Liverpool’s American billionaire owner John W Henry today apologised for the ‘hurt’ caused by plans to join the hated European Super League as the Premier League considers how to punish the rebels with fans baying for blood.
The businessman, who also owns the Boston Red Sox, also said sorry to the club’s manager Jürgen Klopp and his players as the £4.3billion proposal crumbled when England’s ‘Big 6’ were forced to pull out amid mass protests outside their stadiums and Boris Johnson threatening to change the law to stop it.
After 72 hours of silence, Henry became the first owner to speak out as fans called for head to roll and threatened coups to overthrow the billionaires accused of trying to destroy England’s 132-year-old football pyramid. And his apology is seen as an attempt to convince the Premier League not to punish them with a points deduction as his team battles to get into the Champions League.
In a video message shared on the Liverpool website, he said: ‘I want to apologise to all the fans and supporters of Liverpool Football Club for the disruption I caused over the past 48 hours.
‘It goes without saying but should be said that the project put forward was never going to stand without the support of the fans. No-one ever thought differently in England. Over these 48 hours you were very clear that it would not stand. We heard you. I heard you’.
Bookies yesterday made Liverpool boss Jürgen Klopp favourite to be the next Premier League boss to resign after he expressed his displeasure about the plans and club captain Jordan Henderson set up an emergency meeting with Premier League captains as players threatened insurrection.
John Henry said: ‘I want to apologise to Jürgen, 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 your club and work to make you proud every single day’.
He added: ‘If there’s one thing this horrible pandemic has clearly shown, it’s how crucial fans are to our sport and to every sport. It’s shown in every empty stadium. It’s been an incredibly tough year for all of us; virtually no-one unaffected. It’s important that the Liverpool football family remains intact, vital and committed to what we’ve seen from you globally, with local gestures of kindness and support. I can promise you I will do whatever I can to further that’.
All options are on the table when it comes to punishing the Big Six – but the likelihood is that a rule change to prevent them from ever repeating the trick is the most likely next step.
Ahead of the mass withdrawals, penalties were discussed at the hastily-arranged meeting of the other 14 yesterday. Points deductions, fines, relegations and bans on players were all raised.
Liverpool’s American billionaire owner John W Henry today apologised for the ‘hurt’ caused by plans to join the hated European Super League as the Premier League considers how to punish the rebels with fans baying for blood
All six English clubs involved in the European Super League have quit the hated competition, after Manchester City became the first club to walk away
Wealthy west London side Chelsea (pictured left: Owner Roman Abramovich) last night withdrew from the much-maligned new tournament, according to the BBC. Moments after the reports surfaced, it emerged that mega-rich Manchester City (pictured right: Owner Sheikh Mansour) could also pull out, dealing a huge double blow to the breakaway competition.
Liverpool and Manchester United, both owned by American businessman, (pictured left: Arsenal owner Stan Kroenke. Pictured right: Liverpool owner John Henry) were said to be driving forces behind the project, which also involved European giants Real Madrid and AC Milan
Manchester United (pictured left: Director Joel Glazer – from the controlling Glazer family) and Tottenham (pictured right: Owner Joe Lewis) have announced they are pulling out of the Super League
In a sign of a potential split at Manchester United, it was tonight announced the club’s executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward would leave the club
The Manchester club later confirmed its intention to withdraw in a short one-line statement, saying: ‘Manchester City Football Club can confirm that it has formally enacted the procedures to withdraw from the group developing plans for a European Super League’
Boris Johnson said the collapse of the project was ‘the right result’ for football after an extraordinary 48 hours
Plans for the European Super League have been suspended following the events of Tuesday
Top flight rules state that clubs should ‘act in good faith’ and this was clearly a serious breach.
However – and importantly – there was very much the shared view that the six clubs themselves were not at fault and that their owners – rather than players and staff – should be targeted.
What happens next remains to be seen, but the overriding initial emotion will be one of relief, rather than vengeance.
Draconian measures such as relegation are unlikely, as the competition knows the benefits the Big Six bring.
Instead, expect moves to be made to reinforce the top flight’s rules and ensure no such breakaway attempt can happen again.
That is not to say there will not be other ramifications.
The presence of Big Six representatives on Premier League commercial and broadcast working groups triggered outrage – and a deep suspicion that they had been squirrelling away information to use for breakaway purposes. Those involved may well find themselves booted off such groups. Trust, according to one insider ‘is at an all-time low’.
