It's a Guy Thing

The Hottest 48 Hours in Football

It’s not unusual for European soccer to make the headlines in April, as the domestic leagues and major cup competitions reach the final stages. But Sunday 18th April saw the start of a crazy couple of days that dominated the news like never before. It was the start of a frantic 48hours that saw 12 clubs withdrawing from UEFA to form their own, breakaway European Super League (ESL). It’s fair to say, it did not end well.

What were the plans?

The official announcement came at 11pm BST, confirming rumours that the so-called ‘big six’ of English football, Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham, were set to form a new European competition of their own. They would be joined by Spanish sides Atletico Madrid, Barcelona and Real Madrid, and Italian clubs AC Milan, Inter Milan and Juventus. A further three sides were expected to join them, with five more places ultimately available on merit.

The new European Super League (ESL) would host regular mid-week games, but there would be no risk of relegation for the founding clubs. The big-money motivation and the lack of competition were the two biggest problems for the proposal. What would be the point of paying to watch the games, having a flutter on sports betting or even checking the scores if the outcome is so meaningless?

What was the reaction?

Fans have been fed up with the influence of money in football for a long time. Outrageous player salaries, ever rising ticket prices and games moved around to suit TV schedules have riled supporters, and the blatant greed behind this proposal was the final straw.

The reaction was immediate and damning, not just across the footballing world but far beyond. The matter was even raised in the UK parliament, with Culture Secretary, Oliver Dowden, pledging that the Government would “put everything on the table to prevent this from happening”. The footballing authorities went further, with UEFA and FIFA threatening to ban the players involved from domestic and European competition, as well as preventing them from representing their national sides.

The UEFA President, Aleksander Ceferin, described the plans as “disgraceful and self-serving” and a “spit in the face of football lovers”. As players past and present, and even managers like Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp, joined the furore, it quickly became clear that the move had been made by the money men, with no consultation with the fans or the actual teams involved.

What happened next?

The ESL managed to achieve something that many thought impossible. They united fans of all clubs with the football authorities and even national governments. Long held rivalries were put aside as the game joined together to voice their stern opposition, and the pressure soon told.

By Tuesday evening, less than 48hours after the game-changing announcement, Manchester City and Chelsea announced that they were leaving the ESL. By the next morning, all six of the English clubs had pulled out, and by lunchtime they had been joined by three more. Despite Juventus Chairman, Andrea Agnelli claiming that the ESL “still had a 100% chance of success”, the idea was dead in the water.

Where do we go from here?

The owners of the clubs involved have been falling over themselves to apologise, claiming that they have listened to their fans and responded accordingly. Liverpool owner, John W Henry, was at pains to point out that the manager and players were not involved, in an attempt to deflect the anger away from them.

Yet ironically, it was not consulting the fans in the first place that led to this debacle. All the apologies in the world will not stop supporters feeling betrayed by their clubs who sold them out on the promise of a share of £3.5bn ($4.8bn) from ESL backers Morgan Stanley. Manchester United legend Sir Matt Busby once said that ‘football is nothing without the fans’, and the twelve breakaway clubs now have a huge job on their hands to win those fans back.