European Super League

The European Super League (ESL), officially The Super League, is a proposed annual club football competition that would be contested by twenty European football clubs, although only twelve clubs joined it. It is organised by the European Super League Company, S.L., a commercial enterprise created to rival the UEFA Champions League, Europe's premier club football tournament organised by UEFA.[2]

European Super League
The Super League Logo.svg
Founded18 April 2021 (2021-04-18)
RegionEurope
Number of teams20 (planned)
Motto"The best clubs.
The best players.
Every week."[1]
Websitethesuperleague.com

The announcement of the European Super League in April 2021 received wide opposition from fans, players, managers, politicians, and other clubs in England,[3] the most represented country in the project (6). It also received opposition from UEFA, FIFA, and some national governments.[4] Much of the criticism against the ESL was due to concerns about elitism and the lack of competitiveness within the competition, as it would have consisted of only high-ranking teams from a few European countries.[5][6]

Backlash against the announcement of the league's formation led to nine of the clubs involved, including all six of the English clubs, announcing their intention to withdraw.[7] The remaining members of the ESL subsequently announced they would reshape the project.[8] Three days later, the ESL announced that it was suspending its operations,[9] while a legal dispute ensued.[10]

BackgroundEdit

ConceptEdit

 
 
London
 
Manchester
 
Milan
 
Madrid
Map of the twelve founding clubs

Proposals for the creation of a new super-league competition for European clubs started in 1968 by then UEFA general secretary Hans Bangerter to replace the European Champions Cup and the Cup Winners' Cup and form the "European Football League Championship", an unique club competition combining group and knockout matches, a novelty at the time.[11] Despite that project, in that year UEFA approved to expand the clubs' access to its competitions creating a third seasonal tournament: the UEFA Cup, which inaugural season took place three years latter.[12] The idea for an unique pan-European club competition gained force in the 1970s and drew legal traction in the late of the following decade.[13][14]

In 1987 then Milan AC, Real Madrid and Glasgow Rangers executives planned a league competition with a single round-robin format –dubbed "Super League" by European mass media[15] since the proposed format of the tournament was the same as that used in league championships, contrasted with the format of the European competitions, based on knockout phases since mid 1950s[16]– that would result more attractive for international television broadcasters, would be able to allow the contestant teams to earn more income,[17] and would give them more possibilities to progressing through it[18] for "economical and management guarantees".[19] It would run parallel to the then three European competitions since the 1991–92 season,[20] but the project was abandoned in 1991 after UEFA announced sporting sanctions sine die for the involved clubs, reformed the European Champions Cup introducing a group stage in that season, increasing the overall number of matches,[21] and rebranding it as Champions League in 1992 for commercial and media purposes.[18] The following year, then UEFA president Lennart Johansson proposed, unsuccessfully, to merge the Champions League, the Cup Winners' Cup and the UEFA Cup in a unique championship which the better teams in the continent would be involved. Three years later, clubs as Ajax, Barcelona, Bayern and Manchester United, to rival the Champions League, planned secretly a "Super League" with 36 "prominent" clubs split in three groups and a play-off stage for the title at the end of the season[22] and a second competition for other 96 teams, called "ProCup" to replace the Cup Winners' Cup and the UEFA Cup. Both planned tournaments, based in the North American sports system, would be sponsored by Italian corporation Media Partners,[23] but that project was abandoned after FIFA, UEFA and its affiliated national associations announced sanctions against all involved clubs in it.[22] In 1998, the concept was pushed forward by Media Partners; however, the plan ultimately never progressed past the planning stage after UEFA moved to expand the UEFA Champions League.[24] Various other proposals were brought forward and also failed to achieve popular approval; amongst these, one included a long-standing ambition by the Premier League to host an overseas "39th game" so as to capitalise on lucrative overseas markets.[25][26] In 2009, Florentino Pérez, the president of Real Madrid, commenced plans for a super-league competition, as he thought that the Champions League was simply too obsolete and problematic for the quality of the sport, and was "an obstacle preventing clubs from growing their businesses and developing infrastructure."[27]

In 2018, Pérez began discussions with other clubs in Europe, mostly clubs from within Spain, England and Italy, about the idea of a breakaway competition that would also provide strong financial backing for all the clubs involved.[28] The clubs who participated in the discussions, conducted in secret, were primarily focused on exploring options for the league, unless UEFA produced new reforms for the Champions League that would be considered as acceptable for them as well.[29] The need for a new competition increased in 2020, as big-name football clubs began to suffer financially due to the COVID-19 pandemic, especially with ongoing debts; Pérez's Real Madrid was amongst those hardest hit financially by the pandemic in Spain, which led to him advancing the concept into realisation.[30] The new competition eventually drew interest from American investment banking giant JPMorgan Chase, which pledged US$5 billion towards its formation.[2]

On 18 April 2021, on the eve of a meeting by the UEFA Executive Committee, which was aiming to revamp and expand the UEFA Champions League by the 2024–25 season in order to increase the number of matches and revenues, following pressure from elite European clubs,[31] Pérez announced the formation of the Super League, also referred to as the European Super League (ESL),[32] via a press release by the twelve clubs who had signed up to be involved, including English clubs (Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, and Tottenham Hotspur), Italian clubs (Inter Milan, Juventus, and Milan), and Spanish clubs (Atlético Madrid, Barcelona, and Real Madrid).[33]