The six may also end up having to explain themselves to a parliamentary committee. While there may be little penalty, a public grilling by MPs could make for an uncomfortable and embarrassing hour or so.
Last night all six English clubs involved in the European Super League plans have dramatically quit the hated competition following a huge backlash from fans.
Like dominoes, one-by-one clubs fell back into line with their Premier League rivals, a mere 72 hours after proposing a seismic – and much-maligned – change to the beautiful game.
In a huge victory for fans, who for days have vented their fury at the proposals, members of the so-called Big Six each released statements – some more grovelling than others – announcing they would be pulling out of the European Super League.
Already mega-rich Manchester City were first to officially break rank last night by announcing they would turn their back on the £4.6billion proposals.
Then, in a stunning twist to the saga, Arsenal, Manchester United, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur suddenly announced they would follow suit.
And Chelsea, who are thought to have been the first to break rank, became the last to formally announce plans to pull out of the proposals. The club released a statement released late last night after their Premier League clash with Brighton.
European clubs such as Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, and Italian sides AC and Inter Milan later followed in the footsteps of English sides by pulling out of the project.
Uefa chiefs welcomed the return of the European Super League sides, and urged a refocus on the organisation’s flagship club tournament, the Champions League – which is due to be expanded to include more teams from across the continent.
Meanwhile, Boris Johnson, who had earlier described the project as a ‘cartel’ threatened to show the plans the ‘straight red card’, said the decision to quit the breakaway league was ‘the right one’.
The dramatic collapse, which took place over the course of just four hours, led organisers behind the European Super League to announce a suspension to the project.
But in warning shot that indicated that the saga might not yet be fully over, organisers behind the breakaway competition released a statement saying that ‘status quo of European football needs to change’.
Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden today welcomed the collapse of the European Super League following the withdrawal of the ‘big six’ English Premier League clubs.
Mr Dowden told Sky News: ‘It is victory for fans. The country has been united in condemning these proposals. The Government has stood firmly behind the footballing authorities in saying we will do whatever it takes to stop this proposal.
‘We were willing to take very bold measures to stop this proposal going ahead. I am very glad that the fans, with the backing of the Government and others, have had their say.’
It comes as bosses at the so-called ‘Big Six’ clubs earlier held emergency meetings after realising they were alienating their supporters and infuriating politicians with their cynical move.
In a bid to appease furious fans, Arsenal issued grovelling apology to its supporters, who yesterday protested outside the club’s ground with fans calling for their owner Stan Kroenke to quit.
Tonight, in their statement, the north London club said: ‘As a result of listening to you and the wider football community over recent days we are withdrawing from the proposed Super League.
‘We made a mistake, and we apologise for it.’
Meanwhile Liverpool, who today faced a social media revolt from its players, including captain Jordan Henderson, said: ‘Liverpool Football Club can confirm that our involvement in proposed plans to form a European Super League has been discontinued.
‘In recent days, the club has received representations from various key stakeholders, both internally and externally, and we would like to thank them for their valuable contributions.’
Liverpool and Manchester United, both owned by American businessmen, were said to be among the driving forces of the project, along with European giants Real Madrid and AC Milan.
Tonight United, whose executive vice chairman Ed Woodward announced he would step down amid the row, said the club would not be participating in the league.
However the club said it remained ‘committed’ to coming-up with ‘sustainable solutions to the long-term challenges facing the game’.
The club’s statement read: ‘Manchester United will not be participating in the European Super League.
‘We have listened carefully to the reaction from our fans, the UK government and other key stakeholders.
‘We remain committed to working with others across the football community to come up with sustainable solutions to the long-term challenges facing the game.’
Chelsea, who were playing Brighton tonight in the Premier League, have not yet released a formal statement. Pictured: Fans protested outside Stamford Bridge tonight
The news came as hundreds of Chelsea fans tonight protested against the club’s involvement in the £4.3billion breakaway plans, by chanting and holding banners outside Stamford Bridge
Fans blocked the Chelsea team coach’s entry to the stadium, ahead of their Premier League clash against Brighton, sparking legend and current technical director Petr Cech (pictured) to get amongst the fans in a bid to appease them
Meanwhile, Tottenham took to Twitter to announce the club would no longer be a part of the Super League proposals.
