Earlier this week, 12 of the biggest clubs in world soccer announced plans to launch a European Super League. Days later, seven of those clubs have withdrawn and counting, thanks to an overwhelmingly negative reaction from sporting bodies, government, players and — most importantly — fans. Most are mobilized against a league they say is anti-competition, anti-soccer and driven solely by greed.
The European Super League as a concept may not exist by the end of the week.
The negativity was a direct response to a league that had the potential to wreak havoc on the traditional structures of European soccer, made up of domestic leagues like the, Spain’s La Liga and Italy’s Serie A. The European Super League was designed to protect up to 15 founding members — the most powerful teams across Europe’s most powerful domestic leagues — from the relegation/promotion pyramid structure that anchors all of European soccer. A structure that goes all the way from the lowest levels of domestic soccer, all the way through to the Champions League, the biggest prize in club soccer.
Real Madrid President Florentino Perez was named as the inaugural chairman of the European Super League. It was his intent, he stated, to secure the future of soccer, not undermine it.
«We will help football at every level and take it to its rightful place in the world,» Perez said in a statement Sunday. «Football is the only global sport in the world with more than 4 billion fans and our responsibility as big clubs is to respond to their desires.»
But in the wake of the initial announcement, UEFA and FIFA — which runs the existing Champions League competition and the World Cup respectively — threatened clubs and players participating in the European Super League with removal from all other competitions, including the World Cup.
«I cannot stress more strongly how everyone is united against these disgraceful, self-serving proposals, fuelled by greed above all else,» UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin said at a press conference Monday, as reported by the BBC. «Players who will play in the teams that might play in the closed league will be banned from the World Cup and Euros.»
«This idea is a spit in the face of all football lovers. We will not allow them to take it away from us.»
Here’s everything you need to know about the European Super League.
Which teams were taking part in the European Super League?
Six teams from the English Premier League, three from La Liga and three clubs from Serie A all initially signed up, making for 12 clubs. In the wake of fan outrage, over half of these clubs have withdrawn.
The original list of the founding clubs was as follows…
- Manchester United
- Manchester City
- Tottenham Hotspur
- Real Madrid
- Atlético Madrid
- AC Milan
- Inter Milan
Where are teams from the French and German leagues? Teams like Bayern Munich from Germany and Paris Saint-Germain from France are undoubtedly among the biggest and best teams in Europe. Bayern and its German rival Borussia Dortmund announced Monday they are committed to the existing Champions League, which unveiled reforms Monday for the 2024 season. PSG is owned by the royal family of Qatar, which is holding the next World Cup and therefore unlikely to go against the soccer establishment.
Following backlash in response to the announcement, all Premier League teams have announced plans to drop out. Manchester City has confirmed it has «formally enacted the procedures to withdraw from the group developing plans for a European Super League,» with Chelsea to reportedly follow suit.
Manchester United’s controversial executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward has also announced his resignation following the backlash. Manchester United has also officially dropped out of the European Super League.
Liverpool also stated that its «involvement in proposed plans to form a European Super League has been discontinued.»
Arsenal and Spurs have both officially announced they’re leaving.
«We regret the anxiety and upset caused by the ESL proposal,» said Daniel Levy, chairman of Tottenham Hotspur. «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.»
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson commented on the decision of English clubs to withdraw from the league.
«The decision by Chelsea and Manchester City is — if confirmed — absolutely the right one and I commend them for it,» he tweeted. «I hope the other clubs involved in the European Super League will follow their lead.»
Inter Milan has also become the first non-English team to officially remove itself from the European Super League.
In response, an official statement from the European Super League was sent out.
«The European Super League is convinced that the current status quo of European football needs to change,» read the statement.
«We are proposing a new European competition because the existing system does not work.
«Our proposal is aimed at allowing the sport to evolve while generating resources and stability for the full football pyramid, including helping to overcome the financial difficulties experienced by the entire football community as a result of the pandemic.
«Given the current circumstances, we shall reconsider the most appropriate steps to reshape the project, always having in mind our goals of offering fans the best experience possible while enhancing solidarity payments for the entire football community.»
How would the European Super League work?
According to original plans, the new competition was to feature 20 clubs made up of 15 founding clubs, with an option for five further clubs to qualify based on previous seasons’ achievements. (The details were currently murky on what those «achievements» actually mean.)
Each team was to continue to take part in domestic leagues, with European Super League matches taking place midweek. Two groups of 10 would take part in home and away matches, with the top three in each group automatically qualifying for a knockout stage. Teams who placed fourth and fifth in each league would compete in a two-leg match to see who qualifies for knockout stages.
