Two days after turning the European soccer world on its ear, the European Super League, a controversial group of top soccer teams from England, Spain and Italy, has officially unraveled.
Reports first surfaced early Tuesday that Chelsea and Manchester City were pulling out of the consortium, putting strains on the 12-team league that was officially created Sunday. Within hours, all of the English teams in the new league had backed out, with expectations that the remaining six clubs would hollow suit. According to reports, Italian clubs AC Milan and Juventus were on the verge of leaving the league, after Internazionale (InterMilan) called it quits. Spanish clubs Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid and Barcelona all were reportedly on the verge of withdrawing from the league. Accordinfg to the New York Times, a top Super League official confirmed that the project had been suspended.
The turnabout was due to intense fan opposition to the new league, which would have instituted an American-influenced closed system of rankings, ensuring that the founding 15 members of the league would never lose their spot. In European soccer, a team can lose its spot in the standings if it has a bad year, a process called relegation.
English soccer fans took to the streets and to Twitter soon after plans for the Super League were unveiled, protesting at Chelsea stadium and others, voicing their displeasure with what some called the Americanization of their beloved sport. One fan, CBS Late Late Show with James Corden host James Corden, devoted part of his show Monday night to his opposition to the Super League.
“I’m heartbroken because the owners of these teams have displayed the worst kind of greed I have ever seen in sports,” Corden said. “Many football teams in Britain are over a hundred years old, and these teams were started by working class people, they were built by and for the community. They’re not franchises.”
But over the past 10-15 years, as new, richer owners have snapped up teams, they’ve taken away the community aspect of the game, Corden continued. While fans have always been skeptical whether new ownership had the same sense of loyalty to the clubs, Corden added that the message the teams were sending by the creation of the Super League made their intentions loud and clear.
“They don’t care,” Corden said.
The English clubs -- Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur -- all bowed to the pressure, essentially sucking the air out of the new league. Arsenal offered an open letter to its fans, claiming it accepted the invitation to join the Super League so as not to be “left behind.” But once it realized how diametrically opposed to the new league its fans are, the club changed its mind.
“As a result of listening to you and the wider football community over recent days, we are withdrawing from the proposed Super League,” Arsenal’s board of directors wrote in the letter. “We made a mistake, and we apologise for it.”
Tottenham Hotspur chairman Daniel Levy also apologized for the agita the new league caused fans.
“We regret the anxiety and upset caused by the ESL proposal,” Levy said on the Hotspur website. “We felt it was important that our club participated in the development of a possible new structure that sought to better ensure financial fair play and financial sustainability whilst delivering significantly increased support for the wider football pyramid.
“We believe that we should never stand still and that the sport should constantly review competitions and governance to ensure the game we all love continues to evolve and excite fans around the world,” he continued. “We should like to thank all those supporters who presented their considered opinion.”
But fans weren’t the only ones to express their outrage. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson threatened legislative action to block the league’s formation and French President Emmanuel Macron called the group a threat to the “principle of solidarity of sporting merit,” according to reports.
According to the British newspaper The Guardian, player reaction also played a role in Chelsea’s reversing its decision to join the new league.
The paper said that Chelsea players revolted amid concerns they would not be allowed to play for their national teams in the World Cup, or in regional tournaments like the European Championship and the Copa America in South America. European soccer’s ruling body -- UEFA -- warned Sunday that it would ban players for Super League teams from those events.
According to ESPN, FIFA president Gianni Infantino said that the breakaway teams would have to live with the consequences of their actions, and that no team could be “half-in or half-out.”
Fan and political reaction against the new league was swift and harsh. Fans throughout Britain and other companies protested against the break with tradition, calling the league the brainchild of greedy owners, particularly American ones. Politicians also expressed their disapproval, with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson threatening legislative action to block the league’s formation and French President Emmanuel Macron calling the group a threat to the “principle of solidarity of sporting merit,” according to reports.
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