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 that they would withdraw from the new continental league, as the remaining Spanish and Italian clubs were left to survey their dwindling options.
The co-ordinated 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 favourite sport.
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.”
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.”
The moves came after 12 clubs from England, Spain and Italy signed binding contracts last weekend to enter the Super League. Teams from France and Germany declined to participate.
Earlier on Tuesday night, Aleksander Ceferin, Uefa president, welcomed the withdrawal of Manchester City, the first club to announce it would leave the project, saying: “It takes courage to admit a mistake but I have never doubted that they had the ability and common sense to make that decision.”
The withdrawals came following mounting anger and the threat 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 early legal advantage in 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, which runs the sport in Europe, might take against the Super League. The ruling meant that the football federations and their members could be prevented from implementing sanctions against the clubs and their players.
A person close to the Super League said: “The desire for dialogue is there. But this was done to protect the clubs, players and they want to protect the Super League.”
The UK government launched a review that Oliver Dowden, culture secretary, said would consider how to give fans an “even greater say in the oversight of the game”.
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, which would also share the vast majority of any revenues generated by the competition. It 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 accelerated the growing crisis in European football, with Boris Johnson, UK prime minister, tweeting 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 on Tuesday.
Uefa reiterated its condemnation of the Super League and had spent the past few days consulting its lawyers to consider sanctions.
Ceferin, the Uefa president, 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.
James Milner, the Liverpool midfield player, voiced his opposition to the plan, telling 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, tweeted that “Football is nothing without fans”.
Pep Guardiola, Manchester City manager, also signalled his disapproval, telling a press conference on Tuesday 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 key driving force behind the launch of the Super League and its first chair, however, claimed that the competition would “save football”.