How the Super League almost broke football, only to die 48 hours later
Frantic phone calls and firm denials then panic as the news broke… but 48 hours later the Super League was DEAD: The hour-by-hour breakdown of how greedy owners tried and failed to make billions by ruining football
- The European Super League has been crushed after England’s big clubs quit
- Mass pull-outs were sparked by rows with fans, Government and within football
- The Premier League’s ‘Big Six’ clubs faced the boot from the Premier League
- Collapse will cost clubs millions after they signed binding contracts
- Secret plans for Super League were worked on last week behind UEFA’s backs
In the space of just 48 hours, the JP Morgan-backed European Super League went from being primed to end football as we know it to meeting its own end in a flurry of big-name clubs pulling out.
‘Betrayals’, ‘snakes’, ‘liars’ – this saga has torn the sport apart, killed relationships between executives who were close friends and will end up costing the teams involved millions in lost revenue as well as the trust of the public and their fans.
The Super League was a multi-billion dollar idea, years in the making before a row that escalated this week involving football’s most powerful men, the Government, the royal family and the fans who helped bring it down.
Here, Sportsmail breaks down how the Super League built up through secrecy and subterfuge – and then fell apart in a fury.
THURSDAY, APRIL 15
Manchester United chief executive Ed Woodward calls UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin, telling him he’s happy with and supports plans to reform the Champions League and expand from 32 teams to 36.
Woodward, Ceferin says, had in fact already signed a contract to break away and form the Super League. The conversation drifts from backing UEFA’s plans to Financial Fair Play rules, with no hint of discontent from the United end.
At this point, United, Liverpool, Juventus, Real Madrid and Barcelona lead a group that also includes Tottenham, Arsenal, AC Milan and Inter Milan.
Manchester United chief executive Ed Woodward (left) didn’t tell UEFA of the Super League plot, which collapsed on Tuesday night as Chelsea led the pull-outs (pictured right, Chelsea chairman Bruce Buck)
FRIDAY, APRIL 16
It’s a big day for UEFA, with their competitions’ committee and the European Clubs Association (ECA) meeting to finalise plans for the Champions League revamp they have spent months arranging.
The ECA meet, with all 12 of the to-be Super League clubs involved, and ‘set aside’ their differences over distribution of prize money – or at least that’s what they told UEFA.
It’s agreed that the final plans will be rubber-stamped on Monday and the meetings end with UEFA confident they have found an agreement. But they were wrong…
With the Super League still a secret, law firm Clifford Chance apply for a trademark for ‘The Super League’ and their new logo in Germany. The clubs are preparing to break cover but it all remains hush-hush for now.
Chelsea and Manchester City agree to join the rebel group and, with that, the 12 teams are strong enough to go it alone – even though the French and German champions PSG and Bayern Munich haven’t signed up.
Applications for a ‘The Super League’ trademark were made as early as last Friday
SATURDAY, APRIL 17
Juventus chairman Andrea Agnelli speaks with Ceferin. The UEFA president has heard murmurs of a breakaway Super League plot – mooted for years but rarely advanced upon – and wants to speak to someone he trusts.
Ceferin is the godfather to Agnelli’s daughter and the two have worked closely together on the plans for the Champions League changes.
But Agnelli tells his friend: ‘Don’t worry, nothing is going on, I’ll call you in an hour.’ He switches his phone off. There is no further contact.
Andrea Agnelli and Aleksander Ceferin were close before the Juventus man’s ‘betrayal’
SUNDAY, APRIL 18
The WhatsApp group made up of chiefs of the ECA clubs across Europe lights up – they are becoming aware of the betrayal of the Super League.
Agnelli is the ECA’s chairman but is also leading the push away from European football’s traditional structure. It’s behaviour that will later see Ceferin call him ‘a snake’.
By now, rumours are publicly circulating about a Super League. Martin Samuel’s report on MailOnline reveals an announcement is coming that evening.
The 12 clubs take a vow of silence. Journalists’ questions aren’t answered and nothing is said.
