Only days after it made its first inglorious introductions to the world, the European Super League appears to be dead in the water.
The rebellion against the scheme — a lucrative mid-week competition in which the same 12 elite clubs would qualify annually — was swift and brutal, and led to all six of the league’s founding Premier League clubs withdrawing within hours of each other.
For now, plans for the Super League have been put on hold, but with only a handful of clubs yet to publicly pull out there is seemingly no way forward for the breakaway competition in the short term.
For the men behind the Super League, wealthy club owners from all over the world, the question is what comes next? UEFA, FIFA and the various domestic European leagues have all threatened punishments and sanctions for the 12 clubs, but with turmoil now at the top of many of these storied institutions, the future remains incredibly murky.
Who are the men behind the Super League?
At the very top of the pyramid is Real Madrid president Florentino Perez, who had installed himself as chairman of the Super League.
In a lengthy interview with Spanish TV program El Chiringuito TV, Perez spelled out his vision for the Super League, playing down FIFA’s threats to ban Super League players from future World Cups and insisting the new venture would hone in on the crucial 16- to 24-year-old market.
“Football needs to evolve, like life does. Soccer needs to adapt to the times we live in,” Perez said on Tuesday, before the English clubs pulled out.
“Instead of playing the Champions League as it is, which is losing interest, now we must find something enticing which is to play amongst the big clubs. We are at a critical moment.”
Under Perez sat Juventus president Andrea Agnelli and Manchester United executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward, both of whom were listed as vice-chairmen of the Super League.
Woodward has confirmed he will be standing down from his post at United at the end of 2021, and there is speculation the club’s ruling Glazer family could be set to sell their stake also, but Agnelli insisted to an Italian newspaper the swirling rumours of his resignation at Juventus were not true.
Liverpool’s Fenway Sports Group, especially owner John W. Henry, were also believed to be key backers behind the Super League scheme.
The American sports management group, who also own the Boston Red Sox in Major League Baseball, have long been unpopular among Liverpool fans, and faced particular criticism for decisions made during the COVID-19 pandemic, including furloughing a large number of club staff.
The other four English clubs involved are owned by:
- Stan Kroenke (American billionaire and owner of Arsenal)
- Sheikh Mansour (Emirati politician and member of the royal family of Abu Dhabi, owner of Manchester City)
- Daniel Levy (British businessman, owner of Tottenham Hotspur)
- Roman Abramovich (Russian billionaire and owner of Chelsea)
All are facing immense criticism and pressure in the wake of the Super League announcement. In the clubs’ respective statements announcing their withdrawal from the competition, only Arsenal’s offered anything by way of an apology to football fans.
What punishments could the clubs face?
Plenty of threats have been thrown around in the last 72 hours, but with the Premier League clubs stepping away from the Super League, the most nuclear of options will now most likely be taken off the table.
But there is still a push from many quarters for the clubs involved to face sanctions to deter them from making similar pushes again in the future.
In the immediate aftermath of the Super League’s announcement, former United player and current commentator Gary Neville demanded heavy action.
“Massive fines, points deductions, take the titles off them, who cares? Give the title to Burnley, Fulham. Let Fulham stay up,” Neville said on Monday.
“Relegate United, Liverpool and Arsenal because those three clubs are the history of this country they should be the ones to suffer most.
The other 14 Premier League clubs had a meeting on Tuesday, after which they released a statement condemning the Super League, but no further indications of possible sanction or punishment have been given.
Before that meeting, Everton owner Farhad Moshiri said he was in favour of the clubs involved being docked points.
“I think the Premier League should deduct points from these clubs. This is six clubs attacking the very heart of the Premier League and I think they should be disciplined,” Moshiri said.
“The Premier League need to discipline clubs. The Premier League has a constitution. They need to treat powerful clubs as severely as poorer clubs.”
But former Liverpool legend Graeme Souness disagreed with punishing the clubs, saying any sanctions or point deductions on the team would be punishing the wrong people.
“If you punish the club you are really punishing the supporters. The players have done nothing wrong and the supporters have done nothing wrong,” Souness told Sky Sports.
“The people at the top will be punished by the supporters themselves. They can’t go to the games anymore, or if they do, good luck.”
But football history is littered with examples of clubs being punished on the whole for the misdeeds of those at the top, be they financial misdemeanours, nefarious transfer dealings or broader corruption.
At the moment, football is restabilising itself after the initial shock of the Super League, but before long attentions will turn to making sure such a coup never happens again.