Manchester United and Liverpool plead for forgiveness for Super League fiasco
Manchester United, Liverpool and Manchester City have issued grovelling apologies to fans for the European Super League fiasco, demonstrating the scale of the damage caused across two tumultuous days.
While those clubs expressed contrition in public and pledged to rebuild trust, at Arsenal apologies were said behind the scenes. The chief executive, Vinai Venkatesham, met the first-team players at their London Colney base before training, convening them inside the dressing room. He is understood to have said sorry for the events of the previous 48 hours and taken questions.
On Wednesday, the Premier League, began its own backlash with the chief executive, Richard Masters, contacting officials from the big six, asking them to leave their positions on the competition’s various committees.
The unravelling of the Super League continued on Wednesday with Atlético Madrid, Internazionale and Milan signalling their exits and the project’s founder, the Juventus chairman Andrea Agnelli, accepting the breakaway was over. Asked whether it could still happen after the exits, he told Reuters: “To be frank and honest no, evidently that is not the case.”
United’s apology came from the co-chairman Joel Glazer in a rare intervention from a man who never grants interviews. In an open letter to supporters Glazer wrote: “We got it wrong, and we want to show that we can put things right. Although the wounds are raw and I understand it will take time for the scars to heal, I am personally committed to rebuilding trust and learning from the message you delivered with such conviction.
“In seeking to create a more stable foundation for the game, we failed to show enough respect for its deep‑rooted traditions – promotion, relegation, the pyramid – and for that we are sorry.”
Earlier Liverpool’s principal owner, John W Henry, had apologised to fans, Jürgen Klopp and the players for “the disruption I caused” by signing up to the proposed breakaway.
“They were the most disrupted and unfairly so,” Henry said. “This is what hurts most. They love your club and work to make you proud every single day.I hope you’ll understand that even when we make mistakes, we’re trying to work in your club’s best interests. In this endeavour I’ve let you down.”
At Manchester City the chief executive officer, Ferran Soriano, sent a message to fans in which he said the board deeply regretted its actions. “We believed that being part of such an initiative could give us a voice that might be imperative to our future ability to succeed and grow. However, in making that choice we failed to remind ourselves of the unbreakable link between the passion of our fans and the right to have the opportunity to earn success.”
The extent of the harm caused by the Super League project was underlined by some of the responses to the apologies. Joe Blott, chair of the fan group Spirit of Shankly, said Henry’s message felt “very weasel-word-like” and added: “They’re not sorry. The only reason they are sorry is because they have been caught out yet again.”
FSG has made a habit of backtracking and apologising for controversial decisions during its ownership of Liverpool. Executives performed a U-turn over plans to hike ticket prices in 2016 following a mass walk-out of fans at Anfield, and after receiving a barrage of criticism for looking to furlough some staff at the start of the coronavirus pandemic. The former chief executive Peter Moore also issued an apology when an attempt to trademark the city of Liverpool’s name was rejected by the Intellectual Property Office.
A spokesperson for Manchester United Supporters’ Trust said of the Glazers: “We all know until they felt forced to withdraw they were determined to proceed with their Super League project regardless of opposition. Ultimately Joel’s silence since 2005 says more than this message. We cannot just carry on as if nothing has happened. This is a watershed moment and we need to see genuine change as a result.”
There were calls from the Chelsea Supporters’ Trust for the chairman, Bruce Buck, and the chief executive, Guy Laurence, to leave but it is understood the club have no intention of making changes in their boardroom. Tottenham fans held a demonstration against the owners before the game against Southampton.
Agnelli said European football needed to change and had no regrets about the way the breakaway attempt was made. “I remain convinced of the beauty of that project,” he said, stating it would have created the best competition in the world. By Wednesday evening only Juventus, Barcelona and Real Madrid had not officially abandoned it. A source told Reuters that those clubs could enforce break-up fees on the teams that had withdrawn.
United’s U-turn regarding the Super League precipitated the resignation on Tuesday evening of Ed Woodward, who had expected to continue as executive vice-chairman until at least 2026. A week ago the 50-year-old, who will leave his post at the end of the year, believed the European Club Association could agree a deal with Uefa that would have prevented the Super League’s launch, with United then represented by the body and Woodward an executive member.
When this did not occur United along with the other 11 founder members lost patience with European football’s governing body and the ESL was announced. When Woodward was forced into embarrassingly having to pull United out he resigned.
Meanwhile, the Paris Saint-Germain president, Nasser Al-Khelaifi, has been appointed as the new European Club Association chairman in place of Agnelli. The Uefa president, Aleksander Ceferin, said: “I would like to congratulate the ECA for choosing Nasser as their new chairman.
“Football needs good people in senior roles and Nasser is someone who has shown he is capable of looking after the interests of more clubs than just his own – which should be a prerequisite for the position of ECA chair. He is a man I can trust.”