It has been one astonishing 48 hours for football; on the one hand shambolic and shameful, on the other highly satisfying and redemptive.
Rarely has football been so united in its disgust and displeasure, with fans of rival clubs coming together in opposition to a European Super League concept that was shockingly ill-conceived and woefully launched.
Talk about misreading the room. How on earth did this cartel of mega-rich owners, motivated solely by lining their own pockets and to hell with the rest of football, ever hope to get away with it?
Bank accounts brimming with Wall Street cash, they sought to wrench a dozen or more of Europe’s most famous clubs from their roots and into a cosy closed-shop competition where there was no jeopardy, no prospect of failure and certainly no chance of financial oblivion.
In so doing, they knowingly and willingly sought to destroy domestic competitions and UEFA’s Champions League. They wanted to place themselves on a pedestal that towered over everyone else.
But it didn’t take long for the cracks to appear in this shoddy edifice and by Tuesday night, buffeted by a hurricane of fury first from fans, then other clubs and even players and managers from those who had signed up, it had all come tumbling down.
The European Super League will hopefully be tossed into the dustbin of history where it belongs, even if some continue to fight its corner. But we know it will rear its ugly head again at some point in the future.
But even if that thought makes the vast majority of fans sick to the stomach, it is uplifting for the soul to see what can be achieved when everyone stands together and says ‘No.’
No to arrogant and disdainful owners only interested in the bottom line. No to rich clubs taking their ball and going somewhere else. No to those who seek to eliminate competition from sport.
While the Super League is only likely to survive a few days, the fall-out is set to last far longer. We take a look at the winners and losers from this extraordinary episode.
Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher
The pair enjoy plenty of banter at each other’s expense on social media and in the Sky Sports studio but both also enjoy incredible influence and they certainly rose to the challenge here.
Despite the fact Manchester United and Liverpool – clubs where they have legendary status – had signed up, Neville and Carragher were unequivocally and outspokenly against the idea all along.
Both launched an emotive call to arms as the proposals emerged on Sunday, asking not only fans but players, managers, rival clubs, politicians and even other broadcasters to get on board.
Neville described the Glazer family, who own United, as ‘scavengers who need booting out of this football club and this country’ and in so doing succinctly reflected the views of many of the club’s fans.
Carragher rallied the resistance by predicting – accurately as it turned out – that ‘if one goes, the rest will fall like a pack of cards.’
As first-rate pundits, Neville and Carragher have built up a huge following that crosses football’s tribal divides. This was the perfect example of where that influence was used to brilliant effect.
It was little wonder Neville was toasting the Super League’s demise with a nice glass of red on Tuesday night.
Bruno Fernandes and Marcus Rashford
The players at the 12 clubs who’d signed up to the Super League were left in an awkward position as events unfolded.
It’s very unlikely too many were in favour of the plan and yet naturally would have felt restrained in speaking out against their employers.
And yet some did take a stand and make their true feelings known. Manchester United’s Fernandes was the first high-profile player at one of the ‘founder’ clubs to go public with his opposition.
Sharing a post by the Wolves player Daniel Podence on Instagram, Fernandes wrote that ‘dreams cannot be bought.’
And he should know. His career was forged at Novara, Udinese, Sampdoria and Sporting Lisbon, all clubs who’d be nowhere near any Super League and yet he is one of the world’s best players.
After that, the floodgates opened and more and more players spoke their mind. It came as little surprise that the supreme campaigner Rashford was against.
The United striker posted a picture of a Sir Matt Busby quote ‘football is nothing without fans’ to very clearly signal his support for those protesting.
Footballers are very often derided as being characterless droids who aren’t capable of having worthwhile opinions. It isn’t true and kudos to those who spoke out despite the risk it could have been personally and professionally damaging.
It was an equally invidious position for the managers of the clubs involved and it would have been very easy to play a straight bat to every question on the topic.
But Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp – who’d spoken out against the Super League two years ago – doubled down by defending the ‘competitive factor of football’ on Monday.
‘I like the Champions League. I like the fact that West Ham might play Champions League next year,’ he said.
The following day, City boss Guardiola echoed those thoughts when he said: ‘It is not a sport where the relation between effort and success does not exist. It is not a sport where success is already guaranteed or it doesn’t matter where you lose.
‘It is not fair when one team fight, fight, fight at the top and cannot be qualified because it is just for a few teams.’
It was an electrifying performance from Pep, who didn’t shirk away from answering questions on the hot topic of the day.