In a statement, the club said: ‘We can confirm that we have formally commenced procedures to withdraw from the group developing proposals for a European Super League (ESL).’
Chelsea, who played Brighton last night in the Premier League, were the last to release a statement.
‘As reported earlier this evening, Chelsea Football Club can confirm that it has begun the formal procedures for withdrawal from the group developing plans for a European Super League.
‘Having joined the group late last week, we have now had time to consider the matter fully and have decided that our continued participation in these plans would not be in the best interests of the Club, our supporters or the wider football community.’
The European Super League last night responded by suspending the project.
But it hinted that the row over the future of European football could still rage on in a statement released to the media.
The statement read: ‘The European Super League is convinced that the current status quo of European football needs to change.
‘We are proposing a new European competition because the existing system does not work.
‘We are proposing a new European competition because the existing system does not work.
‘Our proposal is aimed at allowing the sport to evolve while generating resources and stability for the full football pyramid, including helping to overcome the financial difficulties experienced by the entire football community as a result of the pandemic.
‘It would also provide materially enhanced solidarity payments to all football stakeholders.’
England’s Big Six of City, Chelsea, United, Arsenal, Spurs and Liverpool had earlier sparked outrage among much of the footballing world by announcing plans to team up with Spanish giants Atletico, Barcelona, and Real Madrid, and top Italian sides AC and Inter Milan for the new European Super League.
The £4.6billion proposals were first reported on Sunday night, followed by an official joint statement from all 12 clubs.
But, less than 72 hours after the announcement was made, the plans crumbled.
In its statement, Manchester City’s said: ‘Manchester City Football Club can confirm that it has formally enacted the procedures to withdraw from the group developing plans for a European Super League.’
News of the sudden change-of-heart came as hundreds of Chelsea fans last night rallied against the club’s involvement in the breakaway plans in a rowdy protest outside Stamford Bridge.
Some held up placards and flares, while others threw bottles as they chanted: ‘We want our Chelsea back.’
Another banner demanded that club owner Roman Abramovich ‘do the right thing’.
Fans blocked the Chelsea team coach’s entry to the stadium, ahead of their Premier League clash against Brighton.
It sparked club legend and current technical director Petr Cech to get out of the coach and speak to supporters in a bid to appease them.
Fans burnt a Liverpool shirt using outside Elland Road – where Liverpool drew 1-1 with Leeds last night – as outrage grows over plans for a European Super League
Pep Guardiola (left) and Jurgen Klopp (right last) have both spoken out against the European Super League despite the billionaire owners of their clubs signing up for the next 23 years
Liverpool players meanwhile revolted in a joint social media campaign condemning the proposals. Players including captain Jordan Henderson and James Milner tonight shared an identical post with the words: ‘We don’t like it and we don’t want it to happen.’
The European Super League reacted to the news and said plans would be halted temporarily
But it was only once news broke that the club could now withdraw from the tournament did fans relent – loudly cheering the decision and the club’s name.
Other protests had place taken outside Liverpool’s Anfield ground, as well as Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium, while Leeds fans were seen burning a Liverpool shirt outside Elland Road ahead of their team’s clash with the Merseyside club.
Yesterday, in a sign of uncertainty from within the City camp, and foreshadowing the events that would later take place, boss Pep Guardiola laid into the plans.
United striker Marcus Rashford also took aim at the proposals, sharing the quote ‘football is nothing without fans’.
The clubs had hoped to share out a mutlibillion-pound bonanza through a ‘welcome bonus’ of up to £250million per club from the US investment banking giant JP Morgan Chase.
Dubbed the ‘Dirty Dozen’, the rebel clubs would have cashed in indefinitely because the ESL had no relegation. It would have undermined the Champions League and the Premier League, also denying money to lower-ranked clubs and grassroots teams.
Boris Johnson had indicated the Government would try to scupper the competition and described it last night as a ‘cartel’.
The breakaway was launched when the 12 members of the ESL released an explosive statement on Sunday night confirming the creation of ‘a format for top clubs and players to compete on a regular basis’.
The other ‘founding clubs’ which signed up were Italy’s AC Milan, Inter Milan and Juventus, and Spain’s Atletico Madrid, Barcelona and Real Madrid.
The clubs had hoped to launch the midweek tournament in August. There would have been a mechanism for a further five teams to qualify annually based on achievements in the prior season, making a total of 20.
The plans immediately sparked uproar from supporters, players, politicians and sporting bodies.
