Teams abandon breakaway European football competition after popular backlash and sanctions threat
Leading English football clubs have pulled out of the European Super League, in effect killing off the breakaway competition after rival teams, managers, players, fans and politicians united in opposition to the contentious plans. Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur announced on Tuesday that they would withdraw from the continental league.
The remaining Spanish and Italian clubs were left to survey their dwindling options, insisting in a joint statement that their proposals were correct but that they would “consider” how to redesign it. The moves came after a day of frantic behind-the-scenes discussions at the Super League clubs following international condemnation over their involvement in a project that threatened to overturn the hierarchy of the world’s most popular sport.
Twelve clubs from England, Spain and Italy signed binding contracts last weekend to enter the new competition but teams from France and Germany declined to participate. Manchester United, owned by the US billionaire Glazer family, who are among the architects of the Super League, said: “We have listened carefully to the reaction from our fans, the UK government and other key stakeholders.”
Ed Woodward, Manchester United’s executive vice-chair, also resigned from his position, although he will continue to work for the club until the end of the year. Daniel Levy, chair of Tottenham Hotspur, said: “We regret the anxiety and upset caused.” Arsenal said: “We made a mistake, and we apologise for it.”
Aleksander Ceferin, president of Uefa, which runs the sport in Europe, welcomed the decision of the English clubs. “It is admirable to admit a mistake and these clubs made a big mistake,” he said. “But they are back in the fold now and I know they have a lot to offer not just to our competitions but to the whole of the European game.”
The withdrawals came following mounting anger among fans and politician and threats of sanctions. After a meeting of the 14 English top-tier clubs not involved in the proposal, the Premier League said it was considering “all actions” to prevent the project from progressing and threatened to hold the six breakaway clubs “to account”. The clubs said they “unanimously and vigorously rejected” the plans.
The Super League had appeared to secure an advantage from a Madrid commercial court, in a ruling made following a request filed by the group. A judge issued interim measures restricting any action that Fifa, football’s world governing body, and Uefa might take against the competition. The ruling meant that the football federations and their members could be prevented from implementing sanctions against the clubs and their players.
The remaining Super League clubs on Wednesday that the British clubs had been forced to exit because of pressure and hailed the court’s decision. “We are convinced that the status quo of European football needs a change and we are proposing a new competition because the current system does not work properly,” the clubs said, describing the proposal as “an excellent opportunity to face the financial difficulties generated by the pandemic”. But it added: “Given the circumstances, we are going to reconsider the appropriate measures to redesign this project, always bearing in mind . . . the best possible experience to fans and strengthened solidarity for the entire football community.”
The Super League was designed to have 15 permanent members, including Spain’s Barcelona and Real Madrid and Italy’s Juventus, AC Milan and Inter Milan. The clubs would share the vast majority of any revenues generated by the competition, which would include only five other qualifying spots each season.
By contrast, the Champions League, the continent’s most prestigious club tournament, is open to any team that qualifies through strong performances in their respective national leagues. The threat of tangible and co-ordinated action against the Super League clubs has accelerated the growing crisis in European football.
Boris Johnson, UK prime minister, wrote on Twitter that “no action is off the table and we are exploring every possibility to ensure these proposals are stopped”. He met Premier League officials to discuss the matter. Ceferin threatened to ban breakaway teams from this season’s Champions League, while Uefa and Fifa said players could be barred from representing their countries in international competitions. Players and managers also voiced their opposition.
James Milner, the Liverpool midfield player, told the BBC: “I don’t like it one bit and hopefully it doesn’t happen.” Marcus Rashford, the Manchester United forward known for his campaigning efforts around free school meals, wrote on Twitter that “Football is nothing without fans”. Pep Guardiola, Manchester City manager, told a press conference on that “sport is not sport if losing doesn’t matter”. Nasser Al-Khelaifi, the chair and chief executive of Paris Saint-Germain, the French champions, said that “any proposal without the support of Uefa . . . does not resolve the issues currently facing the football community, but is instead driven by self-interest”. Florentino Pérez, Real Madrid president, a crucial driving force behind the launch of the Super League and its first chair, however, has claimed that the competition would “save football”.