Manchester City has withdrawn from proposals for a European Super League and Chelsea is set to do the same after a furious backlash against the controversial plan, which was floated less than 48 hours ago.
Chelsea and City were two of 12 leading European clubs to sign up to the breakaway league on Monday (AEDT).
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But reaction to the incendiary scheme has been scathing, with politicians and football authorities threatening to take legal action against the so-called “dirty dozen” and potentially ban them from domestic leagues.
Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal, Tottenham, Juventus, Inter Milan, AC Milan, Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid were the other 10 sides to agree to the plan. However, reports have emerged that Atletico and Barcelona are both also considering withdrawing.
In a statement, Manchester City said: “Manchester City Football Club can confirm that it has formally enacted the procedures to withdraw from the group developing plans for a European Super League.”
Manchester United executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward, who joined the club in 2005, announced he will resign at the end of 2021, but made no mention of the Super League.
“I am extremely proud to have served United and it has been an honour to work for the world’s greatest football club for the past 16 years,” Woodward said in a statement.
“The club is well positioned for the future and it will be difficult to walk away at the end of the year.
“I would like to thank United’s passionate fans for their support during the good and bad times. I know this has been a challenging period in our history, but your support for the team has never, ever been in doubt.”
There are also unconfirmed reports Juventus chairman Andrea Agnelli is preparing to quit his post too, but the club has denied that.
Earlier, UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin told the clubs it was not too late to admit they had made a mistake.
“Gentlemen, you made a huge mistake,” said Ceferin. “Some will say it is greed, some complete ignorance of England’s football culture. There’s still time to change your mind. Everyone makes mistakes.”
Fans voice fury as Super League implodes
There were incredible scenes outside Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge stadium as fans gathered to protest against the plan ahead of their side’s Premier League match against Brighton.
Less than two hours after the protesters made their feelings known, it was first reported that Chelsea were preparing documentation to become the first club to withdraw from the competition.
The BBC reported that Blues owner Roman Abramovich is understood to have driven the decision.
Former Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech, now the club’s technical advisor, had come out of the stadium in a bid to persuade fans to clear the roads as the home side’s team bus was held up by the protest, causing kick-off to be delayed by 15 minutes.
Cech was heard shouting “give us time” before being drowned out by angry protesters.
Coaches, players criticise $5.4b breakaway
The 20-team competition was designed by the European giants to guarantee revenue from regular matches against one another without the risk of failing to qualify for 15 founder members.
The 12 teams had signed up to share an initial pot of over $5.4 billion. However, the plan was fiercely criticised by even their own players and managers for acting as a closed shop.
“It’s not a sport when the relation between effort and reward doesn’t exist,” said Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola.
“It’s not a sport when success is already guaranteed, it’s not a sport if it doesn’t matter if you lose.”
Manchester United forward Marcus Rashford shared an image on Twitter of one of the banners which covers the stands at Old Trafford.
The banner carries a quote from the club’s legendary former manager Sir Matt Busby, which reads: “Football is nothing without fans.”