Chelsea and Manchester City withdrew from the European Super League hours after the Football Association warned that any club involved would be banned from the Premier League and all domestic competitions.
The controversial and divisive Super League plans appeared to be falling apart on Tuesday night after a day of dramatic developments in which the FA took a key stand. After Chelsea and City signalled they would pull out, two key figures at Liverpool called on their club to follow suit.
The captain, Jordan Henderson, said on behalf of the squad: “We don’t like it and we don’t want it to happen. This is our collective position.” The Liverpool legend and non-executive director Kenny Dalglish urged the owners to “do the right thing”. A sponsor, Tribus, added to the pressure by ending its partnership in protest.
With supporter anger rising the FA’s chief executive, Mark Bullingham, emboldened by the British government’s pledge to do whatever it took in legislative terms to block the breakaway tournament, said his organisation would take an uncompromising line with the rebel clubs.
Bullingham articulated the FA’s stance in a meeting with Premier League officials, including the chief executive, Richard Masters, and the division’s other 14 clubs, who were united in their opposition to the Big Six’s scheme. The FA is empowered to license clubs to compete – or otherwise.
Bullingham and Masters had come off a separate call with Boris Johnson, who had reassured them that the government would move to support them if they encountered any issues with competition law. Put simply, Johnson said they would introduce new laws, if needed.
Bullingham also told the meeting that the FA would refuse to grant Governing Body Endorsements – essentially work permits – for overseas players at clubs that participated in the Super League.
The meeting, which began at 11am, was marked by a sense that each of the 14 clubs wanted the same thing – which is not always the case – and, as the day wore on, a growing optimism that the breakaway had lost its impetus.
Yet there was also anger. The 14 have no ill feeling towards the Big Six clubs themselves and they recognise how important they are to the Premier League product. But it is a different story in terms of their feeling towards the owners of them, together with the executives that do their bidding.
There were calls at the meeting for reprisals against Ed Woodward, Bruce Buck and Vinai Venkatesham, among others – the day-to-day bosses at Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal; a call to explore whether they could be held to account for their actions, possibly via legal avenues. Woodward resigned as United’s executive vice-chairman on Tuesday night but is due to continue until the end of the year.
The resentment is based upon the fact that executives at the 14 clubs have shared meeting rooms with their counterparts at the Big Six in recent times, in which shared ground has been sought. And yet all the while, the six have plainly been plotting to break away.
With the trust between the warring parties all but gone, the Premier League’s chairman, Gary Hoffman, is also understood to have questioned whether the Super League had a viable broadcast partner.
The Premier League had said in a strongly worded statement after its meeting that the 14 clubs “unanimously and vigorously rejected the plans” for a Super League. It went on that it was “considering all actions available to prevent it from progressing, as well as holding those shareholders involved to account under its rules”.
Everton had earlier been fierce in their condemnation of the six English clubs involved in the Super League, accusing them of preposterous arrogance, subversive practices and disenfranchising their own supporters. Everton’s owner, Farhad Moshiri, told TalkSport: “This is six clubs attacking the very heart of the Premier League, and I think they should be disciplined.”
A statement from Everton, the fourth most successful club in English league football with nine league championships, said: “The self-proclaimed Super Six appear intent on disenfranchising supporters across the game – including their own – by putting the very structure that underpins the game we love under threat. The backlash is understandable and deserved and has to be listened to. This preposterous arrogance is not wanted anywhere in football outside of the clubs that have drafted this plan.”
A number of other clubs, including Leicester and West Ham, both of whom hope to finish in the top four, went public with their opposition. Significantly, Pep Guardiola launched a scathing attack on the proposed tournament, even though City were due to play in it each season.
“It is not a sport where the relation between the effort and the success, the effort and the reward, does not exist,” City’s manager said. “It is not a sport where success is already guaranteed or it is not a sport when it doesn’t matter where you lose.
“That’s why I said many times, I want the best competition, the strongest competition possible, especially the Premier League. It is not fair when one team fight, fight, fight, arrive at the top and cannot qualify because success is already guaranteed just for a few teams.
“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.”