And further to his credit, Guardiola made no secret of his annoyance that City’s owners hadn’t come out to explain why they’d signed up.
‘Presidents can talk more clear what is the idea for the future and where football is going to go.’
Indeed, the silence was deafening and he was right to criticise.
It can be a delicate one when it comes to the owners involved. To many football fans, the fact Sheikh Mansour has ploughed £1.3billion into Manchester City over the past 13 years, transforming them from mid-table mediocrity to English football’s pre-eminent force, will always sit uncomfortably.
However, over the past couple of days, the difference between owners such as Mansour and Roman Abramovich at Chelsea with the ownership at Man United, Liverpool and Arsenal has been exposed.
It was the American owners at those clubs, especially the two in the north-west, that were the driving force behind this project for the pure and simple reason of getting a big return on their investment in football.
Because they were the leaders here, it seems City and Chelsea were given an ultimatum at short notice to hop over the water before the drawbridge was pulled up for good.
They had a choice – and clearly made the wrong one – but they were the first to acknowledge their mistake and withdraw when the scale of the fury became evident.
That’s when the contrast between the likes of John W Henry, Joel Glazer and Stan Kroenke with Mansour and Abramovich became crystal clear.
It is possible to invest vast sums, as they both have done, in pursuit of glory and success but to be predominantly motivated by that rather than purely making a quick buck.
As weird as it may seem, Sheikh Mansour and Abramovich have emerged as English football’s unlikely ‘saviours’.
Many players are leaders of men on the football field. But far fewer lead off the field as well.
Liverpool captain Henderson certainly falls into both categories. Last year, he led the response of Premier League players to the Covid-19 pandemic and helped raise vital money for the NHS.
And Henderson fired up the captains’ WhatsApp group once again to coordinate the response to the Super League.
It’s about taking the initiative, making the first move in what must have been a tricky position with plenty of rage and frustration swirling around, canvassing opinion and coming up with a response.
In the end, the collapse of the idea has probably negated the need for emergency summits but Henderson emerges with credit.
As Liverpool’s captain, he also organised a joint response to the plans on Tuesday. ‘We don’t like it and we don’t want it to happen. This is our collective position.
‘Our commitment to this football club and it’s supporters is absolute and unconditional.’
Maybe a second career in politics beckons after retirement.
No doubt there were far more important topics on the agenda at this week’s UEFA Congress in Montreux – not least how to stamp out racism in football.
But the Super League overshadowed everything and presented UEFA president Ceferin with an existential crisis for his organisation and its competitions.
Of course, they knew this was coming but didn’t know when. But when the time came, Ceferin didn’t leave anything unsaid and came out swinging.
On Sunday, he described the plotters as ‘snakes’ and didn’t hold back in his criticism of ‘liar’ Andrea Agnelli. The Juventus president and chairman of the European Club Association had been due to talk to Ceferin about the reforms to the Champions League but suspiciously went quiet.
‘I do not want to be too personal but I’ve never seen a person that would lie so many times, so persistently as he did. It’s unbelievable.’
Ceferin went on to say the clubs behind the Super League were motivated only by ‘greediness, selfishness and narcissism.’ He said the whole thing was a ‘spit in the face’ for football.
But in his address to the Congress on Tuesday, Ceferin deftly left the door open for the clubs involved to realise their mistake, step back and return to the UEFA fold.
That showed strong conviction and leadership. The strong words were needed but so was the olive branch. And as a result, it seems UEFA will live to fight another day.
The Premier League’s ‘other 14’
The schism that already existed between the Premier League’s self-styled ‘big six’ and the ‘other 14’ clubs has widened into a potentially irreparable rift over the past few days.
But what’s clear is that the rest of the Premier League, by uniting so quickly and emphatically in their opposition to the breakaway proposals, have managed to win the argument.
They held an incendiary meeting on Tuesday in which the accusations against the ‘big six’ flew across the Zoom airwaves.
Powerful statements of opposition to the plans came forth from clubs in the Premier League and beyond.
Everton’s ranked among the best – ‘This preposterous arrogance is not wanted anywhere in football’ being one of the stand-out lines.
Having closed ranks to sink the ‘Project Big Picture’ proposals last year, those who would have been left behind by the Super League have done their bit in seeing off this threat as well.
But it brings to mind the final frame of the superhero comics: ‘The world is safe again… but for how long?’
What a glorious couple of days for those protest staples – Mum’s spare bed sheet, the marker pen and the cardboard placard with unevenly spaced writing. Ruthlessly effective yet again.