Then, those remaining eight teams were set to take part in two-leg knockout format to reach a single final, which would take place at a neutral stadium. A women’s version of this league was also apparently in the works.
At least, that’s how the founding teams hope things would work. Both UEFA and FIFA came out against the league. FIFA backed UEFA, which means participating players may potentially be banned from representing their countries at this summer’s European Championships and next year’s World Cup, competitions run by those international bodies.
«If this were to happen, we wish to reiterate that we — UEFA, the English FA, RFEF, FIGC, the Premier League, LaLiga, Lega Serie A, but also FIFA and all our member associations — will remain united in our efforts to stop this cynical project, a project that is founded on the self-interest of a few clubs at a time when society needs solidarity more than ever,» UEFA said in a statement.
«We will consider all measures available to us, at all levels, both judicial and sporting in order to prevent this happening. Football is based on open competitions and sporting merit; it cannot be any other way.»
When will the European Super League start?
The teams involved were aiming for an August 2021 start.
Given the controversy and the reaction of FIFA, UEFA and the fact almost all of the teams have now removed themselves from the project, it would be surprising if the European Super League started at all.
What’s the reaction to the European Super League?
Reaction to the announcement of the European Super League was almost universally negative. The hashtag #RIPfootball rapidly trended on Twitter as did the phrase #disgusting and #embarrassing. People were very angry about this.
Some wanted to organize protests. Ultimately, thousands went to protests at various stadiums across Europe.
Former players such as England and Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand were quick to condemn the clubs involved, including ones they played for.
High-profile current players spoke out, such as PSG’s Ander Herrera.
Liverpool’s James Milner also spoke out against the league after a recent match with Leeds United.
«I don’t like it and I hope it doesn’t happen,» he said.
Eventually that became the collective response of most Liverpool players as many posted the following message on social media platforms: «We don’t like it and we don’t want it to happen. This is our collective position.»
Jurgen Klopp, the current manager of Liverpool, had previously spoken out on opposition to a European Super League when it was first being talked about. «My opinion didn’t change,» he said in a post-match interview with Sky Sports.
Why were people so upset about the European Super League?
The European Super League illustrates the money issues many believe continue to threaten soccer as a sport. Unlike sports leagues like the NBA, which operate with salary caps, clubs at the top of leagues like the EPL or La Liga have been allowed to spend with impunity. This means they can solidify a position at the top of the game and rule over smaller clubs with an iron fist. Clubs at the lower end of big leagues can’t compete.
Neither can top clubs in smaller European leagues in Holland, Scotland, Switzerland or Portugal. The evolution of football over the last 20 years has made it difficult for former giants of the sport like Ajax of Amsterdam or Celtic of Glasgow to compete for major prizes like the Champion’s League. Given the structure of the European Super League, even getting the chance to play would be next to impossible.
For perspective, each founding member of this club was expected to take home $400 million for taking part in this league. That’s roughly four times what a team would receive for winning the Champions League, currently the most prestigious tournament in world club soccer.
For many, including former player and current broadcaster Gary Neville, the whole thing felt anti-competitive. Unlike most other soccer leagues, the founding clubs of the European Super League would not face the threat of relegation if they sit at the bottom of the table.
There’s also the issue of team choice. Teams appear to have been chosen based on fan base and income, as opposed to performance. Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal, currently in seventh and ninth place respectively in the English Premier League, were two of the teams selected, despite the fact smaller clubs like Leicester City and West Ham have outperformed them this year.
UK Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden reportedly said the British government would do «whatever it takes» to stop the English teams from taking part in the European Super League Monday. Dowden also reportedly accused the six clubs of deciding to «put money before fans.»
Considering the longer game, many were worried about the potential impact on grassroots football. The current format of soccer, which favors teams in leagues with huge TV deals like the EPL and La Liga, have seen many teams decline. The European Super League would exacerbate that process. For fans of the sport, this feels like the culmination of soccer as a rich get richer, poor get poorer proposition.
«I do not believe the Super League will solve the financial problems of European clubs that have arisen as [a] result of the coronavirus pandemic,» Bayern Munich CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said Monday, instead pushing solidarity from European football and the «reliable foundation» of the Champions League.
In the wake of the announcement, Jose Mourinho, the high-profile manager of Tottenham Hotspur, has been sacked alongside all of his coaching staff.
Mourinho has yet to release a statement on the reasons for his dismissal, and it’s possible the two decisions are unconnected, but he has spoken negatively on the idea of a «super league» in the past.