“I remain convinced of the beauty of that project, of the value that it would have developed to the pyramid, of the creation of the best competition in the world,” Agnelli told Reuters, “but evidently no. I don’t think that project is now still up and running.”
In a statement, the Super League said, “Given the current circumstances, we shall reconsider the most appropriate steps to reshape the project.”
It was a rapid and astonishing turn of events after Sunday’s announcement rocked the world’s most popular sport. It drew threats from the sport’s international governing body, FIFA, to ban players on those clubs from playing for their national teams in the World Cup. It also prompted condemnation from players and fans.
Manchester City was the first in England to backtrack, followed by Liverpool, Arsenal, Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea — known as the Premier League’s “Big Six.”
Arsenal said it had “made a mistake.” Daniel Levy, chairman of fellow north London club Tottenham, said the club regretted the “anxiety and upset” caused by the proposal.
United said it “listened carefully” to the dissent, but in an indication that issues that prompted the Super League’s creation still need to be addressed, the club said, “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.”
Chelsea said “these plans would not be in the best interests of the club, our supporters or the wider football community.”
Hours before Chelsea’s Premier League match Tuesday in London, hundreds of supporters took to the streets outside Stamford Bridge to protest the Blues’ involvement, forcing a 15-minute delay to kickoff.
Petr Cech, a former Chelsea goalkeeper and current technical adviser, pleaded with the crowd to allow team buses to enter the grounds. But as rumors of Chelsea’s withdrawal began to spread, fans started chanting, “We saved football!” Protests that began Monday continued outside dormant stadiums in other European cities as well.
Aleksander Ceferin, president of UEFA, the European soccer governing body, said in a statement: “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.”
Liverpool players spoke out against the plan before their team withdrew. Speaking on behalf of his teammates, Jordan Henderson tweeted: “We don’t like it and we don’t want it to happen. … Our commitment to this football club and its supporters is absolute and unconditional.”
The Football Association, which oversees soccer in England, said in a statement the Super League was a “proposition that, by design, could have divided our game; but instead it has unified us all.”
The proposal was deeply unpopular in Britain, with fan groups from all six English clubs involved denouncing it. A YouGov survey published Monday showed 79 percent who follow the sport were opposed to the new league.
The Super League clubs had planned to continue competing in their respective domestic leagues while skipping the Champions League in favor of a separate tournament. “The existing system does not work,” the Super League said.
The 66-year-old Champions League gathers teams from European countries and, through a nine-month competition overlapping with domestic circuits, determines the best team on the continent. The annual final attracts a global TV audience of roughly a half-billion, four times greater than the Super Bowl.
A Champions League exit by titans such as Real Madrid, Barcelona and Manchester United threatened to not only diminish the popularity of the competition but jeopardize lucrative contracts. It also would shift soccer’s economics more heavily in favor of the big clubs through global TV rights and sponsorships.
The Super League would have established permanent membership for the 12 named clubs and three others — the antithesis of European soccer’s model of rewarding only those teams that have performed well in their domestic leagues with an opportunity for continental glory.
The notion of automatic participation, known as a “closed league,” generated significant blowback. Manchester City Manager Pep Guardiola, who led Barcelona to two Champions League titles, said soccer “is not a sport where success is already guaranteed, or it is not a sport when it doesn’t matter where you lose.”
The Super League said it would have invited five additional clubs annually, for a total of 20, though details were never disclosed. The tournament was to begin this August.
All of the founding teams were from the Premier League, Spain’s La Liga and Italy’s Serie A. The most popular teams from the other major European leagues — Bayern Munich in Germany’s Bundesliga and Paris Saint-Germain in France’s Ligue 1 — declined to join, casting doubt as to whether the plan would go forward.
The breakaway clubs have grumbled for years about the economic framework of the Champions League, claiming they were the ones driving global viewership and sponsorships, not the smaller clubs, and they should reap greater rewards.
Amid the coronavirus pandemic, those clubs said their bottom lines have been severely damaged by schedule disruptions and spectator-free stadiums.
Three of the six English clubs that had planned to break away are owned by Americans with ties to U.S. leagues that operate in closed systems: Manchester United (the Glazer family, who own the Tampa Bay Buccaneers); Liverpool (Fenway Sports Group/Boston Red Sox); and Arsenal (Stan Kroenke, who owns the Los Angeles Rams and several other franchises). JPMorgan Chase, the U.S. banking giant, pledged more than $4 billion to finance the Super League.
Earlier Tuesday, FIFA President Gianni Infantino warned the 12 breakaway clubs they “cannot be half in and half out,” referring to going about business as usual in their home countries.
UEFA weighed whether to ban three clubs (Chelsea, Manchester City and Real Madrid) from the 2020-21 Champions League semifinals, which start next week.
Real Madrid President Florentino Pérez, the Super League’s chairman, attempted to defend the breakaway plan, saying weekly matches between the world’s top clubs would be “the greatest show in the world; there’s nothing like it.”
It is unclear whether teams withdrawing from the Super League would face legal ramifications after signing on to the plan.
Karla Adam in London and Matt Bonesteel and Cindy Boren in Washington contributed to this report.