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The European Super League (ESL), the breakaway, exclusive competition planned by some of the biggest clubs in European football, is in jeopardy after all six participating English Premier League clubs announced they would be withdrawing.
In the early hours of April 21, when most Singaporeans were asleep, the first cracks started to form when Chelsea announced they were “preparing documentation” to withdraw from the ESL.
The development was tweeted by Dan Roan, the BBC’s Sports Editor.
I understand Chelsea are now preparing documentation to request withdrawing from the ESL
— Dan Roan (@danroan) April 20, 2021
Big clubs back down
Then Manchester City became the first club to formally announce they were quitting the ESL.
The club released a short statement on its website:
“Manchester City Football Club can confirm that it has formally enacted the procedures to withdraw from the group developing plans for a European Super League.”
Then one by one, the other clubs in the self-proclaimed “Big Six” of the Premier League announced they were also pulling out.
Liverpool FC’s statement was similarly curt and to the point:
“Liverpool Football Club can confirm that our involvement in proposed plans to form a European Super League has been discontinued.
In recent days, the club has received representations from various key stakeholders, both internally and externally, and we would like to thank them for their valuable contributions.”
Manchester United’s statement was a little longer, but not much:
“Manchester United will not be participating in the European Super League.
We have listened carefully to the reaction from our fans, the UK government and other key stakeholders.
We remain committed to working with others across the football community to come up with sustainable solutions to the long-term challenges facing the game.”
Reports also emerged that its much-maligned executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward would also leave the club.
Arsenal and Tottenham offer apologies
Meanwhile, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur took the additional step of apologising to their fans.
Arsenal’s statement was titled “An open letter to our fans”, and included, “As a result of listening to you and the wider football community over recent days we are withdrawing from the proposed Super League. We made a mistake, and we apologise for it.”
Tottenham’s statement included an apology from chairman Daniel Levy, who said, “We regret the anxiety and upset caused by the ESL proposal.”
Chelsea then rounded it off with their own statement confirming its withdrawal from the ESL.
Without the participation of the German and English clubs, it is difficult to see how the ESL can continue. The ESL released a statement “reconsidering the appropriate steps”.
#SuperLeague official statement 🚨
“We are reconsidering the appropriate steps, in order to reshape the project”.
“We’re proposing a new competition, because current one isn’t working. English clubs have been forced to leave, due to outside pressure”.
It’s gonna be suspended. pic.twitter.com/2GWXSVhTr4
— Fabrizio Romano (@FabrizioRomano) April 20, 2021
Near universal backlash
The withdrawal caps a remarkable couple of days for European football, still madly popular in Singapore.
The sudden announcement of the plans for the ESL was met with widespread condemnation and backlash.
Most of the criticism focused on the lack of fair competition for the 15 permanent members, and the impact that ESL participation would have on the domestic leagues.
Sanctions and punishments were threatened, with docked points and banning players from international tournaments being called for.
Tribal loyalties and rivalries were forgotten, as football personalities of all stripes stood shoulder-to-shoulder to voice their disapproval at the move.
Liverpool fans arrive at Anfield to protest against European Super League plans https://t.co/UmLnBmV1VT pic.twitter.com/7Ycu1Eu5VT
— Mirror Football (@MirrorFootball) April 19, 2021
The Chelsea protests outside Stamford Bridge. Brings a tear to my eye ❤️ pic.twitter.com/ycyt7gIMFy
— Elliot Hackney (@ElliotHackney) April 20, 2021
Football icons of the past, from Gary Neville to Jamie Carragher to Ian Wright to Alan Shearer to Arsene Wenger and Sir Alex Ferguson spoke up against the move.
Current managers like Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp and Manchester City’s Pep Guardiola also voiced their displeasure.
Current players, including Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson and Manchester United’s Bruno Fernandes also spoke up.
Even UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson slammed the move, calling it a “cartel”.
While the crisis for English football may have been averted for now, the underlying tensions that caused the big clubs to plan a breakaway league in the first place remain to be addressed.
UK’s Leader of the Opposition, Sir Keir Starmer called for fan ownership, based on the German model, as a possible solution.
Top image from Getty Images.