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Super League dead after Atletico and Inter follow English exodus

By AFP - Apr 21,2021 - Last updated at Apr 21,2021

LONDON — Atletico Madrid and Inter Milan followed all six English Premier League clubs in pulling out of the European Super League on Wednesday, dealing a fatal blow to a project that prompted an incendiary reaction from supporters.

The withdrawal by Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur on Tuesday, just 48 hours after the league’s unveiling, followed a furious reaction from fans, officials and politicians.

Juventus, AC Milan, Atletico Madrid and Inter announced they were pulling out on Wednesday, whittling the original “Dirty Dozen” down to just two clubs — Real Madrid and Barcelona.

“For the club, harmony is essential between all the groups that make up the rojiblanco family, especially our fans,” Atletico said in a statement.

A member of the entourage of Juventus President Andrea Agnelli acknowledged it was an impossible task to proceed without the English clubs.

The Super League promised guaranteed entry for its founding clubs and billions of dollars in payments. Most of the clubs have huge debts and wage bills, and suffered a sharp drop in revenues during the coronavirus pandemic.

But the project was vehemently opposed across the football spectrum, from fans to players, coaches, politicians and UEFA and FIFA, the European and world football bodies.

The clubs were threatened with a ban from domestic and European football, while their players could even have been barred from representing their countries.

UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin struck a conciliatory tone on Wednesday, saying he wanted to “rebuild the unity” of European football, and described the English clubs as “back in the fold”.

“I said yesterday that it is admirable to admit a mistake and these clubs made a big mistake,” Ceferin said in a statement.

“But they are back in the fold now and I know they have a lot to offer not just to our competitions but to the whole of the European game.

“The important thing now is that we move on, rebuild the unity that the game enjoyed before this and move forward together.”

 

Share plunge

 

Shares in Juventus plunged by more than 10 per cent on Wednesday following a slump in the value of Manchester United stocks.

Shortly after English pull-outs, the Super League said it was looking for ways to “reshape”, insisting the “status quo of European football needs to change”.

“We shall reconsider the most appropriate steps to reshape the project,” its statement said.

Liverpool owner John W Henry apologised for his part in the planned Super League after club captain Jordan Henderson said the players did not want it to happen.

“I want to apologise to all the fans and supporters of Liverpool Football Club for the disruption I caused over the last 48 hours,” the American said in a video posted on the club’s Twitter site.

“It goes without saying but should be said, the project put forward was never going to stand without the support of the fans.”

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson hailed the English pull-outs, tweeting that “this is the right result for football fans, clubs and communities across the country”. 

“We must continue to protect our cherished national game,” he added.

The English Football Association also welcomed the withdrawals, praising fans for “their influential and unequivocal voice”.

British newspapers were gleeful, with tabloid The Sun headlining, “Cheerio! ! Cheerio!, Cheerio!” and the Daily Mail praising the “Defeat over greed”.

Reigning European champions Bayern Munich and French giants Paris Saint-Germain had both come out strongly opposed to the breakaway league, dealing it a heavy blow.

Adding to the drama on Tuesday, Manchester United announced that executive vice chairman Ed Woodward would step down from his role at the end of 2021.

Several players of the English clubs had voiced opposition to the Super League, and Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola commented: “It’s not a sport when success is already guaranteed.”

After City became the first team to pull out, their England forward Raheem Sterling was quick to farewell the project.

 

Political goal

 

Britain’s government, exploiting a populist cause ahead of elections next month, is vowing no let-up in its pressure on England’s biggest football clubs despite the implosion of a renegade European league.

The abortive plan involving the “big six” Premier League sides brought about a rare display of bipartisan opposition from political parties in Britain, mirroring the united hostility of fans who are normally sworn enemies.

After threatening to drop a “legislative bomb” on the billionaire and mostly foreign tycoons who run the English clubs, Prime Minister Johnson commended them for abandoning the plan late Tuesday.

But culture and sports secretary Oliver Dowden on Wednesday said the government would press on with a long-delayed review to examine the future of Britain’s national game.

He called the German model of majority-fan ownership at clubs a “good idea” in principle, but stressed he did not want to pre-empt the review’s findings and still welcomed foreign investment.

“It would be a popular move — and really symbolise a break with the recent, neoliberal past,” Queen Mary University of London politics professor Tim Bale said.

“And they could still convincingly argue that this is a special case that wouldn’t spell socialism for other sectors,” he told AFP.

For Johnson’s Conservatives, there is a particular imperative to safeguard the working-class “Red Wall” vote in northern English seats that were held for decades by the centre-left Labour party before flipping at the 2019 general election.

In the buildup to UK-wide local polls on May 6, that translated this week into some rather un-Conservative rhetoric about preserving community values against the interests of big business and the owners of the top six.

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