Within the release, Pérez expressed hope that the new competition would "provide higher-quality matches and additional financial resources for the overall football pyramid", provide "significantly greater economic growth and support for European football via a long-term commitment to uncapped solidarity payments which will grow in line with league revenues",[34] appeal to a new younger generation of football fans, and improve VAR and refereeing.[35][36] At the time of the announcement, ten of the founding clubs were in the top 14 of the UEFA club coefficient rankings, with only Italian clubs Inter Milan (26th) and Milan (53rd) falling outside.[37] All twelve clubs were in the top 16 on the 2021 Forbes' list of the most valuable football clubs;[38][39] their combined value was US$34.4 billion.[38]

LeadershipEdit

The launch of the ESL included announcement of the leadership of the organisation. The following table below shows each football executive who became involved in the competition's operations, and their role they held within the sport:[34][40]

Position Name Nationality Other positions
Chairman Florentino Pérez   Spain President of Real Madrid
Vice-chairman Andrea Agnelli   Italy Chairman of Juventus
Vice-chairman Joel Glazer   United States Co-chairman of Manchester United
Vice-chairman John W. Henry   United States Owner of Liverpool
Vice-chairman Stan Kroenke   United States Owner of Arsenal

According to reports, Gavin Patterson, former BT Sport boss, was tapped for the CEO role.[41]

FormatEdit

Inspired by European basketball EuroLeague,[42][43][44] the proposed competition was designed to feature twenty clubs who would partake in matches against each other; fifteen of these would temporal members, dubbed "founding clubs" who would govern the competition's operation, while five other places would be given to clubs through a qualifying mechanism focused on the teams who performed best in their country's most recent domestic season. Each year, the competition would see the teams split into two groups of ten, playing home-and-away in a double round-robin format for a total of 18 group matches per team, with fixtures set to take place midweek to avoid disrupting the clubs' involvement in their domestic leagues. At the end of these group matches, the top three of each group would then qualify for the quarter-finals, while the teams finishing fourth and fifth from each group would compete in two-legged play-offs to decide the last two quarter-finalists. The remainder of the competition would take place in a four-week span at the end of the season, with the quarter-finals and semi-finals featuring two-legged ties, while the final would be contested as a single fixture at a neutral venue.[34] In total, each season of the competition would feature 197 matches (180 in the group stage and 17 in the knockout stage).[45]

Prize money and binding contractEdit

Participating clubs would have access to uncapped solidarity payments, which would increase in line with league revenues and be higher than those of existing European competitions, as the official press release stated that this would be "in excess of €10 billion during the course of the initial commitment period of the clubs", and founding clubs would receive €3.5 billion to support infrastructure investment plans and to offset the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.[34] In addition, the founding clubs would share 32.5 percent of commercial revenues, with a further 32.5 percent being distributed between all 20 participating teams, including the five invited teams. 20 percent of revenues would be allocated based on merit based on performance in the Super League, and 15 percent would be shared based on broadcast audience size. Clubs would also be allowed to retain all revenues from gate receipts and club sponsorship deals.[46] The ESL claimed it would generate income across football and increase overall revenues that would allow bigger clubs to invest more in smaller clubs through transfer fees, with an annual solidarity payment of 400,000,000 to the other clubs "to save football, by the great and the modest,"[36][47] also presenting a proposal for a solution to the problems related to the Financial Fair Play imposed by the confederation since 2009 through a more efficient economic control.[48]

On 23 April, Der Spiegel, which allegedly gained access to the 167-page European Super League contract, revealed Barcelona and Real Madrid were set to receive €60 million extra than other clubs over the first two years, whereas A.C. Milan, Inter Milan, Borussia Dortmund, and Atlético Madrid were set to make less than other Super League clubs.[49] The Guardian reported that European Super League clubs were promised €200–300 million as a "welcome bonus."[50] It was also reported by Marca that there was a €300 million penalty for leaving the project, although the Super League denied this and stated that the quoted sum was false. Vozpópuli reported that the "clause is related to the 3.2 billion euros loan that JP Morgan received" to ensure the project's viability.[51]

On 20 May, The New York Times reviewed the founding contract of the Super League and found that while FIFA had publicly criticised a breakaway European Super League, it had held private talks for months with the founders about endorsing the competition; the review reported the need for the Super League founders to strike an agreement with "an entity obliquely labeled W01 but easily identifiable as FIFA", and that the documents said it was "an essential condition for the implementation of the SL project." It also reported that the Super League offered up to twelve clubs to participate in the new FIFA Club World Cup, and considered allowing FIFA to keep $1 billion in potential payouts as a "solidarity payment."[52]

