Plans for a Super League of Europe’s top soccer clubs, which was drawn up in secrecy over several months, stunned fans, players and politicians when news about it broke on Sunday. Yet by Wednesday, the new league’s last rites were already being read.
The intervening hours were filled with a cacophony of criticism stretching from the stands to the pitches, and from the dressing rooms right up to the corridors of political power.
Below is a timeline of the outcry that erupted between Sunday lunchtime, when news of the plan first emerged, until the project was effectively declared dead on Wednesday morning.
SUNDAY, APRIL 18
As weekend football fixtures play across Europe, Italy’s Corriere dello Sport reports that a group of top European clubs plan a breakaway Super League. The news emerges a day before UEFA, European soccer’s governing body, meets to discuss reforms to the existing pan-European tournament, the Champions League.
There is no immediate confirmation from Super League. The full list of clubs involved is still not yet clear. But condemnation of the idea already starts to gather momentum.
UEFA, in a joint statement with English, Spanish and Italian leagues and federations, describes it as a “cynical project founded on the self-interest of a few clubs at a time when society needs solidarity more than ever.”
Macron praises French clubs
Europe’s political leaders quickly weigh in. French President Emmanuel Macron praises French clubs for staying out and promises “to protect the integrity of federal competitions, whether national or European.”
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson says the plan is “very damaging” and those involved “must answer to their fans and the wider footballing community before taking any further steps.”
Early voices from the touch line do not bode well. Former Manchester United captain and respected pundit Gary Neville lays into club owners behind the plan: “It’s pure greed, they’re imposters.”
OVERNIGHT SUNDAY-MONDAY, APRIL 18-19
Overnight, the Super League confirms its plan. It names the 12 founding clubs: Italy’s AC Milan, Inter Milan and Juventus, Spain’s Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid and Barcelona, and England’s Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City,
Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur. No clubs from Germany or France are involved.
“The pandemic has shown that a strategic vision and a sustainable commercial approach are required to enhance value and support for the benefit of the entire European football pyramid,” the Super League says, adding that they are ready for talks with UEFA and soccer world governing body FIFA.
Crucially, details are revealed that confirm the 12 clubs, along with a further three, would be guaranteed a place in what would be a 20-team league – a non-competitive aspect that outrages fans.
MONDAY, APRIL 19
Super League founders’ statement says they represent “billions of fans across the globe”. But the reaction from the terraces tells a different story.
“This is a decision of greed to line the pockets of those at the top and it has been made with no consideration for the loyal supporters, our history, our future and the future of football in this country,” the Chelsea Supporters’ Trust says.
Spain’s La Liga calls the plan “selfish” and “egotistical”. Amid the growing maelstrom, details of work behind the project emerge, as Wall Street investment bank JP Morgan confirms it is providing financing. Meanwhile, shares in listed clubs involved in the new league surge, while those outside slip.
British government weighs in
But opposition moves up a gear, as Britain’s government says it will consider “absolutely everything” to stop the plan in its tracks. The Super League’s finances also start looking less secure, European broadcasters criticise the move and Spanish Mediapro says broadcasters won’t break contracts with UEFA.
Usually reticent royals even chime in. The second in line to Britain’s throne, Prince William, writes on Twitter: “I share the concerns of fans about the proposed Super League and the damage it risks causing to the game we love.”
Equally worrying for the new league, players are lining up against the plan. Paris St-Germain’s Ander Herrera says the Super League would mean “dreams are over” for fans hoping for proper competition. Manchester United midfielder Bruno Fernandes wrote “dreams can’t be bought”.
Players make their feelings known
On the pitch, Leeds players wear shirts with a slogan in protest ahead of their Monday’s Premier League clash with Liverpool and hang a banner in the ground that says: “Earn it on the pitch”.
But showing the secrecy that surrounded the Super League project, Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp says his players shouldn’t be blamed: “We were not involved in any processes, not the players, not me. We didn’t know about it,” said the German.
TUESDAY, APRIL 20
Another body blow is landed when Pep Guardiola, manager of Manchester City, launches a stinging attack on the concept. “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,” he says. “It is not sport if you can’t lose.”
The potential fallout goes up another level as FIFA President Gianni Infantino tells the 12 clubs “either you are in, or you are out”, threatening to ban them and their players from domestic and international competition.
The company set up to run the Super League project obtains a Spanish court ruling it hopes will prevent UEFA and FIFA from trying to stop the league. Meanwhile, Britain’s government warns it will consider legislation to halt the plan and whispers emerge that the project is starting to fray.
Man City move first
The BBC reports that Chelsea is the first to waver, leading demonstrating fans to cheer and celebrate outside their club’s London ground. The Sun tabloid follows up with a report that Manchester City is also getting cold feet and, later on Tuesday, it becomes the first founding club to confirm it will quit.
Second thoughts in England spread across the continent. Spanish media suggests Barcelona’s participation is still conditional on a vote in favour by its club members.
Within a crazy 15 minutes late on Tuesday, the remaining four English clubs pull out, some saying they had “listened to the fans.”
WEDNESDAY, APRIL 21
By Wednesday morning, the Super League looks doomed. Italian and Spanish clubs join fellow English founders of the project and start pulling out.
Juventus boss Andrea Agnelli says he is still convinced the plan “has beauty” but then delivers the final, fatal blow when he tells Reuters: “I don’t think that that project is now still up and running.”
When club owners and others who backed the plan finally start speaking up, the tone is one of buyer’s remorse.
The principal owner of Liverpool, John Henry, summed up the contrite mood in his video apology for the chaos caused, saying:
“It’s something I won’t forget. And shows the power the fans have today and will rightly continue to have.”