One by one, they began to fall.
First it was Manchester City and then, like dominoes, the other five Premier League clubs soon followed, before none were left in the so-called European Super League.
The dramatic collapse of the multibillion-dollar league came less than 48 hours after it was first launched.
In a video posted on Liverpool’s social media channels on Wednesday morning, club owner John W. Henry, thought to be one of the principal drivers behind the Super League, cut a contrite figure.
“I want to apologize to all the fans, supporters of Liverpool Football Club for the disruption I caused over the last 48 hours,” he said. “It goes without saying, but should be said, that the project put forward was never going to stand without the fans. No one ever thought differently in England.
“Over these last 48 hours, you were very clear that it would not stand. We heard you. I heard you. And I want to apologize to Jurgen [Klopp, manager], Billy [Hogan, CEO], to the players and to everyone who works so hard at LFC to make our fans proud. They have absolutely no responsibility for this disruption.
“They were the most disrupted, and unfairly so. This is what hurts most. They love their club and work to make you proud every single day. I know the entire LFC team has the expertise, leadership and passion necessary to rebuild trust and help us move forward.”
For most fans, however, an apology just won’t cut it. The widespread feeling of betrayal – that supporters, the lifeblood of the sport, were not consulted before this decision and treated with contempt – will linger for a long time to come.
Whether it actually amounts to any change – such as pivoting to Germany’s model of “50+1” fan ownership, for example – remains to be seen, but the UK government has confirmed it will issue a fan-led review of the sport if football authorities fail to prevent the Super League.
Manchester United was another of the clubs to withdraw from the new format after fierce criticism, and its co-owner – Joel Glazer – published an open letter to fans on Wednesday, apologizing for the proposed breakaway.
“We got it wrong, and we want to show that we can put things right,” it read in part.
“Although the wounds are raw and I understand that it will take time for the scars to heal, I am personally committed to rebuilding trust with our fans and learning from the message you delivered with such conviction.
“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.”
‘Sporting merits must prevail’
On first appearance, Tuesday’s night of chaos appeared to be the death of the European Super League.
However, in a statement released later that night, the ESL said it will amend its controversial plans and “reshape the project.” The Athletic and ESPN reported the Super League statement is defiant that the “status quo of European football needs to change.”
But Juventus chairman Andrea Agnelli, believed to be another key driver behind the Super League, said on Wednesday that the new competition was no longer viable without the six Premier League teams.
“Look, I think, to be frank and honest: no,” he said, as reported by Reuters.
“I remain convinced of the beauty of that project, of the value that it would have developed to the pyramid, of the creation of the best competition in the world, but evidently no.
“I mean, I don’t think that project is now still up and running.”
Soon after Agnelli’s statement on Wednesday, Spanish club Atlético Madrid and Italian club Inter Milan announced they were the first non-English sides to abandon the Super League.
Atlético said in a statement that it had told the Super League it had decided “not to finally formalize its adherence to the project.”
“For the club, harmony is essential between all the groups that make up the ‘rojiblanca’ family, especially our fans,” it said. “The first team squad and the coach have shown their satisfaction with the club’s decision, understanding that sporting merits must prevail over any other criteria.”
Meanwhile, Inter Milan said it was “no longer part of the Super League project.”
“We are always committed to giving the fans the best football experience; innovation and inclusion have been part of our DNA since our foundation,” it said in a statement. “Our commitment with all stakeholders to improve the football industry will never change.
“Inter believe that football, like any sector of activity, should have an interest in constantly improving its competitions, in order to continue to excite fans of all ages all over the world, within a framework of financial sustainability.”
Fellow Serie A side AC Milan soon followed suit, saying in a statement that “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.”
Real Madrid president Florentino Perez, who was also set to be the Super League president, appeared to dig his heels in on Monday night during an interview with Spanish sports show El Chiringuito, suggesting there could be legal repercussions for those who decide to pull out.
“The contract of the Super League is binding,” he said. “Nobody can leave, we will work all together. All the clubs signed the contracts last Saturday, there’s no problem.”
If the clubs do indeed manage to pull out, it remains to be seen whether Perez and the league do indeed have grounds for a legal challenge.
With Perez defiantly leading the charge, the presence of Spanish teams was crucial for the project to remain viable. However, fans of all three clubs understandably remain indignant at the decision.
While Atlético and its supporters pride themselves on being a club of the people, Real and Barcelona ‘socios’ – fans that sign up to be members – always vote on major club decisions. They were, of course, completely bypassed.
For many Barcelona fans, the club’s famous motto ‘Mes que un club’ – ‘More than a club’ – is certainly ringing hollow.
As for the clubs that have decided to abandon ship – and the remaining three that may still follow suit in the near future – the pertinent question is how UEFA and their respective leagues will deal with the apparent insubordination.
While there will no doubt be relief among the divisions that they retained some of their most valuable assets, it remains to be seen whether they will be treated as Prodigal Sons on their return to the league or hit with penalties, such as points deductions or bans from UEFA competitions.
Fans, even those of the clubs involved it would seem, would certainly prefer the latter.