It was the most dramatic 48 hours in the history of football.
The rise and rapid fall of the European Super League made front-page news all over the world, was discussed in UK Parliament and was angrily protested by fans at club stadia all over Europe.
In April 2021, in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic, the owners and executives of a cabal of top clubs attempted a bullish and brazen power grab to shape the football in their unscrupulous terms for their own benefit.
Years of secret talks and backroom dealings culminated in a seismic late-night announcement – these dozen continental rivals were joining forces and breaking away from centuries of sporting tradition to launch a brand-new competition.
Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham were the ‘big six’ English clubs, alongside Spanish trio Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid, and Italian sides Inter Milan, AC Milan and Juventus, who agreed to join a new European Super League.
Although they claimed the move would secure the financial future of football for the next 23 years, it was widely criticised as a cynical attempt to put profit above the game’s fundamental principle – namely that any team can strive for success through on-field performance alone.
The Premier League issued a quick condemnation of this attempt to seize control of the revenues of the sport, and its sentiments were later followed by the FA, UEFA and other stakeholders.
In the media, one of the biggest and most vocal critics was respected Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville. In a passionate rant he said: “Well the reaction to it is that it’s been damned, and rightly so. I’m a Manchester United fan and have been for 40 years of my life but I’m disgusted, absolutely disgusted. I’m disgusted with United and Liverpool most. Liverpool pretend, like you’ll never walk alone, the people’s club, the fan’s club. Manchester United, 100 years, born out of workers around here and they’re breaking away into a league without competition, you can’t be relegated from. It’s an absolute disgrace and honestly we have to wrestle back the power in this country from the clubs at the top of this league and that includes my club. I’ve been calling for 12 months as part of another group for an independent regulator to bring checks and balances to stop this happening, it’s pure greed.”
Not long after the announcement, the house of cards began to fall. One by one, the clubs bowed to pressure, pulled out of the ESL and issued apologies. As a result, the proposed European Super League collapsed in just 48 hours.
Kicking Off: The Rise and Fall of the Super League retreads the ground covered by Sky original documentary Super Greed: The Fight for Football and tells the dramatic inside story of the doomed league through the eyes of those who helped bring it tumbling down.
It also asks what really led to these owners forming an unlikely alliance of American hedge funds, Russian oligarchs, European industrial tycoons and Gulf royals?
And how could a plan that would have changed the very essence of football appear out of nowhere?
Gary Lineker, Lord Alan Sugar and Premier League CEO Richard Masters are among the contributors describing how a deeply worrying time for football also confirmed that the passion of the fans and the people will always outweigh the greed of those at the top.