Elsewhere, there’s panic. UEFA, the Premier League and a host of other bodies release statements threatening breakaway clubs with expulsion from competitions, blocks on players playing for their national teams ahead of this summer’s European Championship.
Gary Lineker posts on Twitter: ‘If this is true it will have huge ramifications on the game. Huge.’ He later adds: ‘Football is nothing without its fans. We’ve seen that clearly over the last 12 months.
‘If fans stand as one against this anti-football pyramid scheme, it can be stopped in its tracks.’
The criticism is rolling in. Gary Neville, commentating on Manchester United’s game against Burnley for Sky Sports, switches into a rant while the game is still going on.
‘The Premier League should be deducted points this season from the big six clubs,’ he says. ‘To do it during the season, it’s a joke. It is an absolute scandal. Manchester United and the rest of the big six clubs should be ashamed of themselves.’
Jamie Carragher, working on the same game, calls his former club Liverpool an ’embarrassment’. Sportsmail’s Micah Richards labels the plans ‘an absolute disgrace’ and Roy Keane says it all ‘comes down to money, greed’.
But it’s far from just a football debate. Boris Johnson calls The Super League ‘very damaging’, Kier Starmer rails against it too.
Manchester United icon Gary Neville blasted the proposed plan as an ‘absolute scandal’
Two hours later than billed, the clubs release simultaneously release statements.
It reads: ‘Twelve of Europe’s leading football clubs have today come together to announce they have agreed to establish a new mid-week competition, the Super League, governed by its Founding Clubs.’
Despite the Premier League’s expulsion threat, the clubs say they want to remain in their domestic competitions while ditching the Champions League. The will be 20 teams, with two more joining the ‘founders’ and five qualifying through merit each season.
Real Madrid’s Florentino Perez is the chairman, Italian power-broker Agnelli is a vice-chairman along with Man United’s American owner Joel Glazer.
United, bizarrely, don’t tweet about their involvement. But all 12 clubs publicly announce their involvement. The feedback from fans online is deafeningly negative.
Agnelli conceded defeat after Premier League Big Six pulled out of the controversial project
MONDAY, APRIL 19
If anyone wasn’t taking the Super League seriously, they are now. The 12 clubs send a letter to FIFA and UEFA, issuing notice of legal proceedings in European courts to block any sanctions they try to place on them.
Meanwhile, Agnelli leads the ECA exodus. He resigns, so does Woodward. Representatives of every Super League club quit.
Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich confirm they won’t be joining the Super League, they are sticking by the ECA’s agreements and following the wishes of their fans.
Amid the furore, Tottenham sack Jose Mourinho. What would usually be one of the biggest stories around will barely make the back pages that night.
PSG’s former Manchester United midfielder Ander Herrera is the first footballer to publicly speak out against the Super League. He says it will ‘end dreams’.
Mesut Ozil, the former Arsenal playmaker now at Fenerbahce, also speaks out. In the wider football world there are dissenting voices from Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger. But players and managers at the clubs involved stay silent.
Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel is first up to comment on the Super League, being quizzed on it at his press conference before their Tuesday night game against Brighton.
‘I trust my club to make the right decisions, I think it is too early to judge…’, he says. Most managers take a similar fence-sitting position and suggest the big questions are directed at their employers. Chelsea end Tuchel’s newspaper briefing after one question with reporters refusing to stop asking about the Super League.
Man United’s Bruno Fernandes is the first Super League star to speak out against it, posting: ‘Dreams can’t be bought’ in an Instagram post, while sharing the sentiments of Wolves winger Daniel Podence.
Podence had posted about some of the Champions League’s most famous moments, backing UEFA rather than the breakaway league.
Megastar Bruno Fernandes (left) became the first player from the breakaway clubs to publicly speak out against the proposals, saying: ‘Dreams can’t be bought’ (right)
Ceferin, by now absolutely fuming at the ‘betrayal’, holds a press call. Woodward and Agnelli are openly called out as ‘snakes’ and ‘liars’.
‘I was criminal lawyer for 24 years but I’ve never seen people like that,’ he says. The threats of being expelled from the Champions League, Europa League and domestic leagues are repeated.
