Premier League six say sorry. But what now for the Super League rebels?

Man City’s decision to ditch the ESL came after even manager Pep Guardiola questioned the club’s decision to support it
Premier League six say sorry. But what now for the Super League rebels?

Chelsea former star goalkeeper and now technical advisor Petr Cech, at right, behind a line of policemen, tries to calm down fans protesting outside Stamford Bridge last night, against Chelsea’s decision to join a new European Super League. Just a few hours later Chelsea confirmed their intent to pull out of the project.  Picture: AP Photo/Matt Dunham

The European Super League is dead in the water just 48 hours after it was unveiled, with all six Premier League clubs pulling out following a remarkable night in which football fans, players, governing bodies and clubs united to defeat it.

Chelsea were first to suggest an intention to quit, before Manchester City made the first official announcement, revealing they had ‘formally enacted the procedures to withdraw" – and the rest of the pack collapsed behind them, weighted down by the weight of global opposition.

Arsenal, Tottenham, Liverpool and even Manchester United, who led the coup, all made a dramatic and embarrassing U-turn, with other clubs said to be wobbling, and the entire project became doomed to failure.

City’s decision to start the sorry retreat – greeted by a Tweet from Raheem Sterling which said simply “Ok, bye” - came after even manager Pep Guardiola questioned the club’s decision to support it, while Liverpool faced heavy criticism from within their own walls which made their position untenable.

Anfield legend and non-executive Kenny Dalglish turned the screw on Tuesday by Tweeting “I really hope we do the right thing” before captain Jordan Henderson, speaking on behalf of the entire squad, added: “We don’t like it, we don’t want it to happen. This is our collective position.” Liverpool response was to say their involvement in the proposed breakaway league "has been discontinued"

Manchester United then followed suit, claiming they had “listened carefully to the reaction from our fans, the UK government and other key stakeholders" in making their decision to not take part.” 

Arsenal, said to be one of the key instigators alongside United, were criticised by former manager Arsene Wenger and eventually apologised, saying they had "made a mistake". They, too, claimed they were withdrawing after listening to their fans and the wider football community, in a desperate bid to win back favour.

Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy, who even before Tuesday night was said to have been unnerved by the public response, said his club regretted the "anxiety and upset" caused by the proposal.

This morning, Liverpool owner added his personal apology, claiming the club had listened to fans. "We heard you. I heard you.”

In what became a whirlwind of statements, the Football Association was quick to welcome the decision of England’s six rebels to bow to public opinion and give up on their skullduggery.

It said: “We welcome news that some of the clubs have decided to abandon the plans for the European Super League which threatened the whole football pyramid. English football has a proud history based on opportunity for all clubs and the game has been unanimous in its disapproval of a closed league. It was a proposition that, by design, could have divided our game; but instead, it has unified us all. We would like to thank the fans in particular for their influential and unequivocal voice during this time, holding true the guiding principles of football. It is a powerful reminder that the game is, and always will be, for fans."

The question, of course, is what to do with the rebels now they have been caught red-handed, and UEFA president Aleksandar Ceferin began the unenviable task of trying to rebuild bridges after hearing of Manchester City’s early decision, saying: "I am delighted to welcome City back to the European football family. They have shown great intelligence in listening to the many voices - most notably their fans - that have spelled out the vital benefits that the current system has for the whole of European football. As I said at the Uefa Congress, it takes courage to admit a mistake but I have never doubted that they had the ability and common sense to make that decision."

He also hinted he was willing to work with City to improve European football, a carrot which suggests the rebels will not be jettisoned should they all return to the fold.

It was a particularly painful day for Manchester United, who have been taking bullets from Gary Neville and Rio Ferdinand all week, because they also announced that executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward will step down from his role at the end of the season. It had nothing to do with the breakaway, they insisted, but the timing was certainly poignant on a night when football’s biggest clubs buckled under the pressure of global ire.

The Glazer family, who own United and who by all accounts led the ESL coup, are left in a difficult position, especially as Manchester United shares plummeted in value on the New York Stock Exchange as the whole project began to fall apart.

The night was celebrated by 1,000 Chelsea fans, who were protesting outside Stamford Bridge ahead of their team’s game against Brighton when they heard the news that Roman Abramovich had ordered his club to begin procedures to pull out of the controversial breakaway. The cheers that went up were no less vociferous than if a goal had been scored in the Matthew Harding end, so it was ironic their side could manage only a goalless draw which damages their chances of finishing in the top for.

The suggestion is that both City and Chelsea were not original instigators of the ESL and only signed up late out of a fear of being left behind. The popular expression is they weren’t on the train, but they didn’t want to be let on the platform, either - although that’s exactly the kind of briefing you’d expect given the flak that has been heading their way. But there may be extra anger aimed at Arsenal, United and Liverpool in the coming weeks.

If supporters are happy at the collapse, however, it certainly doesn’t mean that the ill feeling towards football’s traitors is likely to go away.

In fact, the global deluge of anger which has rained down on the 12 clubs involved has been so intense, so united and so thunderous that the reputation of all the owners who conspired against their rivals are likely to face calls to resign or at the very least explain their actions.

The controversy managed to unite major political parties in the UK, with all announcing their opposition and Prime Minister Boris Johnson vowing to use legislative measures to stop the breakaway if need be, having earlier met members of the Football Supporters Association.

He later Tweeted a demand for all clubs to follow the lead of Chelsea and Manchester City, saying: "The decision by Chelsea and Manchester City is absolutely the right one and I commend them for it. I hope the other clubs involved in the European Super League will follow their lead."

In the end, they did exactly that – and the battle even saw old foes UEFA and FIFA batting on the same side in a bid to thwart the cloak and dagger breakaway which had been two years in the making after a series of secret meetings.

Anger from people across the football family centred not only on financial greed but also on the anti-competition structure of the proposed ESL which would see founder members unable to be relegated from the 20-team format.

"Sport is not sport when the relationship between effort and reward does not exist,” Guardiola said pointedly before City crumbled, fearing their global reputation was on the line after working so hard to build it.

It was a remarkable and fast-paced response on a day which began with Real Madrid president Florentino Perez, who was named as the ESL's chairman, bizarrely claiming the league was set up to ‘save football’ and AC Milan’s chief executive Ivan Gazidis saying the ESL would be "a new, exciting chapter for the game".

By the end of the night Perez’s belief that the project was ‘unstoppable’ had been proved emphatically wrong.

The European Super League is now gone, washed down the drain of history by the power of a global response against greed and selfishness. Now the only question is how messy the fallout will be.

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