LONDON (AFP, REUTERS) – Plans for a European Super League (ESL) collapsed on Tuesday (April 20) as Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham joined Manchester City in withdrawing from controversial proposals that provoked a furious backlash.
Chelsea are reportedly set to follow leaving just six sides: Real Madrid, Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, AC Milan, Inter Milan and Juventus still involved in the project.
The ESL was designed by the European giants to guarantee revenue from more regular matches against one another without the risk of failing to qualify for 15 founder members.
A €3.5 billion (S$5.6 billion) pot, financed by US investment bank JPMorgan, had been raised to be distributed among the founding members to offset the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
However, reaction to the plans has been scathing, with politicians and football authorities threatening to take legal action against the so-called “dirty dozen”, who were told they faced potential bans from domestic and continental competitions.
“Manchester United will not be participating in the European Super League,” the 20-time English champions said in a statement.
“We have listened carefully to the reaction from our fans, the UK government and other key stakeholders.
“We remain committed to working with others across the football community to come up with sustainable solutions to the long-term challenges facing the game.”
United also announced on Tuesday that executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward will leave his role by the end of the year.
British Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said a fan-led review into the governance of English football will still go ahead despite the U-turn.
He tweeted: “The whole ESL move shows how out-of-touch these owners are. They have completely misjudged the strength of feeling from fans, players and the whole country. Football is for the fans.
“Our fan-led review will still happen and I remain convinced of the need for reform. We must make sure this never happens again.”
The plans were even fiercely criticised by many of the clubs’ own players and managers for acting as a closed shop.
Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson posted his disapproval of the plans on behalf of the squad on Twitter.
In a statement, Liverpool said: “Liverpool Football Club can confirm that our involvement in proposed plans to form a European Super League has been discontinued.
“In recent days, the club has received representations from various key stakeholders, both internally and externally, and we would like to thank them for their valuable contributions.”
Arsenal went further by apologising to supporters for misjudging the move to sign up to proposals.
“It was never our intention to cause such distress, however when the invitation to join the Super League came, while knowing there were no guarantees, we did not want to be left behind to ensure we protected Arsenal and its future,” the Gunners said in a statement.
“As a result of listening to you and the wider football community over recent days we are withdrawing from the proposed Super League. We made a mistake, and we apologise for it.”
Chelsea fans gathered outside Stamford Bridge to protest ahead of their side’s 0-0 draw with Brighton in the Premier League on Tuesday and celebrated when reports broke that the Blues were planning to pull out.
Tottenham fans had also planned a protest ahead of their clash on Wednesday against Southampton.
“We regret the anxiety and upset caused by the ESL proposal,” said Spurs chairman Daniel Levy.
Uefa president Aleksander Ceferin was quick to welcome the clubs back.
“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 important thing now is that we move on, rebuild the unity that the game enjoyed before this and move forward together.”
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, ahead of the news of all six withdrawas, said: “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.”