It will be remembered as a flash in the pan, but the recently proposed European Super League rocked soccer and, indeed, world sports to its foundations. It was an attempted power grab by the money men involved in the once beautiful game but one that was crushed by fans across the world.
With the teams confirmed, announcing their plans to break away and create a European Super League it looked like a done deal. It seemed so certain experts working on sports betting in Las Vegas were even making moves to accept bets on the competition’s first winners.
Cue a vicious backlash from supporters who said it went against everything the sport stood for. They rolled up their sleeves and, strengthened by the teams not invited to join the ESL; football supporters made their feelings clear. The competition wasn’t wanted, they would never support it, and it was a non-starter.
European Super League explained
What exactly is all the fuss about, and what is the European Super League? It was a football competition proposed to replace the UEFA Champions League. It was to consist of two leagues of teams with a round-robin format. The three highest finishing sides would progress to the knockout stages with a selection of others involved in a playoff to join them. The play would then start to whittle down the teams until left with two who met in the final.
Sounds exciting. What was the problem? The main problem for most football fans was the Super League was a closed shop, reserved for the wealthiest sides to get even richer. The 18 to 20 teams would rake in a massive income for their involvement, leaving everyone else on the outside looking in. No relegation sits well with the business heads behind the idea, but it wasn’t something that appealed to the average fan who viewed it as a robbery of all they held dear in sport.
Protests in England made government act
Six English Premier League clubs – Man Utd, Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham, Liverpool and Man City – were involved in the ESL, making the shock announcement last week. It was a plan that must’ve been going on behind the scenes for quite some time, but the news seemed to catch most sports lovers off-guard. Added to the heightened tensions of the coronavirus lockdown that has seen supporters locked out of stadiums for more than a year in some parts of Europe, it was a recipe for disaster. This became obvious very quickly.
Hundreds of English football followers broke covid laws to gather in protest. They took their opposition to the streets, their team’s home arena, and even the training field. They acted swiftly, making worldwide news and causing panic. Police and club security were drafted in to help control the protests, which caught the eye of the UK government in London. British prime minister Boris Johnson became one of the most high profile names to break cover and condemn the English sides for their involvement in the Super League.
Clubs back down with some even apologising
Manchester City was the first club to announce their withdrawal, quickly followed by fellow English team Chelsea who informed the media of their sudden change of heart. Later that evening, the remaining Premier League teams pulled out.
The co-owner of Manchester United, Joel Glazer, penned an open letter to fans of the Red Devils in which he apologized for the club’s involvement in the European Super League and said they aimed to rebuild trust with fans. Across the city and Manchester City’s CEO, Ferran Soriano, wrote to fans and apologized for the mistake made and for the anguish it has caused during the fallout.
Liverpool John Henry was forced into a climb-down after he withdrew the Reds from the competition just 48 hours after signing up for it. An embarrassing episode for all concerned but not one a simple apology will fix. Fans and pundits are out for blood, and we could see heads roll. In the coming weeks, it’s possible those involved in the process of signing clubs up to the ESL scheme could lose their job or be shamed into selling up and moving on. The Super League is dead in the water, but we’ve not heard the last of this.
Chelsea has won the Champions League for the first time after stunned Bayern Munich in a dramatic penalty shoot-out at the Allianz Arena.
Thomas Mueller’s late header put Bayern on the brink of victory on home territory but Didier Drogba levelled things up with a bullet header at the death before coolly converting the decisive spot-kick.
The tournament which gave Chelsea their greatest agony when they lost on penalties to Manchester United four years ago in Moscow has now delivered the greatest glory in their 107-year history.
Juan Mata missed Chelsea’s first penalty but David Luiz, Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole were all successful. Philipp Lahm, Mario Gomez and goalkeeper Manuel Neuer were all on target for Bayern.
The momentum shifted decisively when Cech denied Ivica Olic and Bastian Schweinsteiger hit the post to leave Chelsea on the brink and present Drogba with his moment of destiny.
