Fulham Road, which runs parallel to King’s Road through south-west London, is generally closed to traffic when Chelsea is home, although recently, due to the pandemic, it has not been necessary. But on Tuesday night, before Chelsea’s game against Brighton, the police again blocked the access between Fulham Broadway and Brompton Cemetery, allowing a demonstration of several hundred fans.
There were smoke bombs and chants, posters and banners, a strange feeling of carnival in the spring afternoon sun. But these were not the usual chants. This was a protest. What they lacked in creativity they gladly made up for. “F *** Super League, f *** super league, f *** super league,” read one. “F *** Pérez,” said another, with his anger directed at the president of Real Madrid, Florentino Pérez, who is also president of the European Super League.
And then, in the spring afternoon sun, an extraordinary moment. Shortly before 7 pm local time, it became known that Chelsea was preparing to withdraw from the proposed Super League. It was celebrated as a goal. There was a roar and arms flew high. The footage deserves to be famous: the moment the getaway ended.
Within half an hour, it was reported that Manchester City were also planning to withdraw. (Pep Guardiola had publicly criticized the Super League plan that same day). And half an hour after that, reports came in that Atletico Madrid and the other English clubs were to follow suit, and that Ed Woodward planned to resign as Managing Director of Manchester United. Later, Liverpool players issued a collective statement It said, “We don’t like it and we don’t want it to happen.” The dominoes did not take long to fall.
For Chelsea, the final straw was said to have been a meeting between the team and club president Bruce Buck, in which the players expressed doubts about the plan and, in particular, the possibility of being banned from playing for their national teams. The image there, as elsewhere, was of a decision made without actual consultation.
Fan outrage and concentrated backlash appears to have taken the clubs by surprise, but even those working within the clubs appear to have been uninformed. A club’s head of sponsorship, for example, admitted that he was reviewing all contracts to see if they could be invalidated by withdrawing from the Champions League to join the separatist Super League.
The lack of planning seems extraordinary. There have been no detailed financial projections, no explanation of who might be prepared to broadcast the league, and no information on what solidarity payments to non-Super League clubs may include. Although Pérez and others have made bullish statements about the legality of the Super League, UEFA and the existing leagues appeared skeptical.
As a public relations operation, it has also been a disaster. The war was lost in a few minutes. There did not appear to be a strategy to deal with the backlash from fans and a positive vision was never established. On Tuesday, even as clubs privately admitted their concerns and began to blame others, insisting they had been misled, the only PR message from the Super League itself was that everything was fine and moving forward. The level of self-deception was extraordinary.
It’s perhaps not a huge surprise that Chelsea and City are the two to break ranks. They always seemed the least enthusiastic and were the fifth and sixth English clubs to sign up. But this seems to have always been a project driven by the traditional elite trying to find a way to combat the financial power of what can be loosely called the petroclubs (Chelsea, City and Paris Saint-Germain). that, the ineffectiveness of the Financial Fair Play regulations.
The big question is what happens next. If the clubs have indeed signed binding agreements for 23 years, as announced, can Chelsea, City and others just walk away? Could they continue to be sanctioned or will UEFA welcome them back?
The Super League is surely over. How could I go on without PSG, Chelsea, Man City and the best German clubs? but, again, what sanction will there be? Can they just return to the Champions League, the revamped format it was announced for on Monday, or will action be taken? And no one should forget that the new format of the Champions League, which will start in 2024, is terrible, but not as terrible as a Super League.
But what happens then? The elite have made their position clear. They want more, and that desire is not going to go away just because of this defeat. The righteous fury of UEFA President Aleksander Čeferin on Monday suggests that he is also unlikely to be in the mood for future engagement, and a climate of radicalism may have been unleashed. It would be naive to think that the war is over. But this battle is perhaps largely remembered for Perez’s chaotic interview on Monday and for the joyous scenes outside Stamford Bridge when the town’s victory was announced.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.