Prince William warned of the damage it could do to ‘the game we love’ and insisted the ‘values of competition and fairness’ in sport must be protected.
Comedian and presenter James Corden launched into a six-minute rant about the evils of the ESL on his Late Late Show in America.
The West Ham fan said: ‘I’m heartbroken by it, genuinely heartbroken by it. I’m heartbroken because the owners of these teams have displayed the worst kind of greed I’ve ever seen in sport.’
Former England captain David Beckham wrote on Instagram: ‘We need football to be for everyone. We need football to be fair and we need competitions based on merit. Unless we protect these values the game we love is in danger.’
Hours before last night’s announcements, Beckham’s former England teammate Alan Shearer predicted that some of the clubs involved would be considering their positions as a result of the condemnation.
The striker-turned-pundit said: ‘They have thrown a hand grenade, let’s throw one back and ban them.
‘When you look at the reaction over the last 36 hours, common sense would tell you that these clubs will have to go away and think ‘Have we really done the right thing here?’.
‘Where are these owners? Why don’t they come out and face the media and tell us why they’ve done it, why they want a closed shop that no one else can get into?’
(L-R) Manchester United executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward, Arsenal chief executive Ivan Gazidis, Man United co-owners Avi Glazer and Joel Glazer and Liverpool principal owner John W Henry met up for dinner in New York in October 2017. Experts have pondered if this was when the Super League was cooked up
Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham are the six English clubs who have signed up to the deeply unpopular European Super League
Mr Johnson urged any of the clubs wavering over their decision to join the ESL to pull out.
He said on Twitter: ‘The decision by Chelsea and Manchester City is – if confirmed – absolutely the right one. I hope the other clubs involved in the European Super League will follow their lead.’
During the day Uefa president Aleksander Ceferin piled more pressure on the wavering English clubs by telling them they had ‘made a huge mistake’.
The ESL’s collapse began to unfold just before 7pm when it emerged that Chelsea was seeking to pull out.
MARTIN SAMUEL: You won. We won… yet the struggle does not end here. Legislation MUST be passed so that English football can never be held to ransom again
Roman Abramovich was always different. And that made Chelsea different, too. He was in it for something more than money. He was in it for the glory, and the status.
And for soft political power and influence, obviously. We’re not fools. But nobody burns through that many managers and regimes and strategies and players without actually revelling in that moment when a trophy is lifted into the air and the cannons of glittering confetti pop. So, by Tuesday, he knew he had made a mistake. A big, expensive mistake.
The same with Sheikh Mansour at Manchester City. Do you think he needs to maximise revenues at the expense of reputation? Do you think that was why he bought a football club? The business opportunity?
Roman Abramovich never intended to make money from football when he bought Chelsea
The Abu Dhabi Investment Authority has assets in the region of £594billion. Do you think Khaldoon al-Mubarak, Manchester City’s chairman, runs a club with the same guiding principles as the now departed chief executive officer at Manchester United?
There is an old joke about how to make a small fortune out of football. You start with a big fortune. Except Abramovich and His Royal Highness have fortunes so great, football doesn’t make a dent. As their name suggests, the Fenway Sports Group make money from sport; Manchester City and Chelsea’s owner put money in.
So here’s another joke. It’s a Two Ronnies sketch. There are two tramps resting by the side of the road. ‘If I had as much money as Rockefeller,’ said one, ‘I’d have more money than Rockefeller.’ The other tramp thought about this for a while. ‘How’s that, then?’ he asked. ‘I’d do a bit of window cleaning on the side.’
And that’s what Chelsea and Manchester City are to Abramovich and Mansour. They are the window cleaning on the side. Sports washing, soft power, ego, place whatever motivations you will on the owners of these clubs, but they are not involved in English football for the same reasons as the venture capitalists across the Atlantic. This was always the end game for Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester United: the red clubs.
Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan is similar, and not in it to generate income
Left to their own devices, the blue corner would never have come up with an idea as crass as The Super League. They didn’t need it. All The Super League delivers is revenue, and they’ve got that.
Once the public reaction in this country stripped the competition of all its prestige and glory, once it devalued the brand, made pariahs of the owners, tainted all commercial partners, alienated the supporters, it became worthless to them, actively harmful in many ways.
