
So where do we go from here?
Owners of the six English clubs head back to the Premier League clubs with their tails between their legs (no surprise there) and their seat at the table in review.
With sanctions pending for these clubs, who knows what will happen? Will it be financial, will it be points docking, or will the actual individuals be punished (ie the owners)? One thing’s for sure (at executive level), the relationship between the big six and the rest will never be the same.
If there are three clubs that need this windfall more than anything, it’s the three clubs still yet to announce their withdrawal. Catalan giants Barcelona are nowhere near fit to be challenging for Europe’s premier prize, carrying astronomical debts, still owing clubs like Liverpool and Atletico payments for the purchase of their previously prized assets in Coutinho and Griezmann.
As for Real Madrid president Florentino Perez, he is clearly seeing nothing but green; so the European Super League may not happen, but in his own words, it is now “on standby”. There have since been murmurings of a Mediterranean Super League, bringing together La Liga and Serie A in a hope to keep the momentum alive.
If there is an ounce of truth in it, this could be the merge of all merges. A league with a roster of historically great clubs including both Madrid sides, Barcelona, Sevilla and Valencia coupled with the two Milan sides, the two Rome sides, Juventus and Napoli.
The cluster of “the best of the rest including Getafe, Atalanta, Villarreal and more, could prove to be the first real competitor to the Premier League’s global appeal.
One thing that he will have to negotiate with now, is where the financing will be sourced from, with the major announcement that J.P. Morgan have withdrawn their funding, a catastrophe for Florentino Perez’s power play.
If his stranglehold on the Real Madrid presidency over the 21st century is anything to go by, just know he’s got something else up his sleeve to rattle Europe that not even his former Super League counterparts will be ready for.