They started to fall one by one.
Manchester City was first, and the other five Premier League clubs quickly followed, until there was no one left in the so-called European Super League.
The multibillion-dollar league’s dramatic demise occurred less than 48 hours after it was first unveiled.
Liverpool owner John W. Henry thought to be one of the main forces behind the Super League, cut a contrite figure in a video shared on the club’s social media accounts on Wednesday morning.
“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 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.”
An apology, on the other hand, would not suffice for the majority of fans. The pervasive sense of betrayal — that fans, who are the lifeblood of the sport, were not consulted and treated with disdain before this decision — will continue for a long time.
The UK government has confirmed it will issue a fan-led review of the sport if football authorities fail to prevent the Super League. Whether this amounts to any change — such as pivoting to Germany’s model of “50+1” fan ownership, for example — remains to be seen.
Manchester United was another club to withdraw from the new format after widespread criticism, and its co-owner, Joel Glazer, sent an open letter to fans apologizing for the planned breakaway on Wednesday.
“We made a mistake, and we want to prove that we can correct it,” it said in part.
“I am personally committed to restoring faith with our fans and learning from the message you delivered with such conviction, even though the wounds are still fresh and I understand that it will take time for the scars to heal.
“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.”
Tuesday’s night of confusion seemed to be the end of the European Super League at first glance.
The ESL, on the other hand, said in a statement later that night that it would amend its contentious plans and “reshape the project.” According to the Athletic and ESPN, the Super League declaration is defiant in its belief that the “status quo of European football” must change.
However, Juventus chairman Andrea Agnelli, who is thought to be another driving force behind the Super League, said on Wednesday that without the six Premier League clubs, the new competition will be unviable.
Soon after Agnelli’s announcement on Wednesday, Spanish club Atlético Madrid and Italian club Inter Milan announced their withdrawal from the Super League, becoming the first non-English clubs to do so.
In a statement, Atlético said it had informed the Super League of its decision “not to eventually 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.”
AC Milan, another Serie A club, quickly followed suit, stating that “the voices and concerns of fans around the world have clearly been articulated about the Super League, and AC Milan must be receptive to the voice of those who enjoy this wonderful sport.”
During an interview with Spanish sports show El Chiringuito on Monday night, Real Madrid president Florentino Perez, who was also expected to be the Super League president, seemed to dig his heels in, implying that those who pull out could face legal repercussions.
“The Super League’s contract is binding,” he said. “Nobody is allowed to leave; we will all work together. There was no problem when all of the clubs signed the contracts on Saturday.”
If the clubs can withdraw, it would be interesting to see if Perez and the league have grounds for a legal challenge.
The participation of Spanish teams was critical for the project’s viability, particularly with Perez defiantly leading the charge. Fans of all three clubs, however, are understandably outraged by the move.
Although Atlético and its supporters pride themselves on becoming a people’s club, Real and Barcelona’s’socios,’ or members, still have a say in major club decisions. Of course, they were utterly ignored.
The club’s popular motto, ‘Mes Que un club,’ or ‘More than a club,’ is definitely ringing hollow for many Barcelona fans.
The pertinent concern for the clubs that have agreed to abandon ship – and the other three that could do so shortly – is how UEFA and their respective leagues will cope with the apparent insubordination.
Although the divisions would undoubtedly be relieved that some of their most important assets have been preserved, it remains to be seen if they will be regarded as Prodigal Sons upon their return to the league or face sanctions such as point deductions or UEFA competition bans.
Even supporters of the clubs concerned, it seems, would prefer the latter.