Leaders of the breakaway European Super League yesterday were searching for ways to rescue the ill-fated project after all six Premier League clubs pulled out and Serie A’s Inter were tipped to follow suit.
The withdrawal by Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur, just two days after the league’s unveiling, followed a furious reaction from fans, officials and politicians.
The departures reduced the “Dirty Dozen” to just six — Real Madrid, Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, Juventus, AC Milan and Inter — and left the lucrative venture on life support.
Chelsea said it withdrew after considering “the best interests of the club, our supporters or the wider football community.”
Chelsea’s withdrawal came amid a protest from fans at Stamford Bridge.
“Greed has not prospered. We are here, we’re the people, multiple fans, standing against disgusting greed and we’ve triumphed,” Chelsea fan Tom Cunningham said.
The Super League promised guaranteed entry for its founding clubs and billions of dollars in payments. Most of the clubs have huge debts and wage bills, and suffered a drop in revenue amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, the project was vehemently opposed across the soccer spectrum, from fans to players, coaches, politicians and UEFA and FIFA.
The planned breakaway began a battle with UEFA and national leagues, and prompted interventions from leaders, including British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
While ostensibly over plans to take the cream from the Champions League, the fight is also about control of a sport whose finances have been hammered by the pandemic, and the biggest clubs want more money.
Initially six teams from England, three from Italy and three from Spain were involved in the proposal for a new league to start in August.
They all have broad fanbases, but also significant debts and are seeking to juice broadcasting rights and underpin revenue after a year spent playing in empty stadiums.
UEFA called the new league “cynical” and is pushing ahead with plans for a revamped version of the Champions League.
Yet it may be the wider anger that pushed some clubs to rethink.
Liverpool team captain Jordan Henderson wrote on Twitter that “we don’t like it and we don’t want it to happen.”
There was also a revolt among high-profile players and coaches at other clubs.
Liverpool owner John Henry, the businessman behind the Boston Red Sox and the Boston Globe, issued an remorseful pre-recorded message.
“I want to apologize to all the supporters and fans at Liverpool Football Club for the disruption I caused over the past 48 hours,” Henry said. “I alone am responsible for the necessary negativity brought forward over the past couple of days.”
The clubs were threatened with a ban from domestic and European soccer, while their players could even have been barred from representing their countries.
UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin struck a conciliatory tone, saying that he wanted to “rebuild the unity” of European soccer, and described the English clubs as “back in the fold.”
“I said yesterday that it is admirable to admit a mistake and these clubs made a big mistake, 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,” Ceferin said in a statement.
“The important thing now is that we move on, rebuild the unity that the game enjoyed before this and move forward together,” he said.
Italy’s Agenzia Nazionale Stampa Associata, quoting unnamed sources at Inter, said that the club was likely to join the English sides in pulling out.
“The Super League project at present is no longer considered of interest by Inter,” the sources were quoted as saying.
However, the Super League said it was looking for ways to “reshape,” insisting that the “status quo of European football needs to change.”
“We shall reconsider the most appropriate steps to reshape the project,” a statement said.
Juventus chairman Andrea Agnelli said that the Super League, headed by Real Madrid president Florentino Perez, was “moving forward” and “has a 100 percent likelihood of success.”
“There is a blood pact binding our clubs together,” Agnelli said ahead of emergency talks with the other remaining clubs, Italy’s La Repubblica reported.
Johnson hailed the English pull-outs, writing on Twitter that “this is the right result for football fans, clubs and communities across the country.”
“We must continue to protect our cherished national game,” he wrote.
The English Football Association also welcomed the withdrawals, praising fans for “their influential and unequivocal voice.”
British newspapers were gleeful, with tabloid the Sun headlining: “Cheerio! Cheerio! Cheerio!” and the Daily Mail praising the “Defeat over greed.”
In Italy, La Gazzetta dello Sport said that it was really the “fist of politics” that had brought down the league — uniting everyone from the international press to the European Commission and political leaders in condemnation.
The paper compared the project to a dam made of cardboard, and mocked the Super League for lasting as long as “a cat on a motorway.”
Reigning European champions Bayern Munich and French giants Paris Saint-Germain had come out strongly opposed to the breakaway league, dealing it a heavy blow.
PSG chairman Nasser al-Khelaifi said that “football is a game for everyone.”
Atletico Madrid and Barcelona might now also be in favor of withdrawing, the Telegraph reported.
Adding to the drama on Tuesday, Manchester United announced that executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward would step down from his role at the end of this year.
Several players of the English clubs had voiced opposition to the Super League proposal, and Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola commented: “It’s not a sport when success is already guaranteed.”
After City pulled out, their England forward Raheem Sterling was quick to farewell the project.
“Ok bye,” he wrote on Twitter.
Additional reporting by Bloomberg
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