The European Super League, or ESL, was announced to the widespread bemusement of the footballing world on Sunday April 18. By Wednesday 21 the project appeared to be dead in the water, despite Real Madrid and erstwhile ESL president Florentino Pérez claiming otherwise.
Heralded as an alternative to the Champions League by its twelve founding members – AC Milan, Arsenal, Atlético Madrid, FC Barcelona, Chelsea, Inter Milan, Juventus, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Real Madrid and Tottenham – the project was subjected to such vehement criticism from all sides, from apoplectic fans of both the founding and all other clubs, to angry former players and disbelieving media pundits, that ten of the twelve had officially withdrawn their support within days. Amid all the hullabaloo, one word stood out: greed.
The six English clubs involved decided to step back and abandon the project on Tuesday 20, and the following day the Milan clubs and Atlético Madrid did the same. That left only Real Madrid, Juve and Barça. The reasons the Catalan media and the club itself have cited for Barça to stay are that they see changes to European competitions and the way in which money is distributed as unavoidable. Although new Barça president Joan Laporta sees the ESL as dead, the club believes that after a period of reflection the founders will be able to negotiate future competitions with UEFA. Laporta has said he is willing to act as mediator between official bodies and clubs that are committed to change, while Barça have also insisted that they will abandon the project if the members do not support it.
Most of the clubs that resigned from the ESL apologised to their fans in the following days, and Spanish teams that had been left out of the project took to the field with shirts bearing slogans denouncing the new competition. Javier Tebas, president of La Liga, took advantage of the project’s failure to attack its founders, and especially Florentino Pérez. “The Super League has made its promoters look like fools. They have shown a great ignorance of what the industry and football fans are all about. I don’t feel betrayed because I’ve been in this world for years and I know the selfishness of some clubs. Will I call Florentino? He’s the one who has to call and give explanations to the other clubs. He’s the one who has disrespected La Liga by doing things in secret. Should the presidents involved resign? They will have to consider it.”
Meanwhile, seemingly oblivious to the venom his comments were attracting in the world of football, and especially from what have now come to be called “legacy fans”, as opposed to “fans of the future”, Pérez said, “We’re going to continue working on it. The project is on standby,” reiterating his view that the ESL was created “to save football”. The Real Madrid president also previously said the move had been made because young people were “no longer interested in football” due to there being “a lot of poor quality games”, adding that he was “sad and disappointed” by the reaction to the project, which the clubs had been working on “for around three years.”
Aleksander Ceferin, UEFA president, criticised Pérez and exonerated Laporta with regard to the initiative. “Everyone has disappointed me to a certain extent, but I have to say that perhaps Barcelona is the one that has disappointed me the least,” he said. “Laporta was under a lot of pressure due to the financial situation the club was in after Bartomeu left,” Ceferin argued.
This article replaces Barney’s usual update on Catalonia’s leading football clubs, which will return next month.