The brief life and spectacular fall of the Super League
It’s like choosing your favorite child, isn’t it? But the Super League packed so much news into such a brief existence that we felt it necessary to tell its tale in the order it happened, a chronology to be placed in the time capsule that also contains calamitous failures like New Coke, the Fyre Festival and the ESPN Phone.
Sunday, April 18
The news began to break Sunday morning on the U.S. East Coast.
UEFA, European soccer’s governing body, was quick to register its displeasure with the breakaway league, calling it “a cynical project” and promising that the rebel clubs would be banned from playing at the domestic, European or international level.
It was early afternoon in Europe, the day’s matches were underway and the outcry already was building. Sky Sports commentator Gary Neville, who had a lengthy playing career for breakaway team Manchester United, was among the most prominent voices of dissent early on.
Less than eight hours after the news broke, the controversy was such that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson felt the need to weigh in on Twitter.
Despite the building furor, on Sunday evening the 12 rebel teams began officially announcing their intention to create the Super League, with Liverpool’s tweet posted at 6:21 p.m. Eastern.
Monday, April 19
By the time most people woke up Monday morning on either side of the Atlantic, the furor over the Super League was in full bloom. Johnson continued to press the attack, promising English soccer officials and fan groups that his government would take legal action against the rebel English teams.
UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin, meanwhile, referred to the breakaway teams as “snakes.”
UEFA announced that the Champions League group stage would be expanding to 36 teams in 2024, among other format tweaks seen as efforts to boost revenue. The changes had been in the works but were also seen as a direct response to any sort of challenge from a breakaway competition.
Anger continued to grow. Liverpool’s Premier League match at Leeds United was marked by protests by fans of both clubs. Leeds United players warmed up in shirts bearing the message, “Football is for the fans.” A Champions League T-shirt emblazoned with “Earn it” was placed in Liverpool’s dressing room. Liverpool Manager Jurgen Klopp, a previous critic of efforts to launch a new competition, was left after the match to reveal that he had barely been informed of the situation by his own club:
The breakaway teams had mostly kept quiet apart from their official announcements. But on Monday night in Europe, Real Madrid President Florentino Pérez — an ardent supporter of the Super League who had been named its chairman — mounted a defensive charge by airing his grievances with the current Champions League setup during an appearance on a Spanish talk show.
Tuesday, April 20
By Tuesday it became clear that the actual players and coaches had not been consulted by the Super League teams and that they weren’t fond of the idea. Manchester City Manager Pep Guardiola, one of the world’s best, lashed out at the idea that soccer teams could be guaranteed spots in an elite tournament without earning their position.
Chelsea, one of the Super League hopefuls, had a Premier League game Tuesday against Brighton. By this point, European soccer fans were in full froth, and the Blues’ supporters blocked both teams from entering the Stamford Bridge grounds in London, delaying the start of the game. Petr Cech, a legendary Chelsea goalkeeper who now is a club official, had to plead with the fans to let them through.
At around this point, it became painfully clear that the Super League clubs were in an untenable position. Soon, the retreat had begun and each team began to distance themselves from the idea. The Super League was dead, less than 48 hours after its official birth.
Wednesday, April 21
In a video message released Wednesday, Liverpool owner said he John Henry was very, very sorry about all of this.
The Super League’s collapse was big news in the Spanish sports dailies.
These shirts will be collectors’ items one day:
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