Super League shelved as Atletico, Inter, Milan and Juve follow English exodus

Published April 22, 2021
Metal figures of football players are seen in front of the words “European Super League” and the UEFA logo in this illustration taken April 20. - Reuters
Metal figures of football players are seen in front of the words “European Super League” and the UEFA logo in this illustration taken April 20. - Reuters

LONDON: The two Milan giants, Juventus and Atletico Madrid followed all six English Premier League clubs in pulling out of the European Super League on Wednesday under massive pressure from fans, politicians, football officials and even the British royals, leaving the new competition essentially extinct before it even started.

The withdrawals by Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur came just 48 hours after the league’s unveiling late on Sunday amid an escalating backlash from their supporters and warnings from the government that legislation could be introduced to thwart them.

The three Italian clubs involved — Juventus, AC Milan and Inter Milan — admitted defeat and La Liga leaders Atletico also pulled out.

Real Madrid and Barcelona — the last of the initial group of 12 clubs to sign up — are still officially involved.

The Super League project was overseen by Real Madrid president Florentino Perez, who promoted it as a way to save football and the clubs struggling financially amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Neither Real nor Barca commented after the rest of the clubs abandoned the project. There was some internal pressure on the Catalan club, however, after outspoken captain Gerard Pique made his view clear.

“Football belongs to the fans. Today more than ever,” he wrote on Twitter early Wednesday.

Barca coach Ronald Koeman avoided the subject but said he agreed with Pique’s tweet. Barca’s presence in the new league was always conditioned on a vote by its general assembly.

La Liga planned to continue their campaign against the Super League with various actions and messages during matches on Wednesday and Thursday. Defending league champion Real were playing at Cadiz later on Wednesday.

Founder and Juventus chairman Andrea Agnelli said he was reluctantly calling time on the new league. Agnelli said he still believed in the merits of the Super League despite the overwhelming criticism and had no regrets about how the breakaway had been conducted.

“I remain convinced of the beauty of that project,” Agnelli said, adding that it would have been the best competition in the world.

Juventus themselves stopped short of saying the league was dead but said they recognised there were limited chances of the project being completed in the form originally conceived.

The Italian club said in a statement that it was aware certain clubs intended to leave but they had yet to complete the necessary procedures under the Super League agreement.

Milan were one the main drivers behind the plans, having missed out on the Champions League for the past seven seasons.

The seven-time European champions said change was necessary due to the changing football landscape but admitted they “must be sensitive to the voice of those who love this wonderful sport”.

Atletico said their decision was made after the board of directors met on Wednesday. The Spanish club said it decided to formally communicate the Super League and the rest of the founding clubs its decision not to formalise its participation in the project.

Atletico said the “circumstances that allowed them to join the new league on Monday no longer existed today”.

“For the club, harmony is essential for everyone involved in the Red and White family, especially our fans, it said. The first team squad and its coach showed satisfaction with the clubs decision, understanding that sporting merits must prevail over any other criteria.”

Atletico fans had been expected to stage a protest before the home match against Huesca in La Liga on Thursday.

“I knew the club would make the right decision and that’s what happened,” Atletico coach Diego Simeone said. “This is good for everyone.”

Inter said the club was committed to delivering the best football experience for fans because “innovation and inclusion have been part of our DNA since our foundation”.

“Our commitment with all stakeholders to improve the football industry will never change” the Italian club said. “Inter believe that football, like any sector of activity, must have an interest in constantly improving its competitions in order to continue to excite fans of all ages all over the world, within a framework of financial sustainability.”

The Super League was intended to be a 20-team competition with 15 founding members guaranteed a spot every season and five other teams rotating in and out. The lack of relegation for the founding members raised concerns about the consequences for smaller clubs in the domestic leagues around the continent.

The Super League argued it would increase revenue for the top clubs in Europe and allow them to distribute more money to the rest of the game.

However, the sport’s governing bodies, other teams and fan organisations said the league would only boost the power and wealth of elite clubs, and that the partially closed structure went against European football’s long-standing model.

Players, fans, pundits and politicians celebrated the U-turns of the English teams on Tuesday that left the league in tatters and pushed other founding members to jump ship.

“This is the right result for football fans, clubs, and communities across the country. We must continue to protect our cherished national game,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said.

Liverpool’s principal owner John Henry apologised in a video on the club’s website and social media on Wednesday.

“It goes without saying but should be said that the project put forward was never going to stand without the support of the fans,” he said.

“I alone am responsible for the unnecessary negativity brought forward over the past couple of days. It’s something I won’t forget. And shows the power the fans have today and will rightly continue to have.”

Having triggered an enormous backlash, the Super League had said late on Tuesday it would reconsider and look to “reshape” the project, while stopping short of throwing in the towel.

The Super League clubs were threatened with a ban from domestic and European football, while their players could even have been barred from representing their countries.

UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin struck a conciliatory tone on Wednesday, saying he wanted to “rebuild the unity” of European football, and described the English clubs as “back in the fold”.

“I said yesterday that it is admirable to admit a mistake and these clubs made a big mistake,” Ceferin said in a statement. “But they are back in the fold now and I know they have a lot to offer not just to our competitions but to the whole of the European game. The important thing now is that we move on, rebuild the unity that the game enjoyed before this and move forward together.”

Shares in Juventus plunged by more than 13 percent on Wednesday following a slump in the value of Manchester United stocks.

Adding to the drama on Tuesday, Manchester United announced that executive vice-chairman Ed Wood­ward would step down from his role at the end of 2021.

Published in Dawn, April 22nd, 2021

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