English football clubs Manchester City and Chelsea are set to quit a controversial European Super League in a crucial blow for the proposed new competition, according to several media reports.
Chelsea and City were two of 12 leading European football clubs to sign up to the breakaway league on Sunday.
Manchester City said in a statement on Tuesday it has “formally enacted the procedures to withdraw from the group developing plans for a European Super League”.
Chelsea has yet to make an official statement.
Shortly before the BBC reported that the two English clubs were set to back out of the breakaway competition, in Spain the new competition went to court to stop the football authorities from thwarting its plans.
There was also speculation in Spain that Barcelona and Atletico Madrid may be planning similar steps in what could be a fatal blow to the planned but closed elite event.
An emergency meeting of the 12 clubs was said to be scheduled for Tuesday night, according to Spanish sports paper Marca.
The other teams are Arsenal, Tottenham, Liverpool and Manchester United from England; Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid from Spain; and AC Milan, Inter Milan and Juventus from Italy.
On Tuesday a Spanish mercantile court judge issued a preliminary ruling that banned FIFA, UEFA and others from taking any kind of action against the Super League clubs or players.
But the ruling may now be obsolete as the teams appeared to crumble amid the condemnations and sanction threats.
Hundreds of Chelsea fans had protested ahead of their team’s Premier League match against Brighton and Hove Albion on Tuesday, and celebrated widely upon hearing the news of their club’s withdrawal.
Meanwhile, Manchester United’s Ed Woodward will leave his role as executive vice-chairman at the end of the year, the Premier League club said in a statement on Tuesday. Woodward was one of the leading figures in the breakaway project.
“Manchester United has today announced that executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward will step down from his role at the end of 2021,” the club said in a statement.
Should several teams quit, it would surely mark the beginning of the end of what was to be a 20-team event with 15 permanent members in direct competition with UEFA’s Champions League which on Monday was agreed to be revised from 2024 onwards with 100 more matches.
The Super League argues it would increase revenues to the top clubs and allow them to distribute more money to the rest of the game.
Super League and Real Madrid president Florentino Perez had late on Monday told El Chiringuito TV that “we have to make it (football) more attractive. It is not something for the rich. We do this to save football”.
However, the sport’s governing bodies, other teams and fan organisations say it will increase the power and wealth of the elite clubs and the closed structure of the league goes against European football’s longstanding model.
Unlike Europe’s current elite Champions League competition, where teams have to qualify through their domestic league, the founding Super League teams would guarantee themselves a place in the new competition every year.
The magnitude of the upheaval has prompted a wave of opposition from within the game, political world and public opinion, particularly in England.
Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson called on clubs to quit the European Super League after Chelsea and Manchester City were reported to be preparing the paperwork to withdraw.
“The decision by Chelsea and Manchester City is – if confirmed – absolutely the right one and I commend them for it,” he wrote on Twitter on Tuesday.
The decision by Chelsea and Manchester City is – if confirmed – absolutely the right one and I commend them for it.
I hope the other clubs involved in the European Super League will follow their lead.
— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) April 20, 2021
The English Premier League said it “unanimously and vigorously” rejected the plans for the Super League.
After a meeting with the 14 clubs not involved, it said it was considering “all actions available” to stop the new competition.
Manchester City Manager Pep Guardiola was candid in his opinion of the proposed league.
“It is not a sport where the relation between effort and success does not exist,” he said, while saying those behind it had an obligation to give more information.
“It is not a sport where success is already guaranteed or it doesn’t matter where you lose.”
Meanwhile, Champions League winners Bayern Munich and finalists Paris Saint-Germain made it clear that they would not join the event, with Bayern president Herbert Hainer insisting: “FC Bayern says no to the Super League”.
Amid continued condemnation and threats, UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin offered an olive branch to the breakaway dozen, asking them to “think again”.
Ceferin went on to say that football belongs to everyone because it “is part of our heritage. Respect for history. Respect for tradition. Respect for others. This means something.”
No place for compromise
Gianni Infantino, president of world football’s governing body FIFA, also rejected the Super League plan and threatened the clubs involved with unspecified “consequences”.
“At FIFA, we can only strongly disapprove the creation of a Super League which is a closed shop, which is a breakaway from the current institutions, from the leagues, from the associations, from UEFA, and from FIFA,” he said on Tuesday.
“If some elect to go their own way, then they must live with the consequences of their choice,” he said.
“Concretely, this means either you are in or you are out. You cannot be half in or half out.”