On 31 May, El Confidencial revealed it had obtained access to the binding contract signed by the twelve clubs on 17 April. According to the contract, the founding clubs would have had the same number of shares in the limited liability company based in Spain, with the contract reading: "The Founding Clubs have agreed to jointly own and hold equal stakes in 'European League Company, S.L.' ('SLCo') a limited liability company which shall own, manage and operate the SL directly and through a number of subsidiaries (i.e., the SL Companies as this term is defined in Clause 4.3. below)."[53] According to the report, no shares had been sold, meaning that the other nine clubs, despite having publicly backed down from the project, are still involved and are waiting for the case to be taken by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), which has been described as possibly being the biggest football ruling since the Bosman case.[54] It also reiterated that there is a penalty of approximately €300 million for breaking the binding contract.[55] The contract already confirmed the Super League's clubs commitment to both domestic championships and league cups, and that the Super League, described as a pan-European competition, would start as soon as recognised by UEFA and FIFA, and with legal protection from European courts to allow their continued participation in domestic leagues and cups.[56]

On 20 June, The Times reported that the six English clubs, which remain co-owners and shareholders of the Spanish holding company, have failed to formally leave it, and the project's organisers stated that the competition would "eventually relaunch in modified form." About the binding contract, it was reported, according to those close to the venture, that there is "no mechanism" for the clubs to withdraw, as only unanimous consensus among the twelve founding clubs can dissolve the venture, and any club leaving unilaterally faced unlimited fines.[57]

ReceptionEdit

Football governing bodiesEdit

The formation of the ESL led to widespread condemnation from UEFA, The Football Association and Premier League of England, the Italian Football Federation and Lega Serie A of Italy, and the Royal Spanish Football Federation and La Liga of Spain. All governing bodies issued a joint statement declaring their intention to prevent the new competition proceeding any further, with UEFA warning that any clubs involved in the Super League would be banned from all other domestic, European and world football competitions,[58] and that players from the clubs involved would also be banned from representing their national teams in international matches.[58][59] In addition, the French Football Federation and Ligue de Football Professionnel of France, the German Football Association and Deutsche Fußball Liga of Germany, as well as the Russian Premier League and Russian Football Union released similar statements opposing the proposal.[60][61][62][63]

UEFA began immediately looking into making further reforms to the Champions League in a €6 billion effort to prevent the proposal moving forward.[64] The Premier League and the Football Association released a statement "unanimously and vigorously" opposing the breakaway league but ruled out barring the six breakaway clubs from domestic competitions and preferred to not take legal action against them.[65]

The European Club Association (ECA) held an emergency meeting and subsequently announced their opposition to the plan.[66] Andrea Agnelli, also a member of the UEFA Executive Committee, along with the founding clubs of the Super League, did not attend the virtual meeting. Agnelli later resigned from his positions as ECA chairman and UEFA Executive Committee member, with all twelve Super League clubs also leaving the ECA.[58][67][68] FIFA later expressed its disapproval in the wake of the negative outcry to the ESL proposal, alongside International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach,[69][70] with FIFA president Gianni Infantino stating during an address at the 2021 UEFA Congress in Montreux, Switzerland, both in response to the proposal and the clubs' efforts to remain in their domestic leagues: "If some elect to go their own way then they must live with the consequences of their choice, they are responsible for their choice. Concretely this means, either you are in, or you are out. You cannot be half in and half out. This has to be absolutely clear."[71]

Politicians and governmentsEdit

Numerous politicians expressed their opposition to the proposals across Europe, the most prominent coming from the British government, with the objections to the ESL uniting political parties completely behind its prevention. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called the proposals "very damaging for football" and vowed to ensure that it "doesn't go ahead in the way that it's currently being proposed",[72] a position which was supported by Leader of the Opposition Keir Starmer.[73] In addition, the Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said in a statement to the House of Commons that "this move goes against the very spirit of the game", and pledged to do "whatever it takes" to stop English clubs from joining.[74]

French President Emmanuel Macron expressed his support for UEFA's position, stating: "The French state will support all the steps taken by the LFP, FFF, UEFA and FIFA to protect the integrity of federal competitions, whether national or European."[75] The Spanish government released a statement saying they "[do] not support the initiative to create a football Super League promoted by various European clubs, including the Spanish ones."[76] Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi also backed UEFA in their decision, saying he "strongly supports the positions of the Italian and European football authorities."[77]

Uninvolved clubsEdit

Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, and Paris Saint-Germain were sought out by the ESL to join; Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund were given 30 days, and Paris Saint-Germain 14 days, to sign up to the Super League,[78][79] but all three rejected involvement in the competition, publicly condemning the concept.[80][81] Pérez alleged that the three clubs had not been invited.[36] Other French,[82] German,[82][83][71] Portuguese,[84] and Dutch clubs were reported to have declined to join the competition.[71]

West Ham United said on their website that they were strongly opposed to the Super League, emphasising their working-class roots and the 150 academy players who had developed to play for the first team.[85] In a statement, Everton criticised the Big Six English clubs joining the Super League and accused them of "betraying" football supporters across England.[86] Leeds also referred to Liverpool on social media as "Merseyside Reds", referencing the unlicenced name used for the club in the Pro Evolution Soccer video game series.[87] Atalanta, Cagliari, and Hellas Verona reportedly called for the Italian Super League teams to be banned from Serie A; Hellas Verona denied in a statement to have requested such ban alongside Atalanta and Cagliari.[88]

