Apr 21, 2021 - Sports

How the European Super League collapsed in spectacular fashion

illustration of a flattened soccer ball.

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Plans for a European Super League fell apart on Tuesday, just two days after the proposed soccer competition was announced.

How it went down: Manchester City, one of the six English Premier League clubs set to join the 12-team breakaway league, was the first to confirm it was out.

  • Within hours, Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal, Tottenham, and Liverpool announced that they, too, were walking away.
  • Inter Milan and Atlético Madrid followed, leaving the remaining clubs — Real Madrid, Barcelona, Juventus and AC Milan — with little choice but to abandon the proposal.
  • Just after midnight in Europe, the Super League released an official statement confirming the project had been suspended.

What they're saying:

  • Arsenal: "We made a mistake, and we apologize for it."
  • Tottenham: "We regret the anxiety and upset caused by the ESL proposal."
  • Manchester United: "We have listened carefully to the reaction from our fans, the UK government and other key stakeholders."
  • Liverpool: "I want to apologize to all the fans and supporters of Liverpool Football Club for the disruption I caused over the past 48 hours," owner John Henry said in a video address.
Chelsea fans protesting outside Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea fans protesting outside Stamford Bridge. Photo: Rob Pinney/Getty Images

The state of play: The Super League, which would have upended soccer's structures and economics, was met with fury. Players spoke out against it, fans launched protests, and politicians threatened legal action.

  • FIFA and UEFA, which oversees soccer in Europe, threatened to ban Super League players from global events like the World Cup. "Either you are in, or you are out," said FIFA president Gianni Infantino.
  • The Super League didn't do itself any favors with its shockingly poor launch strategy. Outside of Real Madrid's Florentino Pérez, owners never faced the press, and the lack of planning is truly remarkable.
  • Note to self: When unveiling a proposal to reshape the world's most popular sport, come equipped with more than a press release.

What's next: A scheme years in the making collapsed spectacularly in two days. Now what?

  • There's a sense that the Premier League could be irreparably damaged. "How can we ever work with these people again?" a source told The Athletic (subscription).
  • And if the clubs really did sign binding 23-year agreements, as was reported, can they simply withdraw or is it more complicated? Will UEFA welcome them back? Will their domestic leagues punish them?
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