LONDON — Fans loathed it, politicians opposed it and even Prince William warned of the damage it risked “to the game we love.”
So swift and ferocious was the backlash to a plan to create a new super league for European soccer that on Wednesday six of England’s most famous clubs were in disarray, issuing abject apologies as they disowned the failed breakaway project they had pledged to join.
Yet not everyone was a loser. For Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain, the crisis has presented a rare opportunity to seize the moral high ground on an issue that matters to many of the voters who helped him to a landslide victory in the 2019 election.
Threatening to use any means he could to block the plan, Mr. Johnson positioned himself as the defender of the working-class soccer fans whose forebears created England’s soccer clubs — and the enemy of the billionaire owners who now dominate the English game.
international soccer authorities threatened reprisals against the super league clubs and players, their position was untenable, he said.
announced in 2019 that it would move its headquarters to Singapore, citing growing demand in Asia.
In recent months, the successful roll out of vaccines against Covid-19 has revived Mr. Johnson’s fortunes after a succession of missteps last year when the government’s handling of the pandemic faltered.
So prevalent is soccer now in Britain’s national life that it cropped up then, too.
In April 2020, the health secretary, Matt Hancock, attacked highly paid soccer players, calling on them to “take a pay cut and play their part,” during the pandemic. But within months the government was outmaneuvered by Marcus Rashford, a star player for Manchester United and England.
Invoking his own poor childhood, Mr. Rashford galvanized a campaign against child poverty, and ultimately forced Mr. Johnson to change policy over free school meals.
This week the boot was on the other foot as Mr. Johnson was able to condemn the super league plans before Mr. Rashford, whose club initially signed up to the proposals.
It required no expertise to be “horrified” at the prospect of the super league “being cooked up by a small number of clubs.,” wrote Mr. Johnson in the Sun newspaper.