On 3 May, a report from Italian financial daily Il Sole 24 Ore noted that the Super League project was officially presented by the Lega Serie A Head of Competition and Operation Andrea Butti, as an alternative to the reform of the Champions League planned by UEFA and initially provided for the 2023–24 season, to FIGC and the all 20 participating clubs in the league championship during the meeting organised on 16 February.[89] The publication, which pointed out that similar debates were presented at the same time by Spanish La Liga, English Premier League, and German Bundesliga board members to the clubs in their respective countries, also noted that the Serie A was favourable to the project from an economic point of view and that FIFA was aware of it, to the point that the eventual Super League winner team would participate in the new FIFA Club World Cup, provisionally called the World Club Competition or World League.[89] About the latter, a 20 May New York Times report emphasised FIFA's participation in the European Super League project.[52]

CommentaryEdit

Despite claims that the ESL would be the "most significant restructuring of elite European football since the creation of the European Cup" and that claims of negative impacts from it were similar to the founding of the Premier League in 1992,[90][91][92] commentators had contrasting opinions. Although they noted that the new competition would eliminate financial risk for its founding members by operating on a semi-closed league setup similar to basketball's EuroLeague, which would also eliminate the risk of clubs failing to qualify or being relegated and give these clubs a stable source of revenue and increased value, they also noted it had serious issues.[93][94]

While Forbes contributor Marc Edelman, professor of law at the City University of New York, wrote that the Super League would bring the lucrative U.S. professional sports league model to Europe,[95] Ian Nicholas Quillen, MLS and American soccer contributor for Forbes, said the system would be "a sinister hybrid of ['closed' and 'open'] league systems that hoards the benefits of both for themselves, while deflecting the drawbacks onto most of its domestic league peers" that "offer[s] the Rest of Europe the most meager of prizes imaginable in order to justify not [providing stability or support to all participants] while hoarding the potential gains for themselves."[96] Bloomberg News columnist Alex Webb argued that a diminished Premier League due to the Super League could hurt Britain's soft power as well.[97]

Commentators also noted how the ESL could render domestic competitions as irrelevant and lower tier compared to the Super League, and that it would destroy the ideas behind promotion and relegation systems; Pérez later countered this with claims that the ESL would later have a system of promotion and relegation.[35][98] In an opinion piece by Henry Bushnell of Yahoo Sports, the proposed plan was described as "repulsive" but the idea itself was commended; however, the competition structure would strongly need a system of promotion and relegation based on performance in domestic leagues and the UEFA Champions League, and the ESL clubs should share more of its profits with lower status clubs.[99] Writing in Corriere della Sera, Italian sports commentator Mario Sconcerti called the Super League a "crude idea that goes against the fans."[100] Italian journalist Emanuele Celeste spoke of "a regulation not very faithful to traditional football" and the risk of new future rules in reference to the division of a match into three periods instead of two.[101]

Michael Cox argued in The Athletic that the European Super League would help restore completive balance in European Football due to the widening gap between big, rich clubs and smaller, poorer clubs in domestic leagues, and this inequality would only increase as time goes on without a Super League.[102]

Commentary from the women's game was largely negative, with several commentators pointing out that the Super League's one-line mention of creating a women's version of the competition seemed like an afterthought, lacking in any details and with many of the Super League clubs not having well-established women's sides.[103][104][105] 2018 Ballon d'Or Féminin winner Ada Hegerberg, one of the first high-profile women players to speak out against the league, tweeted that "greed is not the future."[106]

BroadcastersEdit

UK broadcaster BT Sport, one of the networks that hold the rights to the UEFA Champions League and the Premier League, condemned the European Super League and said that it "could have a damaging effect to the long term health of football in the United Kingdom",[107] whilst its competitor Sky reiterated that it has not held talks to broadcast the league.[108] Amazon Prime Video, which owns streaming rights to the Premier League in the UK, stated they had no involvement.[109] DAZN confirmed they were not "in any way involved or interested in entering into discussions regarding the establishment of a Super League and no conversations have taken place."[110][111] Facebook, Inc. also said they were not in discussions to broadcast the Super League.[112]

Mediapro, who hold the rights to La Liga and the Champions League in Spain, told Reuters that "television broadcasters won't break their contracts with UEFA and national leagues to join the breakaway European Super League project", and it also predicted that the Super League would fail.[111][113]

IndividualsEdit

"I would say that's a bad idea. Football has to stay united, it's the most important thing. It's based on sporting merit and overall to respect the history that has been built from European football."

