European Super League: How F1 avoided a ‘breakaway’ nightmare 12 years ago

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Football’s biggest names were forced into a humiliating U-turn on Tuesday night, as the national backlash against the proposed European Super League left the championship in tatters, only 48 hours after it was officially announced.

Nine of the 12 clubs from across England, Italy and Spain that originally signed up to form a new European Super League, despite opposition from European football governing body UEFA, have already pulled out within hours of each other, including the Premier League’s ‘Big Six’.

The plans provoked national outrage, with protests from fans, players, managers, and pundits alike. Threats of Government intervention followed, with Ed Woodward becoming the Super League’s first casualty, leaving his role at UEFA and standing down as Manchester United’s executive vice-chairman.

Perhaps FIFA, UEFA and the ‘Big Six’ would have benefitted from looking at how the Formula One Group, the FIA and its teams managed to prevent the same fiasco over a decade ago.

When Formula 1’s management proposed new cost-cutting plans back in 2009, tensions flared with seven teams threatening to quit F1, whilst Ferrari took the FIA to court over it.

Don’t underestimate your opposition

It was clear from the beginning that the owners of the ‘Big Six’ Super League teams underestimated the strength of opposition they would face.

Within hours of the League’s announcement on Sunday afternoon, the Premier League, the English, Spanish and Italian football federations as well as UEFA and FIFA, condemned the plans. Politicians also called for action to be taken to prevent the series going ahead.

Players and pundits did not shy away either, with former Manchester United and England defender and Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville calling their actions a “criminal act against football fans in this country”.

Fans made their opposition known with many gathering outside Stamford Bridge to protest, ahead of Chelsea’s match against Brighton on Tuesday evening.

Underestimating the opposition’s convictions carries a great risk and when the Formula One Group and the FIA tried to call the teams’ bluff back in 2009, seven teams including Red Bull, Ferrari and Renault refused to enter the 2010 season unless changes were made.

They claimed that proposals for an optional budget cap in exchange for greater technical freedoms would create a two-tier championship.

In an audacious move, Ferrari even attempted to get an injunction against the FIA’s regulations. However, the French courts rejected their bid.

Yet as the deadline to enter the 2010 season approached, eight F1 teams then announced plans to launch a breakaway series.

Losing some of the sport’s biggest names was a risk Formula One could not afford to take and FIA President Max Mosley was forced to compromise, allowing teams a greater say in the governance of the sport in exchange for a revised budget cap.

There’s always someone to blame

With British public’s ire turned on the clubs’ owners, fans are now searching to punish those who attempted to divide football.

Manchester United’s executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward looks to be the first of the ‘Big Six’s major players to go, announcing that he would resign at the end of 2021.

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Liverpool’s owner John W Henry has been forced to release a grovelling apology to the club’s fans, promising to win back their trust.

In situations like these, someone always ends up being held publicly responsible for the reputational damage it causes. As a part of the agreement to ensure that the F1 teams would enter the 2010 season, FIA President Max Mosley had to agree not to stand for re-election.

However, things don’t look to be as easy for football. The prioritisation of money over the principles of the game have only served to highlight how out of touch the clubs’ owners are with their fans and many more heads could roll by the time this dies down.

Unlike the Super League, Formula One teams, and the FIA showed a willingness to compromise, putting the long-term needs of their sport first once again during the pandemic. F1’s biggest teams Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull agreed to implement a cost cap of $145m, actively harming their interests to increase the sport’s competitiveness.

If the Super League and UEFA want to rebuild football’s future, they should look to the history books because now, the beautiful game looks to have turned ugly.

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