Leaders of the breakaway European Super League were searching for ways to rescue the ill-fated project on Wednesday after all six English clubs pulled out and Italy’s Inter Milan 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.
“Greed has not prospered. We are here, we’re the people, multiple fans, standing against disgusting greed and we’ve triumphed,” said Chelsea fan Tom Cunningham.
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 revenues during the pandemic.
But the project was vehemently opposed across the football spectrum, from fans to players, coaches, politicians and UEFA and FIFA, the European and world football bodies.
The clubs were threatened with a ban from domestic and European football, while their players could even have been barred from representing their countries.
UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin struck a conciliatory tone on Wednesday, saying he wanted to “rebuild the unity” of European football, 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,” Ceferin said in a statement.
“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.
“The important thing now is that we move on, rebuild the unity that the game enjoyed before this and move forward together.”
– ‘Blood pact’ –
Italy’s ANSA news agency, quoting unnamed sources at the club, said Inter were likely to join the English clubs 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 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 also said 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, according to Italy’s La Repubblica.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson hailed the English pull-outs, tweeting 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 added.
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”.
Reigning European champions Bayern Munich and French giants Paris Saint-Germain had both come out strongly opposed to the breakaway league, dealing it a heavy blow.
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 2021.
Several players of the English clubs had voiced opposition to the Super League, and Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola commented: “It’s not a sport when success is already guaranteed.”
After City became the first team to pull out, their England forward Raheem Sterling was quick to farewell the project.
“Ok bye,” he tweeted.