A Drama of 72 Hours: Lessons to be learnt from the failed European Super League
Updated: Jul 28, 2022
Written by: Subhrajit Chanda and Kingshuk Saha
The biggest teams of European football were set to break off and create their own “Super League”, which was a widely controversial and criticized move by the world. The world of football was rocked when the breakaway Super League announcement was made. This league featured the most elite clubs of Europe: Arsenal FC, Chelsea FC, Liverpool FC, Manchester United FC, Manchester City FC and Tottenham Hotspur FC from England, Atletico Madrid, FC Barcelona and Real Madrid from Spain and AC Milan, Internazionale and Juventus FC from Italy. This move was set to change the world of football forever. However, even before this could have taken off the ground, it failed badly. The entire fiasco lasted for nearly seventy-two hours, where several clubs withdrew from the League within forty-eight hours of confirming their participation in it. This project was majorly impacted by the high-profile opposition from many prominent personalities and the pressure of support within this sport, including FIFA and UEFA. In the following parts, an attempt has been made to shed light on the 72-hour drama that unfolded in April 2021 (Siregar, 2021).
The 72-hour fiasco
The European Super League’s fall began just a little after it emerged and acted as a domino effect. This project dominated the news globally, and not just the football world, but from being a threat to bringing a radical change to the game, it was nearly disintegrated within a matter of 72 hours (Clarke, 2021). To understand the rise and fall of this “doomed breakaway project”, it is crucial to look at what happened in these seventy-two hours.
Meetings of Florentino Perez
Even though the exact origin of the plan to create the European Super League is not known, since this was a matter that had been discussed for many years in different quarters, one can still trace it down to the recent meeting that was undertaken at a secret location in Madrid during April 2021. The face and brain of European Super League operation, Florentino Perez, who is also the president of Real Madrid, met with four people, Tottenham Hotspur’s representative, Gil Anas Laghari, a Key Capital partner, which was behind the investment of this project, and Miguel Angel the CEO of Atletico Madrid. Perez wanted to go ahead with his desires of the new Bernabeu stadium hosting more than a mere handful of big European games per year and was determined to proceed irrespective of what happened. In his view, the announcement had to be made before the confirmation was made by the UEFA regarding the new Champions League format. To do so, he brought on board, Gil Martin and told him to chose either Sevilla or Atleti (Cerezo, 2021).
Joan Laporta, the Barcelona president also met Perez during this time and followed Josep Maria Bartomeu, his predecessor, to back plans of Perez, and also wanted to run the issue by his club members. This was majorly owing to the fear of missing out since the other clubs were involved in Perez’s plans and Laporta saw the Super League as being a readymade solution to the financial problems being faced by Blaugrana. The main documents were exchanged by Saturday and a video conference, hosted through Zoom, was held by the presidents of twelve clubs. As soon as UEFA got a whiff of this plot, Andrea Agnelli, the president of Juventus, received a call from Aleksander Ceferin, where he was lied about the entire situation, claiming that the same was a mere rumour (Jackson, 2021).
The deadline that was set for handing in the necessary documents and confirmation of the twelve-club participating was set as Sunday morning. This was despite Manchester City having a lot of doubts about the entire league. Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern Munich could not be convinced by the group to get on board and yet they were determined enough to go ahead with it (Garner-Purkis, 2021). The main goal here was to bring out the announcement first and then make attempts at securing the support of the public and eventually moving on to win the legal battle that was inevitable in this case. The news had leaked by the early afternoon, with MARCA and The Times revealing that this announcement was set to be made. As a result of this leak, the national federations and the governing bodies like UEFA gave a pre-emptive response. By this time, the nerves of the Super 12 clubs were becoming evident and the English clubs became very anxious about the prospect of a public announcement before Monday. The official announcement was made finally at 00:20 (CET) post redrafting of the release twenty-six times. Each of the participating club’s website started showing the statement just 12 hours before the UEFA was set to publish its reforms related to the Champions League (PBC Desk, 2021).