‘Football is not all corrupt. Just a small part, led by greed and people who don’t care about anything else.’
The Government say they will do ‘whatever it takes’ to stop England’s Big Six clubs splitting off into a new league.
Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden tells the House of Commons: ‘But be in no doubt if they (football’s authorities) can’t act, we will. We will put everything on the table to prevent this from happening.
‘We will do whatever it takes to protect our national game.’
A threat of a ban on incoming foreign transfer moves is suggested.
But the Big Six are unmoved. One board member at one of the clubs involved tells Sky Sports News: ‘This is not a civil war, it’s a nuclear war. There are several board members at the six clubs who are opposed to joining the new league but they feel they do not have the power to stop it.’
Liverpool are preparing to face Leeds United in the Premier League under a cloud. At Elland Road, their team coach is chased by angry fans.
Manager Jurgen Klopp arrives at the ground and speaks to the TV cameras. He says he ‘doesn’t want’ a Super League split to happen. James Milner, Liverpool’s captain on the night, says he and his team-mates are against it after the game.
Neville and Carragher, by this point football’s loudest voices in the debate, spend the entirety of Sky’s Monday Night Football show tearing into the Super League and its clubs. Klopp, clearly irked by the whole topic, rows with Neville after the game.
Liverpool, for so long a club led by their connection with supporters, are now in direct conflict with their manager, players and supporters.
Jurgen Klopp was unhappy with comments made by Gary Neville on Liverpool’s participation
A Liverpool shirt is burned outside Elland Road on Monday night as fans railed against them
Perez, the head of the Super League and Real Madrid president, joins a popular late-night TV show in Spain.
In a head-nodding puff interview, the 74-year-old insists the Super League is an economic necessity for football. It will ‘save’ the sport, he says. Perez adds: ‘football will be dead by 2024’ if it doesn’t happen.
He also tells any wobbling clubs they cannot turn back now – ‘binding contracts’ have been signed.
Prince William warns of the damage the breakaway league could do to ‘the game we love’. He echoes much of the criticism by saying the ‘values of competition and fairness’ must be protected.
But the clubs still stay silent. Perez is the only chief to have spoken out, the English clubs keep their mouths firmly shut.
Prince William and Boris Johnson were both vocal in criticising the Super League
TUESDAY, APRIL 21
The first Super League cracks appear. MailOnline reveals two clubs – Chelsea and Manchester City – are wavering. Neville tweets that City are ‘most likely to crack’.
Later, German paper BILD report that Liverpool are uneasy over the backlash.
But Super League sources continue to brief that they believe there is little chance of teams pulling out.
Manchester City were among the clubs to wobble on Tuesday morning. Manager Guardiola and owner Sheikh Mansour are pictured
Everton are the first of the Premier League’s ‘other 14’ clubs to release a statement savaging the Super League Six. It talks of ‘subversive practices’ and slams the ‘self-proclaimed Super Six’ for their ‘preposterous arrogance’
Their owner, Farhad Moshiri, calls for the Premier League to deduct points off them in talkSPORT radio interview.
Other clubs will follow Everton’s lead throughout the day.
The Prime Minster tells the Premier League that a ‘legislative bomb’ should be dropped to stop the European Super League.
Johnson meets top flight chief executive Richard Masters for emergency talks and tells him he’ll do whatever it takes’ including possible competition law intervention and the introduction of ‘sports-specific legislation’.
The PM is scathing of the dirty half-dozen and, well aware that any moves to stop them will be popular, ramps up the pressure even more with the promise of a crackdown.
Pep Guardiola, the Manchester City manager, openly criticises the Super League in his press conference. The Catalan coach says it’s ‘not sport’ and demands that the presidents behind the ‘unfair’ plans explain themselves.
His players, it seems, quietly agree. Raheem Sterling leads a group who retweet Guardiola’s comments on Twitter, although they later delete their postings and revert to simply ‘liking’ them instead.
Marcus Rashford joins the dissenting voices, posting United legend Matt Busby’s famous quote ‘Football is nothing without fans’ on his Twitter timeline.
