The Premier League’s ‘Big Six’ fall out of the controversial new football tournament like dominos, with Athletico Madrid, AC Milan and Inter Milan following suit, potentially signalling the end of the European Super League.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday echoed the voice of the nation in their outrage at the news of the UK’s ‘Big Six’ football clubs joining a breakaway football tournament supported by banking and finance giants JP Morgan.
On the eve of the Sunday, just as the Easter vacation was ending, major news organisations reported that several of UK’s prominent football clubs had announced that they would be joining a new European Super League (ESL).
Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United, Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur agreed to join Atletico Madrid, FC Barcelona, Juventus, Real Madrid, AC Milan and Inter Milan as ‘Founding Members’ of this new tournament to a whirlwind of backlash from football fans globally.
The tournaments proposal involved the clubs forming their own rogue competition to rival that of the already established UEFA Champions League and the English Premier League, with room for further clubs to join later.
Why did this happen? Who was the governing body, and how was it to be funded? What were the existential implications for the future of football and its fans, and why was it doomed to fail from the start?
The Super League announced pic.twitter.com/nAooYowBZ3
— Rob Harris (@RobHarris) April 18, 2021
What Fuelled This Tournament?
In 2009, Florentino Pérez Rodríguez, who was the newly elected president of Real Madrid at the time, came forward with a proposal calling for clubs to work with UEFA and instigate a “European Super League” to ensure that top clubs only face opponents of similar skill levels.
At the time, the proposal did not have the backing required to launch his plans and was disregarded as it would have undoubtedly threatened the continent’s domestic leagues and potentially undermined the integrity of other championships.
However, Perez’s ambitious vision to see this project take flight was not faltered, and under-the-table talks continued, and in 2018 Der Spiegel reported that a secret “binding preliminary agreement” had been drafted aimed at creating a European Super League.
Three years later, Perez’s plans were realised with the ESL “intended to launch as soon as practicable,” with the support of Juventus Chairman, Andrea Agnelli, who too was a chief architect of the breakaway plans.
Organisers of the event said that the tournament will offer “uncapped solidarity payments”, which will be higher than those generated by current European Competitions while also providing “significantly greater economic growth and support to clubs via long-term commitments.”
The Financial Aspect
Due to the pandemic, many clubs have been struggling to stay afloat with disrupted fixtures and a lack of spectators, which accelerated the instability in the existing European football economic model.
Top clubs have top players with colossal salaries that must be paid. On top of that, there are contracts and legally binding clauses that must be met, all this without factoring in the financial resources required to keep club facilities operational throughout the season.
With backing from US (United States) investment banking giants JP Morgan confirming an initial $6 billion dollar injection into financing the controversial league, the founding clubs were promised a share of €3.5 billion solely to support their infrastructure investment plans and to offset the impact of the COVID pandemic.
In terms of investment, this was a huge sum of money that was being distributed into the market at a time where the global economy has taken a significant hit due to the pandemic, with millions of employees being laid off or put on furlough.
The clubs stated that “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,” hence why the ESL seemed like a promising endeavour, but at what cost?
Fans and pundits alike openly criticised and condemned the event, saying that this new competition would potentially kill the sport by creating a closed shop at the very top of the football pyramid.
In a statement released by the Premier League, it said that the ESL “attacks the principles of open competition and sporting merit which are at the heart of domestic and European football,” and vowed repercussions will be faced by those teams that chose to sign up to this new endeavour.
Critics commented that the bottom line was that this move; fuelled purely by money and greed, was disgraceful behaviour from the clubs and their owners and a betrayal to their fans and the sport itself.
Alan Shearer, David Beckham and Sir Alex Ferguson were just a few of the more prominent figures in the industry to condemn the actions of the ‘Big Six,’ but none have been louder than football pundit Gary Neville who has been openly vocal on live broadcasts and in interviews about this split and the formation of the new league.
During an interview with SkySports, he went on to say that he was “absolutely disgusted” with the breakaway teams calling them “impostors fuelled by greed” while stating that this was a “criminal act against football and its fans in the UK” and that this must be stamped out “immediately.”
On Tuesday, PM Boris Johnson met with officials from football governing bodies the FA and the Premier League as well as fan representatives to discuss the proposed European Super League and the future implications for football and these clubs as both local and global brands.
In a statement released by Downing Street, the PM reiterated his “unwavering support for the football authorities and confirmed that they have the Governments full backing to take whatever action necessary to put a stop to these plans.”
The fans too came together to express their disgust by way of protests and open-ended appeals, with passionate supporters holding banners and chanting slogans such as ‘created by the poor and stolen by the rich’ outside the doors of their beloved clubs beckoning for them to step down and to save the sport that we all love.
Our Voices Have Been Heard
The voices of millions could not be ignored, and eventually, on Tuesday evening, Manchester City were the first to announce that they were pulling out of the ESL, with Chelsea making a similar statement shortly before their match versus Brighton.
The snowballing developments took centerstage during the match with commentators reporting timely on the breaking news, eventually later that evening, Manchester United, Liverpool, Tottenham and Arsenal too announced that they would be bowing out from the rogue tournament.
Without the backing of the UK’s top clubs, it was practically impossible for the tournament to continue, and the next morning Athletico Madrid, AC Milan and Inter Milan too walked away from the ESL, leaving Juventus, Real Madrid, and FC Barcelona to still comment on their position.
These new developments symbolise a great victory in the history of the sport and further solidify the fact that football is still very much a sport of the people by the people.
Without fans, there will be no football, and that is crucially what the owners and chairmen of these particular clubs have failed to understand.
They have neglected to consider the ramifications and the backlash that the teams would have had to encounter and instead followed the money trail to what they hoped would have been an easy fix to counteract the struggles experienced by club management during this global pandemic.
Unfortunately for them and fortunately for fans of the beloved sport, the voices of millions did not go unheard with pundits, journalists, managers, players, politicians, and most importantly, the fans banding together to end the tyrannical rule of the few, effectively saying “we refuse to go down without a fight, and we will fight to save the game.”