From Sunday night through to Tuesday night, one event and headline dominated the world of sport above all others: the European Super League, the breakaway competition to rival – or replace – the Champions League.
A group of 12 clubs attempted to strong-arm a new competition into being, encased themselves as permanent benefactors and participants and asked that the football world fall into line accordingly.
They were met by a fury and a rejection by supporters of all clubs. Across a period of just 48 hours, the plans and hopes of those driving the wheel of change were left in tatters, amid backtracking and resignations, with undoubtedly more fallout yet for what is now being called a “toxic endeavour” ahead.
Here is the timeline of events of the rather brief history of The Super League.
The rumours started during the Manchester United vs Burnley match: a group of 12 clubs were planning to release a statement regarding a new Super League. This idea had been in the works for years, of course, but this was different – a formal declaration of intent.
At half-time, and again at full-time, Gary Neville decried the “scandalous” plans and insisted the clubs should be docked points and fined.
It came late in the day, but it came. With Uefa set to announce their new Champions League plans on Monday, The Super League came into being just before the end of the weekend. A statement, a website, 12 club names – Real Madrid, Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, Juventus, Inter Milan, AC Milan, Liverpool, Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Tottenham and Arsenal – and little more was offered beyond the facts of the founders receiving a share of a £3bn fund and a permanent place at the table.
It didn’t take long before the anger began, from all angles.
The Premier League declared that clubs involved could face bans and that a super league would “destroy” the premise of open competition, while the UK government suggested they would do all they could to prevent the breakaway competition from going ahead, including demanding back Covid payments made to the likes of Arsenal and Tottenham.
Uefa did indeed list out their new format for the Champions League on Monday, which included an increase to 36 teams, the group stage being replaced by a single league phase and two places going to the clubs with the highest coefficients in the past few seasons.
The off-pitch impacts started to become apparent as the Manchester United share price jumped on the news of their ESL involvement, while Juventus’ climbed even higher – up to a 13 per cent rise.
More football faces started to have their say too, though – in a nearly unanimous display of disapproval. Alan Shearer demanded the “big six” be kicked out of the Premier League, while Jamie Carragher said fans should “march on stadiums” to signal their rejection of the competition.
Broadcaster BT Sport, meanwhile, suggested the new competition would have a “damaging effect” on the health of the game at domestic level – though given their status as Champions League rights holders, it wasn’t difficult to imagine an ulterior motive there, at least.
With three “founder” spots still to be filled, Bayern Munich insisted they would not be joining the Super League group, with Borussia Dortmund following suit. Fans were having their say over the clubs who were involved too, mostly questioning why a club with as little historical European standing as Tottenham would be included in the first place.
One Uefa delegate, meanwhile, claimed the clubs still left in European competition would be kicked out – meaning exits for Champions League semi-finalists Chelsea, Man City and Real Madrid.
Meanwhile, there was a match coming up.
Liverpool, one of the six Premier League clubs involved, played Leeds on Monday night. Manager Jurgen Klopp spoke before and after the game, clashing with Sky’s Neville but also making clear he remained against the Super League.
Similarly, captain on the night James Milner was unequivocal: “I don’t like it and hopefully it doesn’t happen.”
Leeds players wore T-shirts protesting the breakaway in the warm-up and it was later confirmed that the rest of the 14 sides were planning to do the same.
Politicians got involved, naturally. Keir Starmer suggested English football needed to try a German line of ownership model, while Boris Johnson threatened to immediately implement legislation to stop domestic clubs joining the breakaway group. Royal disdain came in the form of the Duke of Cambridge hitting out.
Players continued to make their feelings known, with Marcus Rashford tweeting a photo of Man United’s “football is nothing without fans” banner, while teammate Luke Shaw later posted his opposition too and Man City’s Kevin de Bruyne followed suit.
On the continent, some weren’t on the same page: PSG opposed the plans driven by “self-interest”, even as Real Madrid president Florentino Perez extolled the virtues of more money. And potentially shorter matches of football.
Back at home, the northwest took centre stage.
Liverpool’s legendary manager Bill Shankly has a statue outside the stadium, but his grandson said he’d happily see it taken away due to the club’s abandonment of Shanks’ ethos and beliefs. Neighbourly rivals Everton lambasted the “preposterous arrogance” of the entire thing – but The Super League perhaps drew its first death-rattle breath in Pep Guardiola’s pre-match press conference.
There, the Man City boss dismissed its relevance entirely: “It’s not a sport if you cannot lose”, he said.
Presenter Gary Lineker, meanwhile, promised never to work on the Super League if it got off the ground.
It all unravelled fast.
Chelsea’s Tuesday night game against Brighton was held up as fans stopped the team bus from arriving at the stadium. Petr Cech was forced to intervene to get the side into Stamford Bridge, but the thousands outside protesting their club’s involvement was the final straw.
Within minutes, Chelsea’s exit from The Super League was rumoured, confirmed and announced.
Manchester City followed in quick order, as perhaps years of planning came to a rapid and embarrassing end across social media and outside Stamford Bridge – the City hierarchy, perhaps, not wanting a repeat on Wednesday when they travelled to face Aston Villa.
Fans, there is no question, were absolutely loving the demise of those who sought to control and enforce their unwanted will.
Arsene Wenger suggested he was unsurprised at the collapse and said he “never believed” it would last long.
The fallout was only just beginning, however, with Manchester United executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward next.
Although United suggested his resignation was unrelated to the Super League.
And, to circle back to 24 hours earlier, the Liverpool squad took to social media en masse, posting their absolute rejection of the Super League, telling the club “we don’t like it and we don’t want it to happen”.
More will unquestionably follow and there could yet be repercussions for the dozen who began it all, a rather eventful two days ago, but already it seems to be the beginning of the end for the not-so-Super League after all.