As the dust settles following the collapse of the European Super League project, the focus has started to turn towards what comes next — for the Champions League, for the rogue clubs, and for the fans who united to seal the fate of the proposed bold new project that would have altered the face of European football forever.
The soccer world was rocked on Monday by the announcement that 12 of Europe’s top teams had signed up for the new competition that would have shattered the Champions League — the world’s biggest, richest and most coveted of footballing competitions.
Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid from Spain, plus Juventus, AC Milan and Inter Milan in Italy, joined forces with England’s Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea, Manchester City, Arsenal and Tottenham (yes, really) to announce their plans for the breakaway, 20-team, invitation-only, relegation-free Super League, much against the wishes of Uefa, Fifa and their own respective domestic leagues. Little did they know what was coming next.
Fast forward 48 chaotic hours to Wednesday and the Super League was in tatters with nine of the 12 clubs who had signed up withdrawing their interest — led by Manchester City and Chelsea — in the wake of the public backlash.
Club owners were universally slammed by pundits, former players, Uefa themselves, and even current coaching and playing staff on the rosters of those clubs involved. The Super League was engineered in such a cloak-and-dagger manner that the likes of Manchester City’s Pep Guardiola and Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp — both of whom had previously spoken out against an elite competition that would have no risk of relegation nor omission and all the financial reward — reiterated their shock and distaste at the concept. But most importantly, the super-rich owners and board members at the cream of the EPL, La Liga and Serie A did not factor in the one most important element — the fans.
Football is famously a working-class sport, followed by billions across the globe from all walks of life, regardless of sex, colour, race or religion.
Never before have I seen such universal condemnation of an ‘idea’, in any shape or form, not just in the burgeoning world of football.
Within two days, fans had united in a way never seen before: on social media, television and radio, and outside the stadiums of the guilty parties in vast numbers.
Supporters — so often rivals snarling at each other in the colours of their clubs — did not see the enemy in the opposing terraces and stands. They stood shoulder to shoulder, blue shirts beside red, white beside claret, to denounce the boards and the suits that were trying to take their beloved game away from them in the pursuit of yet more coins to fill the coffers.
Many of the elite clubs — Barcelona, Real Madrid and Manchester United — operate at a massive financial loss, spending more on players than they recoup at the gate and from broadcasting rights in the pursuit of silverware at any cost, while others struggle to break even due to COVID-19 or are saddled with debt due to stadium construction or renovations.
From this point of view, that is why the boardroom discussions with the money men would push for an attractive, no-lose, closed competition where the invited parties rake in the cash.
However, were they to look beyond the bank manager and pie charts, they would have seen the bigger picture. The fans were never going to take it lying down and hit back almost instantly with the full force of people power, pushing the likes of Liverpool’s American owner John W Henry into a public apology before it was too late (he still took his time).
Manchester United’s co-chairman Joel Glazer followed suit and Mikel Arteta said he received a personal apology from Arsenal owner Stan Kroenke and saluted supporters for sending the “strongest message” football has ever seen.
Still the disgruntled fans want to ensure this sort of thing will never happen again. Glazer’s apology to the United fans did little to stop a handful of aggrieved supporters getting into the club’s training ground on Thursday demanding an explanation and they even managed to meet with manager Ole Gunnar Solksjaer.
Uefa president Aleksander Ceferin has warned rebel clubs that they will face “consequences” for their aborted breakaway, and the pain could and should be aimed at the owners rather than the players, coaches and ultimately the fans.
Point deductions and exclusions from Uefa competitions look unlikely for the shamed dozen and will harm the innocent parties above. But the boardroom will see many more departures and resignations to follow United’s executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward out the door.
While the unity shown by fans — swift and unwavering — is heartening to see, perhaps it would be timely to put this friends-across-the-barricades attitude to even greater use and stamp out the racism, social media abuse and sexual inequality that is still rife in the male-dominated world of football. Rarely will we get a better chance than right now.
Inevitably, we shall see what unfolds over the coming months. Guaranteed, it will not be dull. But let’s ensure we can turn this into a truly positive and game-changing turn of events for the better.