Written by Sujay Gaurav
April 20, 2021 will go down in history as the day when European football was saved, and in large part, saved by the fans of the game. Sir Matt Busby famously said, “Football is nothing without the fans”, and it was proven right when fans of all Premier League clubs involved in the creation of the Real Madrid led European Super League protested against their own clubs and owners. Liverpool fans took down banners inside the stadium and replaced them with protest banners outside the stadium instead and fans of Chelsea FC took to the streets to protest before their match against Brighton & Hove Albion, even prompting club legend Petr Cech to jump off the team bus and plead with them to move out of the way. The owners of the six English clubs got the message loud and clear, “WE DO NOT WANT THE SUPER LEAGUE.”Embed from Getty Images
The Super League was established by twelve clubs from England, Spain and Italy with the aim to “provide higher quality matches and additional financial resources for the overall football pyramid” (news release). Florentino Pérez, the instigator of the project, was appointed as the first chairman of the organization with Juventus’ Andrea Agnelli and Manchester United’s Joel Glazer named as vice-chairmen. The other teams involved included Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur, Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, Juventus, AC Milan and Inter Milan.
Perez stated that the Super League would help clubs recover lost earnings due to the COVID-19 pandemic. What he really meant, was that it would help a few select clubs to increase their wealth, as the rest of football’s elite floundered under the uncertainty of the pandemic. Fans cried out with statements of “What about the likes of Leicester City who have defied odds season after season since their astonishing Premier League title in 2016? What about Sevilla – the only club in history to win the Europa League three times in a row?” In reality, the Super League was designed to be a closed shop that would only benefit the already rich owners who were given exclusive access to be a part of it – somehow Arsenal and Tottenham included.Embed from Getty Images
Aleksander Ceferin, president of UEFA, had some choice words about Andrea Agnelli and Ed Woodward in particular. Ceferin said, “Andrea Agnelli is the biggest disappointment of all. I’ve never seen a person that would lie so many times, so persistently as he did. It’s unbelievable.”
On Woodward, he said, “If I start with Ed Woodward, he called me last Thursday evening saying he’s very satisfied with and fully supports the reforms and the only thing he wanted to talk about was FFP, when obviously he had already signed something else.”
But UEFA weren’t the only ones to condemn the league. Some of Europe’s elite clubs also refused invitations, hammering the founding clubs in the process. Less than a day after the shocking news of the formation of the league, Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, FC Porto and Paris-Saint-Germain all revealed they refused invitations to join the league, despite heavy pressure from Perez and co.Embed from Getty Images
Gary Neville, who is part owner of League Two’s Salford City and a pundit on Sky Sports, was the unlikely saviour and the most vocal opposition against the owners of the six English clubs. “It’s pure greed, they’re impostors. The owners of Man United, Liverpool, Chelsea and Man City have nothing to do with football in this country. Manchester United, Arsenal, Tottenham aren’t even in the Champions League. Have they even got the right to be in there? They’re an absolute joke. The time has come now to have independent regulators to stop these clubs from having the power base. Enough is enough”, Neville said. Being an owner of a lower league club, Neville saw through the façade and implored fans around the country and the world to make their voices heard. Make their voices heard they did, and a day later the European Super League came to a halt.Embed from Getty Images
Chelsea and Manchester City became the first clubs to pull away from the pack, and by the end of the day the other four followed suit and filed for withdrawal from the ESL. Ed Woodward announced his resignation from his role as chief executive of Manchester United at the end of 2021, and more resignations may be on their way. Andrea Agnelli in particular is facing pressure from Juve supporters to resign, although seems to have the backing of his club at this time. Woodward’s resignation was inevitable, having already annoyed the United fans to no return for putting commercial interests ahead of sporting ones. However, the announcement of his resignation coming on the same day as the Super League’s demise seems more than suspicious.
In addition to chaos and resignations, letters of apology swiftly followed from the owners of the six clubs just two days after the shocking Super League announcement. John W. Henry, the owner of Liverpool, put out a video where he apologized to the fans for letting them down. Joel Glazer, who isn’t one to make public announcements, said that he would be taking the necessary steps to rebuild relationships across the sport. Arsenal also apologized to their fans, even going so far as to admit they were wrong.
So the damage was done. But what happens now?Embed from Getty Images
There are calls across the globe for the English, Spanish and Italian leagues to implement protocols similar to the 50+1 rule in Germany. The 50+1 rule is a clause in German football where in order to obtain a license to compete in the Bundesliga, a club’s fans must hold a majority of its own voting rights. The rule is designed to ensure that the club’s members retain overall control, by way of owning 50% of shares, +1 share, protecting clubs from the influence of external investors. That way, the club members will have a say in the dealings of the club and stop events like the takeover of Manchester United by the Glazer family.
Sir Matt Busby, Bill Shankly, Johan Cruyff, Arrigo Sacchi, Ottmar Hitzfeld and Sir Alex Ferguson are some of the names that come to mind when we think of European football. These legends of the game overcame adversity and etched their name in football folklore, but only because football was open for everyone. The Super League threatened to erase the traditions of the game for over seventy years of European Football, but the fans of the game through their vocal outcries, stopped it all from happening. Fans 1, Super League owners 0.
So there it is! How fans of the game stopped the European Super League from happening. Thanks for reading and see you soon!