—Former Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger[114]

Former Manchester United player, current Salford City co-owner, and Sky Sports commentator Gary Neville's reaction generated strong attention on social media, calling the formation "an act of pure greed" and being especially disappointed at his former club's admission, going on to say that stringent measures must be taken against the founding clubs, including bans from European competitions and point deductions.[115] Neville's former United teammate Roy Keane said that it was motivated by money and greed, and praised Bayern Munich for not taking part.[116]

Bruno Fernandes of Manchester United and João Cancelo of Manchester City became the first footballers to oppose their own clubs joining the European Super League.[117] Liverpool midfielder James Milner said in a post-match interview that he did not like the Super League, and wished it would not happen.[118] Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp was also critical of the Super League, although he said he would not resign and instead would "sort it somehow" with Fenway Sports Group.[119] Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson called for a meeting for captains of Premier League clubs,[120] and later said: "We don't like it and we don't want it to happen."[121]

Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel said he trusts his club to make the right decisions in relation to the European Super League.[122] Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola added that while "it is not [really] a sport if success is guaranteed",[123][124][125] UEFA "had failed" in advancing the sport and that footballing institutions "think for themselves."[125]

Stock marketEdit

Following the announcement of the European Super League, shares in Manchester United and Juventus increased 9% and 19%, respectively.[126][127] After the Super League was suspended, shares in the clubs dropped significantly.[128]

FansEdit

Football Supporters Europe (FSE), a body representing supporters in 45 UEFA countries, issued a statement opposing the creation of the Super League.[116] A snap YouGov poll conducted shortly after the league's announcement found that 79% of British football fans oppose the Super League with only 14% expressing support; 76% of fans of the British teams joining the Super League also expressed disapproval, with 20% expressing support.[129] International fans of the clubs involved as well as international football fans who did not support a particular club were largely supportive of the Super League.[130] Many football fans criticised Tottenham Hotspur's inclusion, as the team has not a won a trophy since the 2008 Football League Cup Final.[131] Barcelona fans hung a banner over Camp Nou which read "Barcelona is our life, not your toy. No to playing in the Super League."[132]

Supporter groups from all six English clubs opposed the league, releasing statements condemning the plans and the clubs for their involvement in the league.[133] On 19 April, a crowd of about 700 fans appeared outside Elland Road despite COVID-19 restrictions, ahead of the scheduled match between Leeds United and Liverpool, to protest against the European Super League.[134] While warming up before the match, Leeds United players wore a shirt that read "Football is for the fans" on one side and "Earn it" with a Champions League logo on the other.[135] The shirts had been left on the benches inside the Liverpool changing room, but the players did not wear them. In addition, a large banner was placed behind one goal stating "Earn it on the pitch, football is for the fans."[136] The Athletic later reported that the shirts were approved by the Premier League.[137] On 20 April, more than a thousand Chelsea fans joined protests outside Stamford Bridge ahead of Chelsea's game against Brighton & Hove Albion and the team buses of both the clubs were blocked from entering the stadium.[138] Shortly after, it was relayed to the gathered fans that Chelsea would withdraw from the Super League,[139] leading to an outpour of celebration.[140]

AftermathEdit

Legal issuesEdit

On 19 April, Aleksander Čeferin stated that UEFA would begin making "legal assessments" on the following day, and that the organisation would look to ban the twelve Super League clubs "as soon as possible." However, the Super League informed UEFA and FIFA that they had begun legal action to prevent the competition from being thwarted.[141] Jesper Møller, chairman of the Danish Football Association and UEFA Executive Committee member, stated that he expected the three Super League clubs in the semi-finals of the 2020–21 UEFA Champions League (Chelsea, Manchester City, and Real Madrid) to be expelled from the competition by 23 April. In addition, he also expected Arsenal and Manchester United to be expelled from the semi-finals of the 2020–21 UEFA Europa League.[142] In response, Super League chairman Florentino Pérez said that this would be "impossible" and that the law protects them.[143][144] On 20 April, ESPN reported that UEFA decided to not ban the Super League teams from the Champions League and Europa League, and the matches would go ahead as scheduled.[145]

The Super League also sparked discussion whether it is in violation of anti-trust laws since it contains business practices that are allegedly designed to reduce competition, by creating a protected market that restricts others from entering that may limit competition. The European Commission stated that it does not plan to investigate the Super League for anti-trust violations. Bloomberg News columnist Alex Webb argued that the European Commission's lack of investigation was justified; if a case against the Super League failed, other parties could interpret the case as condoning the Super League, and the European Commission could face popular backlash.[97][146]

Sports lawyer Daniel Geey speculated that the UEFA and the European Super League as well as the ECA, FIFA, and FIFPro were involved in "a high-stakes game of negotiation", and that the launch of the Super League was not guaranteed.[147] Recalling a conversation with an unidentified lawyer, Sky Sports reporter Geraint Hughes stated that the main arguments for both sides would deal with competition law; UEFA would argue that the Super League would effectively be a closed league and an abuse of power from involved clubs, while the Super League would argue that restrictive conditions imposed by UEFA or FIFA would be anti-competitive. Hughes also stated that, in the lawyer's opinion, the Super League would have a slight advantage in a hypothetical case under current EU law; if there was a change in the interpretation of EU law, then UEFA could win.[148]

On 20 April, a Spanish commercial court based in Madrid with territorial jurisdiction published a medida cautelarísima (very urgent precautionary measure) with legal value and executive into the entire European Union through the 2007 Lugano Convention,[149] ruling that Swiss-based UEFA and FIFA, any other associated football body, and/or any league council directly or indirectly associated with these cannot publish press notes and/or interviews against the Super League project and its founding members, cannot block the launch of the Super League, and cannot sanction any of its founding clubs, its managers personnel, and its footballers,[150] based on articles 45, 49, 56, and 63 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU),[86][151] until the court has fully considered the case.[152][153] The Super League believed that some of the rules its founding clubs are subject to were not legally sound, and they planned to test its efficacy in the European courts.[29]

