The European Super League collapsed on Wednesday as eight of the 12 founding members from England, Italy and Spain abandoned the breakaway project under massive pressure from fans, politicians, soccer officials and even the British royals.
Founder and Juventus chairman Andrea Agnelli told Reuters he was reluctantly calling time on the new league after six English clubs withdrew on Tuesday, with Inter Milan and Atletico Madrid following suit and AC Milan indicating they would, too.
“The voices and the concerns of fans around the world have clearly been expressed about the Super League, and AC Milan must be sensitive to the voice of those who love this wonderful sport,” the Italian club said in a statement.
However, Real Madrid president Florentino Perez, the Super League chairman, struck a defiant tone, saying the project was not dead and he was still talking with AC Milan and remaining clubs Barcelona, Juventus and Real.
“The project is on stand-by,” Perez told Spanish radio program El Larguero. “We are going to keep working.
“I’m convinced that if this project doesn’t work another similar one will.”
Agnelli said he still believed in the merits of the Super League despite the overwhelming criticism and had no regrets about how the breakaway had been conducted.
“I remain convinced of the beauty of that project,” he told Reuters.
Juventus itself conceded there were limited chances of the project being completed in its original form.
The Italian club said in a statement that clubs that intended to leave had yet to complete the necessary procedures under the Super League agreement.
Agnelli quit on Sunday as chairman of the European Club Association (ECA), which represents over 200 clubs. The ECA said Paris St Germain president Nasser Al-Khelaifi would replace him, adding that recent events were a reminder that “owners are merely custodians of their clubs”.
The Super League argued it would increase revenue for the top soccer clubs in Europe and allow them to distribute more money to the rest of the game.
However, the sport’s governing bodies, other teams and fan organisations said the league would only boost the power and wealth of elite clubs, and that the partially closed structure went against European football’s long-standing model.
Players, fans, pundits and politicians celebrated the U-turns of the English teams on Tuesday that left the league in tatters and pushed other founding members to jump ship.
“This is the right result for football fans, clubs, and communities across the country. We must continue to protect our cherished national game,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said.
Britain’s Prince William, President of the English Football Association, who had criticised the planned breakaway, said in a signed tweet: “I’m glad the united voice of football fans has been heard and listened to.”
The founding members were Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur from England, AC Milan, Inter and Juventus from Italy and Spain’s Atletico Madrid, Barcelona and Real Madrid.
Barcelona had yet to comment on the Super League by late on Wednesday.
Two sources told Reuters the clubs that withdrew from the Super League could face break-up fees for backing out.
Inter Milan, Juventus and AC Milan will not be punished by the Italian Football Federation (FIGC) over their involvement in the Super League, FIGC chief Gabriele Gravina said.
Liverpool’s principal owner John Henry apologised in a video on the club’s website and social media on Wednesday.
“It goes without saying but should be said that the project put forward was never going to stand without the support of the fans,” he said.
“I alone am responsible for the unnecessary negativity brought forward over the past couple of days. It’s something I won’t forget. And shows the power the fans have today and will rightly continue to have.”
Manchester United’s co-chairman Joel Glazer apologised in an open letter to supporters for failing to show respect for the English game’s “deep-rooted traditions”.
“We continue to believe that European football needs to become more sustainable throughout the pyramid for the long-term. However, we fully accept that the Super League was not the right way to go about it,” Glazer wrote.
Having triggered an enormous backlash, the Super League had said late on Tuesday it would reconsider and look to “reshape” the project, while stopping short of throwing in the towel.
“What a beautiful day for football. Let’s keep playing, let’s keep fighting, let’s keep dreaming,” said Manchester City defender Benjamin Mendy.
The news dominated the front page of Wednesday’s newspapers in Britain.
“Defeat of Greed”, declared the Daily Mail’s front page headline while the i paper summed up the withdrawal as “Own Goal”.
The Daily Telegraph proclaimed a “victory for fans” while the Times said the clubs involved had bowed to “fan fury”.
A top official from the Council of Europe termed the project an unfortunate initiative and called on an inter-governmental sports coordination body to urgently discuss the ramifications of the proposed breakaway.
Amid celebrations over the collapse of the project, anger remained. Some pundits said the owners of the English teams would never be forgiven.
“They were going to sell the souls of our major football institutions,” said Liverpool great Graeme Souness.
“I don’t know how these clubs will manage to get back on-side.”