Chelsea fans said: ‘We want our cold nights in Stoke’. Some thesaurus-wielding fan outside Old Trafford wrote: ‘The Big Six – 1. Cash, 2. Dough, 3. Money, 4. Dosh, 5. Wonga, 6. Bread.’
Others went with the simple ‘Cancel Super League’ or the chilling ‘RIP Football’ or ‘RIP [insert club name]’.
But the speed with which fans of not only the clubs involved but of other clubs mobilised, both on the streets and social media, was remarkable.
The message was loud and clear from Sunday onwards – this would not stand.
There were incredible scenes outside Stamford Bridge as hundreds thronged Fulham Broadway, blocking the arrival of the Chelsea and Brighton team buses.
Club legend Petr Cech was sent out to broker a truce – ‘let those buses through’ – and the Blue Sea parted as news emerged of Chelsea’s withdrawal from the plans.
The spontaneous eruption of joy when that news filtered through made all the effort worthwhile. This was a victory for fan power, pure and simple. A valuable lesson has hopefully been learned – don’t ever mess with it.
Bayern, Dortmund, PSG
The European powerhouses that wanted no part of the Super League – Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund from Germany, Paris Saint-Germain from France, and possibly others who were courted – emerge smelling like roses.
Overcoming the modern phenomenon that is ‘fear of missing out’, they could see the Super League for what it was. A shoddy idea that would fall like a row of dominoes at the first sign of resistance.
They were proved correct and far quicker than they imagined. These clubs have kept their reputations and integrity intact.
A lot of sanctimonious twaddle gets written about the 50+1 model in Germany’s Bundesliga that is designed to prevent fan-controlled clubs falling into the hands of corporations or oligarchs.
But Bayern and Dortmund knew any involvement in the Super League would spark outrage among the supporter base that is their lifeblood.
It’s a realisation that apparently the 12 clubs that did sign up, especially the English ones, didn’t seem to have.
But the German model is there precisely to prevent such naked greed and to keep the fans enfranchised. It’s an effective safeguard. It worked this time and it will work again in the future.
Such a system isn’t in place at PSG and we all know the wealth they have but the right call was made when chairman Nasser Al-Khalaifi came out and denounced the Super League.
‘PSG holds the firm belief that football is a game for everyone… We believe that any proposal without the support of UEFA… is driven by self-interest.’
There has been so much noise around this story, with seemingly anyone with even the slightest association to football having their say.
But former Chelsea player and BBC pundit Nevin cut through when he said the rest of football could ‘disappear’ if the Super League went ahead. ‘It would make the rest of us feel like second-class citizens,’ he said.
Despite the Super League organisers’ insistence that money would trickle down to the rest of football, Nevin said what was on the minds of many.
Wolves’ social media team
It’s been a fine week for Twitter gags. Most came at the expense of Arsenal and Tottenham managing to still finish third in a league of two.
But credit to the social media team at Wolves, who changed their account bio to read ‘Official account of Wolverhampton Wanderers. Premier League Champions 2018/19.’
It was in that season the Molineux club finish seventh behind the ‘big six’ and the amendment certainly raised a few chuckles.
Let’s start with the most obvious. It’s been a chastening week for the American owners at Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal, who have been sent scurrying with tails between their legs.
They assumed, with jaw-dropping arrogance and a clear lack of understanding of the English game, that football could be turned into a closed shop like the NFL or the NBA.
The same clubs playing the same fixtures, year after year, with no threat of relegation and no risk attached. The founder clubs couldn’t be removed, however poorly they performed.
And all the while, they would continue to receive lavish financial rewards even for rank mediocrity, an ever-increasing share dividend and never-ending income streams from fans around the world.
How wrong they were. The Glazers, John W Henry and Stan Kroenke did not reckon with the power of fans rallying round a common cause.
They badly misjudged the situation, overplayed their hand and will now have to live with the consequences of this catastrophic mistake.
What works for American sport cannot simply be imported lock, stock and barrel to European football. Surely the days are numbered for the American ownership at all three clubs?
The first head to roll in the wake of this shambles and, with a long and messy post-mortem to come, surely not the last.
Few Man United fans are going to mourn the departure of an executive vice-chairman who played a key role in setting the Super League up through his connections to financiers JP Morgan.
The man who helped facilitate the Glazer family’s £790million takeover at Old Trafford in 2005 and then returned eight years ago in his current role to try and guide United through their post-Fergie transition.