On 13 May, the Spanish commercial court referred a cuestión preliminar (preliminary question) to the CJEU on whether FIFA and UEFA have violated articles 101 and 102 of the TFEU,[154] denouncing UEFA's monopoly position as the solely governing, disciplinary institution and unique clubs' income distributor, a triple charge referred to as illegal according the European Union competition law. The court also denounced UEFA's abuse of dominant position by opposing the Super League project, such as using coercion to press the founding clubs to abandon the project in favour to UEFA, publishing sanctions against nine of the founding clubs (Arsenal, Atlético Madrid, Chelsea, Inter Milan, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Milan, and Tottenham Hotspur), and threatening the exclusion from all UEFA competitions for up to two years to the three still active clubs (Barcelona, Juventus, and Real Madrid) based in a potential violation of the articles 49 and 51 of UEFA's statutes,[155] which are objected by the Super League as monopolistic since they give UEFA exclusive control in European football.[155] By imposing sanctions, UEFA ignored the injunction previously filed by the Spanish court almost a month before, resulting in the case being taken to the CJEU.[156][154] On 7 June, the Swiss Federal Department of Justice and Police notified the Spanish precautionary measure to both governing bodies, ruling them to not execute sanctions against Barcelona, Juventus, and Real Madrid.[157]

On 27 September, after UEFA received an ultimatum from the Spanish commercial court to ban it from taking any disciplinary action against Barcelona, Juventus, and Real Madrid; and nullify the sanctions against the other Super League associated clubs; the European governing body announced that it had abandoned its proceedings against the three clubs, and would not request payment of the sums offered by the other nine founding teams.[158][159] Both UEFA and LaLiga have challenged the judge Ruiz de Lara, arguing that he is not impartial and that in the exercise of his jurisdictional function, he shows a clear bias towards the claims of the plaintiff European Super League Company S.L. ("ESL").[160][161]

CollapseEdit

Spearheaded by Florentino Pérez of Real Madrid and Andrea Agnelli of Juventus, the Super League was in the works for three years; however, the final phases were rushed, and allegiance among the twelve clubs, instead of the fifteen as originally planned, seemed to have been forged under pressure. The announcement was unexpectedly poorly planned, devoid of real content, and the coalition, liable to break under pressure, came apart quickly.[162]

On 20 April at 7 pm GMT,[163] Chelsea publicly signalled their intention to withdraw from the Super League after chairman Bruce Buck met with the players.[139][164] Thirty minutes later, Manchester City formally commenced procedures to withdraw from the Super League. Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester United, and Tottenham Hotspur followed soon after, whilst Chelsea was the last English club to formally announce its withdrawal in the early hours of 21 April.[163][165] The same day, Atlético Madrid, Inter Milan, and Milan confirmed their exits.[166] Three days into its founding, nine of the twelve clubs had announced their plans to withdraw, with just Juventus, Barcelona, and Real Madrid remaining.[167][168] According to leaked documents, the clubs breaching contract are liable £130 million in penalty fees.[169]

The Super League also collapsed due to global politics, with some news outlets, such as the Süddeutsche Zeitung, wondering whether the intervention of the British and Russian governments was the real reason for the collapse, stating: "It was not at all just the protest of the football fans that brought the Super League down: it was also global politics. The idea of having their own league remains attractive for top clubs." As reported by the Süddeutsche Zeitung, Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich allegedly withdrew in light of his relations with Russia, which through Gazprom is a major sponsor of the UEFA Champions League. Manchester City allegedly pulled out as Saudi Arabia, which does not have a positive human rights image internationally, was thought to be a major financier for the league;[170][171] JP Morgan dismissed the claims to The Daily Telegraph, and stated it was "sole financing the deal."[172]

Super League responseEdit

After the English clubs withdrew on 21 April, the Super League stated: "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."[173] Andrea Agnelli blamed the failure on Brexit,[174] and stated that it was unlikely the Super League project would proceed in its current form, although he remained convinced of the "beauty of the project."[166][175] Pérez reiterated that none of the founding clubs had officially left the association,[176] as they were tied to binding contracts,[177] and vowed to work with the governing bodies to make some form of the Super League work. Whilst blaming the English clubs for losing their nerve in face of opposition and the footballing authorities for acting unjustifiably aggressively,[178] Pérez insisted that the Super League project was merely on standby and not over.[179] Barcelona president Joan Laporta echoed Pérez's sentiments that a Super League remains "absolutely necessary" for clubs to survive.[180]

Following the opening of UEFA's disciplinary proceedings against Barcelona, Juventus, and Real Madrid, the three clubs issued a joint statement[181] strongly criticising UEFA, stating that the clubs "will not accept any form of coercion or intolerable pressure, while they remain strong in their willingness to debate, respectfully and through dialogue, the urgent solutions that football currently needs."[182] On 31 May, the Super League, believing that UEFA and FIFA had breached EU competition laws by preventing the clubs from breaking away, filed an anti-competitive complaint to the CJEU against UEFA and FIFA for their proposals to stop the organisation of the competition.[10] With the aim of establishing whether the two governing bodies have the exclusive right to organise competitions, the hearing could take up to two years but the Super League feels confident about it, stating that "we will win that case based on precedent in other sports and it will pave the way for the Super League to eventually relaunch in a modified form."[57]

