LONDON — Plans for a breakaway elite football league in Europe have already been unraveled, amid widespread criticism and even threats of government intervention.
The European Super League, announced on Sunday, is designed to rival the UEFA Champions League format, which is currently Europe’s premier annual club competition.
Twelve of Europe’s richest teams had signed up as founding members of the new league, and it was backed by $6 billion in debt financing from JPMorgan.
But the move sparked outrage from lawmakers, governing bodies, former players, fans, managers and pundits, with many concerned about the implications for the structure of domestic leagues.
Many saw it as a cynical project and highly controversial, as the permanent members of the league could not be demoted.
Chelsea became the first club on Tuesday night to indicate it was a leap of faith, with fans protesting the plans outside the west London stadium ahead of a Premier League game.
Manchester City soon followed with official confirmation of their withdrawal, and hours later England’s other four clubs withdrew.
John Henry, the principal owner of Liverpool and the Boston Red Sox, said in a video shared on Twitter on Wednesday“I would like to apologize to all Liverpool Football Club fans and supporters for the disruption I have caused over the past 48 hours.”
Arsenal apologized in an open letter to their fans that was published on the team’s website on Tuesday.
“The response from supporters over the past few days has given us time for further reflection and deep thought,” the letter said. “It was never our intention to cause so much suffering, but when the invitation to join the Super League came, knowing there were no guarantees, we didn’t want to be left behind to make sure we protected Arsenal and his future. .”
It continued: “As a result of listening to you and the wider football community in recent days, we are withdrawing from the proposed Super League. We have made a mistake and we apologize for that.”
Spain’s Atletico Madrid and Italy’s Inter Milan left the league on Wednesday, but four teams (Barcelona, Real Madrid, AC Milan and Juventus) have yet to withdraw.
However, Juventus president Andrea Agnelli said on Wednesday that the project cannot go ahead.
Shares of Juventus, one of three Italian teams that would have been part of the new league, fell a whopping 12% in trade on Wednesday morning.
“Despite the announced departure of the English clubs, who have been forced to make such decisions due to pressure on them, we are confident that our proposal is fully in line with European laws and regulations,” the ESL said late Tuesday night.
It added that it “is convinced that the current status quo of European football needs to change.”
UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin had condemned the project, describing it as “a spit in the face” of all football fans. Meanwhile, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson vowed to “thwart” it, comparing it to a “cartel”.
The teams that originally agreed to play in the ESL included:
- England: Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Tottenham, Chelsea and Arsenal.
- Spain: Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid.
- Italy: Juventus, AC Milan and Inter Milan.
On Monday evening, European Super League president Florentino Perez said the plans to form the new breakaway league were to save football.
He countered the widespread criticism, arguing that change is necessary because young people “are no longer interested” in the sport.
— Sam Meredith of CNBC contributed to this article.