That period has been a success only to United’s accountants and their American owners, basking in a 500 per cent growth in commercial revenue, legions of ‘official noodle partners’ and the most followers on TikTok.
On the pitch, United entered into a decline despite more than £1billion investment in new players. Three trophies have been won since 2013 under four different managers, quite a contrast to Sir Alex Ferguson’s legacy of success beforehand.
But that never was the most important thing to the Glazers as they watched the cash roll in and in the eyes of most United fans, if the Super League has done one good thing, it’s got rid of this emblem of the club’s regression.
Similar upheaval can be expected at Liverpool, where owner John W Henry’s reputation has sunk like a stone in the past few days.
The American businessman and his Fenway Sports Group could do little wrong as Liverpool won the Champions League and then the Premier League in the past two seasons.
But all that achievement has now been tarnished forever by Henry’s role at the forefront of the breakaway league and his scheming with Man United and other rivals.
Liverpool fans will feel a sense of betrayal and they rightly reacted with fury when the plans emerged, with protests outside Anfield and at their game with Leeds on Monday night.
This is a club that prides itself on history and heritage, of belonging to its supporters and its city, and makes a far greater show of it than most.
Anfield is the ultimate shrine to all this but all tradition was all brushed to one side, conveniently forgotten in the pursuit of the big bucks. Little wonder the fans are angry.
As with many of the clubs involved, a tipping point may have been reached and Henry’s humiliating apology on Wednesday, after days of silence, is unlikely to calm matters.
‘It goes without saying but should be said that the project put forward was never going to stand without the support of the fans… Over these 48 hours you were very clear that it would not stand. We heard you. I heard you.’
Yes, they were heard after the event, when it was too late but apparently not consulted beforehand. Nobody thought of that.
It’s a long road back for Henry and FSG to repair relations. Frankly, you can’t ever see it happening.
To say that Levy has had better weeks is the understatement of the year.
The raging storm of the Super League announcement was apparently the perfect opportunity to bury the news of Jose Mourinho’s sacking on Monday.
So now not only does Levy have to find a £20million compensation package for a manager who was a terrible fit for Spurs in the first place and bring in a replacement but the promised billions of the ESL have now disappeared beyond the horizon.
While it’s only since Levy’s time as Spurs chairman that the club would even be considered for such a venture, it hasn’t spared them embarrassment.
Even the official club statement, released late on Tuesday night, confirming they were pulling out came across as a lament at the death of the project.
‘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.’
You wonder if Florentino Perez drafted it.
While their pundits Neville and Carragher led the crusade against the Super League, Sky Sports were slow to distance themselves.
It’s little wonder rumours had flourished that Sky were in early talks with the Super League organisers.
But as their rivals moved quickly to condemn it in no uncertain terms – BT Sport said it ‘could have a damaging effect to the long-term health of football in this country’ – Sky turned down requests for comment until Monday night.
Even then it stopped short of saying the Super League was actually a bad idea, merely saying it had ‘articulated the views of football fans on the importance of preserving and sustaining the whole football pyramid.’
Florentino Perez and Andrea Agnelli
What a humiliating 48 hours for this pair, the two masterminds behind the rebel alliance.
Even on Tuesday, just as news was breaking that the six English clubs were pulling out, Juventus chief Agnelli insisted ‘there is a blood pact between the clubs, we are going forward. This project has a 100 per cent possibility of success.’
But they say you should always sleep on it and by Wednesday morning a red-faced Agnelli was forced to admit the idea was dead in the water.
Even then, he made the cringe-worthy comment: ‘I remain convinced of the beauty of that project.’
Having sacrificed so many friendships at UEFA and the ECA in pursuit of this doomed cause, Agnelli has become the pariah of European football.
It’s difficult to see how he can continue as chief of Juventus as well.
The collapse also comes as a devastating blow for Real Madrid president Perez, who has wanted the idea of a European Super League to get off the ground for years.
So near and yet so far for the man who hoped Real’s colossal debt, exacerbated by Covid, would be wiped out in a stroke by an injection of American cash.
Real really needed this and now it isn’t happening, it’s hard to see how he can ever be trusted within football again.
You can imagine the famous First World War poster as a Twitter meme and the little girl asking: ‘What did you do in the great European Super League war, daddy?’
This was an existential moment for the game we all love, a point of no return, and yet there were plenty within football who didn’t speak out against it.
Their silence is likely to be interpreted as compliance and it won’t be quickly forgotten.