In June 2021, about the six English clubs' owners who had withdrawn from the project after the government threatened legislation to block it, amid an intense backlash from fans and the media, the Super League was reported to have responded as such: "The owners know this is not the end — it's just the beginning. We will resume dialogue, whether this year or next year. It's just financial gravity. Football can't survive in its current form." In addition, it was reported that, as all twelve clubs remained tied by binding contracts, they were working on a modified version of the project. About these reports, Arsenal said: "We have been absolutely clear we are withdrawing from the ESL. This is subject to a legal process which is under way." Manchester United said: "The club has no intention to revisit the Super League concept. Any suggestion otherwise is simply an attempt to mislead our fans."[57]

Club apologiesEdit

Arsenal chief executive Vinai Venkatesham met with fans and confirmed he had apologised to the fourteen other Premier League clubs but that their reaction was rather lukewarm. Arsenal's head coach Mikel Arteta revealed that Stan Kroenke, the club's owner, personally apologised to the players and the coaching staff. Arsenal's board of directors wrote an open letter to fans stating to have made a mistake, apologised for it, and hoped to regain trust whilst assuring of their commitment to rebuild the club.[183]

In an open letter from the owner Roman Abramovich and the board addressed to its fans, Chelsea wrote they "deeply regret" the decision to join the Super League and pledged to work more closely with supporters in future. Whilst lamenting "the potential damage to the club's reputation" caused by their decision, Chelsea condemned the abuse received by club officials, and implored supporters to engage in a respectful dialogue. The Chelsea Supporters' Trust called for resignations from the club's board in light of the fiasco.[184] Chelsea subsequently announced fan representation in board meetings.[185]

Liverpool owner John W. Henry apologised to the fans, players, and coach Jürgen Klopp "for the disruption" caused by club's decision to join the Super League.[186][187] Dismissing the apology from the owners, supporters' group Spion Kop 1906 wrote that "the only reason they are sorry is because they have been caught out yet again",[187] and demanded fan representation on the board.[186] Klopp said that Henry has not been in touch with him since the plans unraveled, although he came out in support of the owners, stating: "[T]hey are not bad people. They made a bad decision."[186]

Manchester United senior executive Ed Woodward allegedly resigned due to differences with the owners, the Glazer family, on the viability of the Super League,[188][189] although some alleged that Woodward was involved in the plans for a breakaway league from day one.[190] Manchester United's co-chairman Joel Glazer apologised "unreservedly" to fans shortly after their withdrawal was confirmed.[191] The Manchester United Supporters' Trust responded: "We cannot just carry on as if nothing has happened. This is a watershed moment and we need to see genuine change as a result."[175]

In a message to fans, Manchester City chief executive Ferran Soriano said that the board deeply regretted its actions, and explained Manchester City's decision to join was motivated by "future ability to succeed and grow."[175]

In May 2021, Tottenham Hotspur released a statement saying that the project was put together in secret due to legal constraints in place, and it was merely a "framework agreement" that through dialogue with the Football Association, the Premier League, UEFA, FIFA, and the fans would have evolved into "something workable." They apologised "unreservedly" but expressed disappointment at Tottenham Hotspur Supporters' Trust for refusing to meet with club officials. The club also announced creation of an advisory panel, composed of elected representatives, with the chair appointed annually to the board as a full non-executive.[192]

ConsequencesEdit

Whilst the opposition from fans in Spain remained subdued,[162] the supporters of the Premier League clubs, Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester United, and Tottenham Hotspur, called on their owners to divest their investments. Supporters of Manchester City and Chelsea appeared more forgiving given their owners' track record and significant investments over the years that as of 2021 amounted to more than US$3 billion combined.[187][193] A few observers, such as Emlyon Business School professor of Eurasian Sport Simon Chadwick, deemed fan opposition of their respective clubs, which acted in self-preservation and with intentions to grow their investments, as naïve, simplistic, and misplaced.[194]

Executives from the Big Six resigned from various league committees[195] after Richard Masters, CEO of the Premier League, called on them to either resign or be fired.[196] Citing the trust deficit created as a result of the attempted breakaway,[197] other Premier League clubs called for layoffs of key personnel employed by the Big Six.[198] The Football Association commenced a formal inquiry against the Big Six, whilst the Premier League began revising its Owner's Charter to prevent similar attempts in the future.[199][200] On 9 June, The Athletic reported that the Big Six had agreed to a collective £22 million fine in a settlement with the Premier League, with individual team fines of £25 million and 30-point deductions should any club agree to join a future breakaway league.[201] On 10 June, The Times reported that the Home Office agreed to the Football Association's rules change to prevent breakaway leagues, such as non-British players for a future breakaway club in England having their work permits revoked.[202]