He was calmness personified as he rolled the ball past Neuer to spark wild scenes of elation among Chelsea’s players, staff and supporters.
Suspended captain John Terry joined the celebrations and lifted the trophy alongside Lampard but it was Drogba who was the hero, running the length of the pitch swirling his shirt above his head in triumph, as owner Roman Abramovich finally claimed the prize he craved above all others.
Chelsea has won the Champions League for the first time after stunned Bayern Munich in a dramatic penalty shoot-out at the Allianz Arena
The questions will now start about the future of interim manager Roberto Di Matteo – who has given the Russian what he wanted after so many painful failures, including that defeat on penalties by Manchester United in the rain of Moscow in 2008 which also saw Drogba sent off.
And it is hard to see how Drogba, now 34 but still able to produce the brilliance that defines big occasions, can be allowed to walk away as his contract reaches its conclusion.
This was a victory in the mould of Chelsea’s semi-final win against Barcelona, built on resilience, discipline, defensive organisation and nerve at the crucial times and done without the suspended Terry, Branislav Ivanovic, Ramires and Raul Meireles.
Abramovich will leave the big decisions for another day, but this was a night he and his club have desired since he walked into Stamford Bridge nine years ago – and achieved with an interim manager he had to appoint after sacking his personal choice, Andre Villas-Boas.
Terry was locked in conversation with former England coach Fabio Capello at pitchside before kick-off, the defender looking ruefully around the magnificent arena as he contemplated missing out because of his red card in Barcelona.
And Di Matteo delivered a surprise in his starting line-up, with youngster Ryan Bertrand handed a role on the left flank in front of Cole in an attempt to stifle the threat of former Blues winger Arjen Robben.
Chelsea’s blanket of defensive defiance served them well in the Nou Camp – and acted as a dress rehearsal for a first half spent almost entirely in their territory.
While the west London team were organised and resolute, they were also grateful that Bayern striker Gomez’s touch in front of goal deserted him at decisive moments.
Cech saved with his legs from Robben, but Gomez was guilty of failing to control just eight yards out when Franck Ribery’s shot landed at his feet, the German striker shooting wildly off target after a smart turn in the area.
Chelsea’s only serious response was a shot from Salomon Kalou eight minutes before half-time that was comfortably held by Bayern keeper Neuer.
The pattern continued after the break and Ribery thought he had finally pierced Chelsea’s resilience after 53 minutes, only to be ruled offside when Cole deflected Robben’s shot into his path.
At times this encounter was simply a matter of Bayern’s attack against Chelsea’s defence.
There was a rare moment of anxiety for Neuer when he could only half-clear Cole’s cross as he backpedalled, but Drogba’s shot lacked power and the keeper was able to recover.
As the frustration grew among the massed Bayern support they wasted another opportunity as Mueller pulled another presentable chance well wide from inside the area.
Mueller made amends in the best possible manner though, when he headed Bayern in front with seven minutes left. He arrived unmarked onto Toni Kroos’ cross to head past Cech.
Chelsea immediately sent on Fernando Torres for Kalou – but it was the man for the big occasion who delivered again in the 88th minute. Drogba won himself just enough space at the near post to meet Lampard’s corner and head powerfully past Neuer, who got a touch but could not keep it out.
Drogba went from hero to villain in the opening moments of the extra period when he conceded a penalty after bringing down Ribery with a reckless challenge. The France international was eventually taken off injured but in the meantime Chelsea keeper Cech was the saviour as he plunged low to save Robben’s poorly struck spot-kick.
Bayern had been over-generous in front of goal and were architects of their own frustration after 107 minutes when Olic tried to set up Daniel van Buyten in front of an open goal but the defender failed to react to his pass.
And so to penalties and the dramatic conclusion that gave Chelsea the biggest prize in European domestic football as the Champions League finally went to Stamford Bridge.
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