Manchester City want to be loved. Seriously, they do. They were forced to choose between UEFA and Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain on one side and the elites of England, Spain and Italy on the other. Convinced that all parties hated them and fearful of being left behind again, they went with the promise of more money. It was a mistake.
They know that now, because it did not take into account the one group of people who did not hate them. Their fans. And having angered their only friends on earth, City knew this was a giant misstep.
Chelsea, too. This wasn’t a decision sparked by a protest that began outside Stamford Bridge late yesterday afternoon. Reneging on this contract will cost millions. It is not the type of call that is taken by a club executive peering nervously out of a window and wondering how he’ll get his Mercedes out of the car park.
The decision was made, by Abramovich, before the demonstration began. But the voice of the fans mattered. The roar that has been heard since Sunday when the news of The Super League first leaked out was a vital factor.
Tuesday was match day, and all week Chelsea have been building up to the fixture with Brighton on their social media sites. The posts beneath these harmless entries have told a tale of extreme vilification. Nobody at Chelsea could be in any doubt that this association with a move synonymous with sheer ingordigiousness — ‘extreme greed, an insatiable desire for wealth at any cost’ — has created a wholly toxic environment.
The club even feared that its work in the vanguard of the fight against anti-Semitism would be harmed. No doubt City believed the same of the good deeds the club have done regenerating areas of east Manchester.
The boycotts worked up there. Memberships were returned and even the tiny allocation for Sunday’s Carabao Cup final went largely unsold. City have not got the same global fanbase as their fellow travellers. They need the home support, they need a good reputation on which to build. Glocalisation, it is called. Going global, while staying local. For all the ambitions and vision of the City Football Group — now being widely mimicked by rivals — City are not set up to live off subscriptions across continents.
They need that homely image, they need to be the alternate to Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal. Everything was wrong about this breakaway for them. Belatedly, City acknowledged it. They were the first to notify their erstwhile allies of their change of heart, formally.
Ed Woodward’s resignation, then, came as a shock. He is the first senior figure at any of the clubs to step away apparently on principle. Managers such as Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola have spoken well in opposition. Some players such as Jordan Henderson and Bruno Fernandes have, too.
Chelsea supporters protested on Tuesday night before news of the club’s withdrawal emerged
Yet Woodward was considered to have bought into the Glazer family drive to Americanise the English game. His belated change of heart reveals either a man in turmoil or a general who, the coup having failed, fell on his sword. It is easier for the Glazers to remain distant from the fury on their Tampa estate. Woodward lives here. He has had intimidating visitors to his home. Perhaps he finally decided it wasn’t worth the aggravation. Not for a vision that wasn’t even his.
Fortunately, this resistance wasn’t built on dark threats to a family home. This was fan protest, at its purest. So well done you, too. The news that Daniel Levy, chairman of Tottenham, had been complaining that the last 48 hours have been ‘a PR disaster’ was the first sign that all was not well in the houses of pure avarice.
The party line was of club owners prepared to ride out the storm, expecting it, almost shrugging it off. That wasn’t true. At least three of the Premier League’s breakaway six were rattled. Could the Chelsea Pitch Owners actually ban them from playing at their own stadium, on their own pitch, indeed using their own name?
We may never find out — but it was on the agenda at a CPO meeting scheduled for Thursday. And all achieved by fans. Hitting the airwaves, social media forums, calling, demonstrating, taking direct action. A groundswell of opinion that couldn’t be ignored, even in Abu Dhabi.
Now we wait for Tottenham, and the red clubs, to move. They are isolated, stranded. There could be a move to charge them with bad faith, maybe even exclude them from domestic competitions.
Ed Woodward’s resignation as Manchester United chief executive came as a shock
Could Tottenham even afford the punitive financial penalties of pulling out? Either way, it is a hard sell now. A 10-team Super League and dwindling — Barcelona and Atletico Madrid are nearing the exit door, too — without three of four Champions League semi-finalists, and many of the most storied teams in Europe.
Who buys that? Where’s the money to be mined from a scheme so poisonous, so wholly rejected?
Only the desperate remain, clubs whose owners have made it clear that they are not motivated by glory, but by mammon; who do not care a damn for competition or fair play. Discredited clubs, who have alienated the fans they must surely go crawling back to one day, knowing they have been left to twist in the wind by this desertion.
They signed contracts for 23 years; the ordinary supporters have shaken the edifice to its core in two days. The battle is not won yet. But it is surely the end of a very sordid beginning.