La Liga President Javier Tebas said that La Liga would not pursue punishments for the Spanish clubs involved, leaving the matter up to UEFA; however, suggested that many of the teams signed up could be motivated by their struggle to match the financial power of Emirates-owned Manchester City and Qatar-owned PSG, suggesting that, far from relaxing financial control over these clubs, these controls should be tightened and that any reform on this issue should involve a limitation on the inflow of money by the states behind these clubs.[203] On 26 April, the FIGC approved an ad hoc legislation to expel any team participating in breakaway leagues not recognised by FIFA, UEFA, or FIGC from Italian football.[204] FIGC President Gabriele Gravina later confirmed that Juventus, the only still active club involved in the Super League from Italy, faces the possibility of expulsion from Serie A.[205][206]

UEFA president Čeferin was conciliatory in welcoming the breakaway clubs back into the fold. Some UEFA members called for the recent changes to the Champions League format set to be implemented from the 2024 season, which would benefit the richer clubs more, to be rolled back.[207] In a tweet,[208] the ECA urged the European clubs "to work hand-in-hand."[209] On 7 May, UEFA announced that the breakaway clubs must sell all their Super League quotes, offer to give 15 million to the grassroots game in recompense, and sign a Commitment Declaration. The clubs part of the agreement would have to pay €100 million if they were ever to join an unauthorised competition, while any breach of the commitment would result in a €50 million fine.[210] UEFA confirmed that three clubs (Barcelona, Juventus and Real Madrid) stand to face sanctions over their still active involvement in the project,[211] announcing the opening of disciplinary proceedings against them on 25 May for "a potential violation of UEFA's legal framework in connection with the Super League."[212] These measures were stayed until further notice by UEFA's Appeals Body as a result of the rulings from the Spanish commercial court on 9 June[213] and from the Swiss Federal Department of Justice and Police published two days prior,[157] and the three clubs were officially confirmed on 15 June to be admitted to the 2021–22 UEFA Champions League.[214] On 22 June, as reported by The New York Times' Tariq Panja,[215] the A22 Sports Management filed a new motion on behalf of the Super League to the Spanish court, seeking to scrap the agreement UEFA signed with nine clubs, and UEFA has five days to respond; it is also seeking to cancel in its entirety the disciplinary case against the other three clubs, which was suspended but is currently to stay pending UEFA's appeal against the court injunction.[216] Moreover, a decision of the 17th commercial court in Madrid, which was made public on 1 July, ruled out the possibility of sanctions from UEFA and FIFA for the clubs involved in the project, given the antitrust issues which may occur were any punitive measures to be taken by the instances.[217] On 27 September, after an order from a Madrid court to ban UEFA from taking any disciplinary action against Barcelona, Juventus, and Real Madrid; UEFA announced that it had abandoned its proceedings against the three clubs, and would not request payment of the sums offered by the nine other founding clubs.[158][159]

JP Morgan, the financier of the Super League's proposed $3.25 billion project, said they were taken aback by the opposition and "misjudged how this deal would be viewed by the wider football community." The bank's involvement prompted a sustainability rating agency to downgrade its assessment of JP Morgan's ethical performance. JP Morgan added they had no say in the project's strategy, but one person familiar with the matter said the Super League had plans to fund grassroots sports and community projects.[218]

The British government announced its plans to commence "a fan-led review", to be led by former Minister for Sport Tracey Crouch,[219] into governance of English football, which Boris Johnson described as a "root and branch investigation." The review also aims to examine potential changes to ownership models, such as the 50+1 rule employed in Germany.[220] Jeremy Corbyn, former leader of the Labour Party,[221] and Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London, came out in support of the review.[222] The Premier League offered to cooperate with the British government.[200] Paul Widdop, a senior lecturer in sports business at Manchester Metropolitan University, criticised the move, stating that while the incumbent government pursues a neo-liberalist agenda with every other industry, it seeks socialist reform only in football.[194] Following the Super League's suspension, the BBC's Simon Stone said a revised Super League concept could be tabled at some point in future, especially with clubs still seeking increased broadcast revenues received from matches.[223]

Wider fan protestsEdit

Following the collapse of the European Super League, many fan groups in England continued protesting against the ownership of certain clubs and for the introduction of the 50+1 rule seen in German football. The first of these protests occurred on 22 April, a day after the Super League's suspension; a group of around twenty Manchester United fans gained access to the club's training facility at Carrington for over two hours demanding the Glazers sell the club.[224]

On 23 April, a group of over 3,000 Arsenal fans gathered outside the Emirates Stadium protesting for the removal of Stan Kroenke.[225][226][227] In response to this, Josh Kroenke stated that the owners had no intention of selling their stake.[228] The same day, a group of about of 100 Tottenham Hotspur supporters appeared outside Tottenham Hotspur Stadium calling for the removal of Daniel Levy and ENIC Group as owners.[229] On 24 April, a group of around 2,000 Manchester United fans gathered outside Old Trafford to the protests against the Glazers, the club owners.[230][231][232] Ahead of the North West derby on 2 May, thousands of fans protested outside Old Trafford again,[233][234] with an estimated 200 breaking into the stadium,[235] which resulted in the game being postponed.[236] Former Liverpool and Manchester United players expressed support for the fan-led protests.[237][238]

See alsoEdit

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BibliographyEdit

External linksEdit