Mike Keegan’s MailOnline report on Jordan Henderson calling an emergency meeting of the Premier League captains is picked up widely. Lineker calls it ‘player power for good’.
Pep Guardiola hit out at the European Super League by insisting it is ‘not sport’ if winning and losing does not matter, with the proposals of a breakaway taking away relegation threat
Manchester City players Aymeric Laporte (left) and Benjamin Mendy (right) liked and retweeted a post from the club’s official account featuring Guardiola comments critical of the launch of the European Super League
The fall-out continues. Lineker says he’ll never work on the Super League if it gets off the ground. Broadcasters Sky, BT, Amazon and DAZN distance themselves from any talk of buying up the TV rights.
Pressure ramps up on Liverpool as the grandson of their legendary manager Bill Shankly says he wants his statue at Anfield pulled down over their abandoning of his ethos and beliefs.
Chelsea fans fill the streets in West London. Their banners call out owner Roman Abramovich and American chairman Bruce Buck for their greed, they sing songs of ‘f*** the Super League’, smoke bombs go off and they block the Fulham Road.
As time passes, the crowd grows. Police can’t prevent the roadblock of thousands of fans and it soon becomes apparent Chelsea’s team bus isn’t getting anywhere near Stamford Bridge for this game against Brighton at 8pm.
Chelsea director and club legend Petr Cech steps out to address the crowd. ‘We will sort this out. Let the people in, let the bus go in,’ he tells the fans. But the fury over the Super League sees even their greatest-ever goalkeeper called a ‘f***ing traitor’.
Petr Cech tries to reason with Chelsea supporters as thousands protest at Stamford Bridge
Suddenly, news trickles through to the fans that Chelsea are pulling out. Their supporters celebrate. Manchester City are next and Atletico Madrid are rumoured to be following as the dominos fall.
Woodward resigns, although United don’t confirm the news until much later.
City officially announce they are out. The first club to do so. It’s a short statement: ‘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.’
Liverpool, United, Arsenal and Tottenham all announce they are pulling out. Arsenal apologise to their supporters, the statements from United and Spurs don’t go that far, although Liverpool will follow the next morning.
Chelsea, otherwise occupied by a 0-0 draw with Brighton with Tuchel admitting the Super League issue was a distraction, release their statement. They’re out.
The Super League is in tatters. They make a statement saying they will ‘reshape the project’. It isn’t abandoned but with the English clubs gone, it’s dead in the water.
Just before 11pm on Tuesday night, United produced a statement confirming they pulled out
A Chelsea supporter holds up a flare as fans block the Fulham Road on Tuesday night
WEDNESDAY, APRIL 21
Liverpool’s American owner John W Henry issues a video apology, grovelling to supporters, Klopp and the players in a low-key address while wearing a gillet in a side room at the Boston Red Sox’s Fenway Park ballpark.
He later escapes and evades any questioning from reporters Stateside. Liverpool fans’ group Spirit of Shankly slam Henry’s ‘crocodile tears’ and say it’s ‘too little too late’. At Liverpool and Chelsea there are calls for executives’ heads from supporters.
The Super League’s founder admits defeat: Agnelli tells Reuters it’s all over – for now, at least.
Asked whether the project could still happen after the exits, Agnelli said: ‘To be frank and honest no, evidently that is not the case. I remain convinced of the beauty of that project. But admittedly I don’t think that that project is now still up and running.’
Later, his British ex-wife sticks the boot in, admiring how ‘beautiful’ it is that his European Super League ship had sunk.
MailOnline reveals each of the English ‘Big Six’ have lost £8million by pulling out and face more penalties for breaking their contracts. But by this point the clubs are just glad to escape more fury.
Atletico Madrid officially pull out. Inter Milan follow almost immediately after.
AC Milan join the exits. And then even Agnelli’s Juventus admit defeat and quit the Super League. Just Real Madrid and Barcelona remain.
Italian rivals Inter Milan (left – president Steven Zhang) and AC Milan (right – chief executive Ivan Gazidis) pulled out of the Super League earlier
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