The beginning of the fall
Just 10 minutes before going public, this brand-new legal entity contacted the Madrid courts and the objective of doing so was to block the possible sanctions, to ensure that any disputes that were raised in this regard, were to be resolved in Spain, instead of being resolved in Switzerland. Within no time, the LaLiga Santander clubs released their own statement, where they offered robust criticism of the plans (WION Web Team, 2021). They got support from other clubs, including ones from Leeds, and of some prominent players like James Milner and Ander Herrera. Perez made an appearance on El Chiringuito on Monday night as being the very first representative of the Super League (Varley, 2021). This first public appearance covered the message of saving football and the need for funds. However, this was fueled the rejection flames from its opponents (Deutsche Welle, 2021).
Come Tuesday, the Chelsea fans protested before the game they were playing against Brighton and this can be deemed as an iconic moment in the downfall of the League. This highlighted that there was no appetite among the fans for a new competition, especially in England. Even though the players from clubs were mostly quiet, some ‘liked’ the criticism that was being offered to these plans on social media. Meanwhile, in a bid to show a united force of opposition among the footballers themselves, Liverpool FC’s captain Jordan Henderson called for a meeting of the Premier League clubs’ captains. Soon after the meeting, Jordan Henderson and all the Liverpool FC players publicly stated their united opposition to the Super League. Even after that, Perez kept stating, on Tuesday, that no one would be leaving the newly formed league. He was to be proven wrong as hours later, the clubs starting developing cold feet and started to step back. The first one to go was Manchester City and by the end of the day, all of the six English clubs had bid adieu to the European Super League. Atletico Madrid and Inter, by Wednesday afternoon, did the same, followed by AC Milan. Even though Juventus kept on backing this idea, they too admitted defeat, with Barcelona and Real Madrid left standing behind (Goodman and Mello, 2021). Thus, in a matter of 72 hours, the ship of this epic project witnessed the fate of the Titanic.
Why create a new League?
The anger of fans is still understandable due to the loyalties they have to the already running leagues. However, the backlash that was faced by the European Super League from the UEFA and others was because of the possibility of this league taking away their profits. The key ingredient for the success of the new league was the television broadcasting money had they been successful in building competition by getting the best clubs in Europe (Birnbaum, 2021). It would have eliminated the Champions League’s predictability, particularly of the group stage. This would have left the fans uninterested in watching the games, which has been the recent problem for Champions League games. There is a need to understand that fans become jaded by watching the biggest clubs clash multiple times in a season. This is what the precursor European Cups and Champions League have been tapping on till now as they brought excitement with them (Football Whispers, 2021). This is one of the reasons why the Champions League was being modified, i.e., to keep the fans interested.
What is next for the Super League?
What happened with European Super League leaves little chances of it being revived. The fans had clearly shown that they did not like the very idea of this league and so it can be deemed as a nail in the coffin to this idea. Even though UEFA was able to deal with the threat posed by the new league, the storm of football has not passed till now (Robinson, 2021). A possible revival of this league, in case garners the support of fans, would mean that UEFA is in big trouble. At present, it was saved just because the fans did not like the idea of the clubs enriching themselves(Ward, 2021). But where they get bored of the present games, a change could always bring them to the other side of the table.
In the previous segments, the discussion highlighted the tale of the European Super League. This new league was in talks for many years but was brought forth in April 2021. The league was meant to overtake the Champions League and this is the reason why the same was announced before the Champions League was set to announce its new format. This is the reason why everything was fast-tracked, despite some participating clubs still being apprehensive. The result of this move was catastrophic as the fans did not appreciate the new league. The greed of the clubs was not welcomed, which ultimately led to the demise of the European Super League. What happened however in the 72 hours timeframe is a lesson for all.
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Jindal Global Law School; OP Jindal Global University
LLM, Sports Law, United Kingdom; International Scholarship
LLM Energy Law; BBA.LL. B (H), International Trade Law.
Founder and Managing Editor, Global Sports Policy Review; World's and India's First Multidisciplinary Sports Education Journal
Scholar, Symbiosis Law School Hyderabad
Asst Editor; Global Sports Policy Review.