The plot to create a European Super League fizzled out on Wednesday, but the backlash quickly began with fans demanding resignations, rival teams calling for punishment and the British government announcing plans to weaken the power of team owners.
The scheme started to unravel late Tuesday after two days of unrelenting outrage over the project, which would have created a North American-style soccer league with revenue-sharing and salary caps. Fans, politicians and sport governing bodies across Europe derided the league as a direct attack on the traditions of European soccer and a crass money-grab by billionaire owners.
By Wednesday morning, nine of the 12 teams involved in the alliance – including all six from the English Premier League – had pulled out, and the main proponent, Juventus chairman Andrea Agnelli, acknowledged it was over. “I remain convinced of the beauty of that project,” Agnelli told Reuters. “But admittedly … I mean, I don’t think that that project is now still up and running.”
Some of the ringleaders begged for forgiveness in an effort to win back fan support. “I want to apologize to all the fans and supporters of Liverpool Football Club for the disruption I caused over the past 48 hours,” Liverpool’s principal owner John Henry said in a video posted on the club’s website Wednesday. “I alone am responsible for the unnecessary negativity brought forward over the past couple of days. It’s something I won’t forget.”
In an open letter to supporters, Manchester United’s co-owner Joel Glazer wrote: “You made very clear your opposition to the European Super League, and we have listened. We got it wrong, and we want to show that we can put things right.”
But forgiveness was in short supply as supporters and rival teams railed against the rebel clubs. Chelsea’s main fan club, the Chelsea Supporters’ Trust, called for the dismissal of the team’s top brass, including chief executive Guy Laurence, the former head of Rogers Communications. In a statement, the trust said “we presently have little or no confidence in our current leadership at board level.”
The Football Supporters’ Association applauded fans for forcing the clubs to back down but added, “That doesn’t mean fans can take their foot off the accelerator – a return to the status quo is unacceptable and will only allow these unscrupulous owners to regroup.”
Several owners in the Premier League demanded that the clubs face some kind of consequence for their actions. That could include a points deduction, a ban on player transfers or exclusion from European competitions such as the Champions League. “Clubs get points deductions for poaching a manager or a player, or exceeding [financial limits], but this is the clubs attacking the heart of the Premier League, and I think they should be disciplined,” Everton’s owner Farhad Moshiri said Tuesday.
The British government got involved as well and announced plans for a full review of the game, including measures to give fans a role in team governance. Oliver Dowden, the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Secretary, said on Wednesday that the government would consider the German model, where fans hold a majority stake in clubs.
Dowden noted that no German teams, including Bayern Munich, joined the Super League venture. “German clubs didn’t take part in this; that’s because fans had the greater stake in it,” Dowden told British broadcaster ITV. “We’ve seen over time fans’ stake in [Premier League] clubs erode. I think it’s important we look at that to give fans greater influence and control.”
He also proposed an independent regulator to oversee the sport. “I think we also need to see whether the existing governing structures work and whether we need some sort of regulator overseeing that,” he said.
It’s not clear how the government could increase fan ownership given the massive cost that would involve. However, one idea would be to give season-ticket holders “golden shares” in clubs that would allow them to veto key board decisions such as an ownership change or moving leagues.
The British government used golden shares extensively during a wave of privatizations in the 1980s and 1990s, largely to protect newly privatized companies from unwanted takeover bids. In 2003, the European Court of Justice ruled that the shares stifled the free flow of capital, and it severely restricted how they could be used. However, now that Britain has left the European Union, those restrictions would no longer apply.
Some of those involved in the Super League hinted on Wednesday that the project could yet come back. “Despite the announced departure of the English clubs, forced to take such decisions due to the pressure put on them, we are convinced our proposal is fully aligned with European law and regulations,” said a statement released Wednesday from the league’s remaining backers. “Given current circumstances, we shall reconsider the most appropriate steps to reshape the project.”
Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.