The world of soccer in Europe was placed into disarray for a few days after 12 of its elite clubs announced plans to form a breakaway competition, the European Super League. Angry backlash from fans and media was instant, resulting in most participating teams announcing their removal from the league.
Outcry from former players, fan protests and campaigns on social media followed in the hours after the announcement of the breakaway European Super League, the nature of which is unprecedented in European sport. Following the backlash, most clubs withdrew from the proposed tournament and even issued apologies to fans.
However, Real Madrid president and chairman of the new league, Florentino Perez, continues to insist the league is not cancelled, rather just placed on ‘standby’.
“The project is on standby,” Perez said, talking on Spanish radio station El Larguero on Wednesday night. “I’d say the body exists, but if half the group goes because they’re tired after what they heard over the last 24 hours, I don’t want to stick around. No, Juventus has not left. Why do [you] say they’ve left? Milan hasn’t left either. Why do you [you] say that? These things you’re saying, that people say.”
“I’ve never seen such aggressiveness, by the president of UEFA [Aleksander Ceferin] and from some presidents within the Spanish leagues,” he said. “It was like something orchestrated. We were all surprised by it. Because after we revealed the format, we told the UEFA president and the UEFA president hadn’t even responded.
“And from then on, this aggressiveness started like I’ve never seen before and I’ve been in football for 20 years. I’ve never seen this in my life. Never. There were threats, insults as if we had killed someone. As if we had killed football.”
On Tuesday it seemed the Super League had effectively collapsed, with ten of the 12 teams withdrawing from the competition just 48 hours after it was announced. The six English Premier League clubs involved (Man United, Man City, Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham and Liverpool) were first to distance themselves from the project, followed by Italian teams Inter Milan, Juventus and AC Milan and Atletico Madrid of Spain. Only Real Madrid and Barcelona remain.
Soon after the Super League announcement, soccer governing bodies UEFA and FIFA and the respective domestic leagues suggested that teams involved in the new competition would be banned from competing in their tournaments, including the World Cup, Champions League and European Championships.
Fan anger was instantly rife across Europe with the competition’s founding members, dubbed the ‘dirty dozen’, having failed to consult with other club officials and fans before delving deep into breakaway league plans.
UK politicians even stepped into the matter, revealing that measures could be brought in to prevent the formation of the Super League.
“I thought the clubs that signed up to it should be deducted points, that includes this club [Manchester United] – the club that I love and I’ve supported all my life. But I’m ashamed of them, absolutely ashamed – for two reasons,” former Manchester United and England defender Gary Neville said.
Eight-time English Premier League champion Neville spoke regularly and passionately on the Super League proposals, becoming a strong voice in the world of football against the owners who chose to purposefully ignore fans.
“Firstly, that they would want to sign up to a competition that is franchise football essentially, with no promotion or relegation, almost like that right to play the biggest games all the time – that’s not the ethic and ethos Manchester United was built on.
“Forget [the owners]. They have nothing to do with this football club. They’re just custodians. The fans that come into this ground that supported this club for 100 years are the people that matter and we want competition and the ethos of the club. Now some might say that’s gone already, but forget [the owners] – they have nothing to do with this football club, in terms of the actual history of the club and the long-term future, they’ll be gone. They’re just passengers in the night, as far as I’m concerned.
“I’m fuming, that Manchester United Football Club, that have been pioneers, that should be leading from the front, that should be looking after everyone in this country. National League, North and South clubs are in disarray, National League cubs are going bust and furloughing players, there are League Two clubs on the edge. The whole system and pyramid at this moment is struggling.
“And the timing is my second point. So Man Utd as a football club to vote for this is disgusting. The timing of it, the midst of a pandemic, in the midst of an economic crisis, not just in football but in this world, to demonstrate greed rather than compassion is an absolute shocker as far as I’m concerned.”