LONDON — All six English clubs dramatically abandoned plans to join a breakaway soccer Super League on Tuesday, threatening to implode the project by a group of elite English, Spanish and Italian clubs less than two days after it was announced.
Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United, Manchester City and Tottenham deserted the 12-team project amid an escalating backlash that saw the government warn of legislating to stop the breakaway competition.
Liverpool had been publicly urged to desert the Super League by its players, who repeated a sentiment first posted by captain Jordan Henderson. “We don’t like it and we don’t want it to happen,” Henderson tweeted. “This is our collective position.”
The new, largely closed competition that would split the teams away from UEFA’s existing Champions League.
The decisions to leave the Super League came as fans protested outside Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge stadium ahead of Tuesday’s game against Brighton and as English opposition to the scheme intensified.
“Good news that Chelsea and City have seen sense, and I urge the rest to follow swiftly,” Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden tweeted. “The whole ESL move shows how out-of-touch these owners are. They have completely misjudged the strength of feeling from fans, players and the whole country. Football is for the fans.
“Our fan-led review will still happen and I remain convinced of the need for reform. We must make sure this never happens again.”
The Premier League threatened to sanction the six rebel clubs and Prime Minister Boris Johnson considered introducing laws to stop them forming a new European competition he called a “cartel.”
Divisions within the Super League clubs also grew with Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola saying the Super League would damage the integrity and values of sport. Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp has also expressed concerns about the actions of his club’s owners.
The Premier League has already threatened the six Super League clubs with expulsion if they go it alone in Europe. The other 14 clubs met on Tuesday and “unanimously and vigorously” rejected the Super League plans.
“The Premier League is considering all actions available to prevent it from progressing, as well as holding those shareholders involved to account under its rules,” the English top division said in a statement.
The six clubs, driven by the American owners of Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal, had teamed up with the Spanish and Italian teams to rip up the structures of the European game.
“Sport is not a sport when the relationship between the effort and the success, the effort and reward doesn’t exist,” said Guardiola, whose Manchester City side leads the Premier League. “It’s not a sport. It’s not a sport when success is already guaranteed. It’s not a sport when it doesn’t matter when you lose.”
Premier League officials were also part of a meeting alongside representatives of fan groups led from Downing Street by Johnson, who told them the government would “drop a legislative bomb” on the Super League if necessary.
“I think it’s not in the interests of fans, it’s not in the interests of football,” Johnson said later in a news conference.
The government could adopt the 50-plus-1 rule from Germany that gives fans the majority of voting rights, nominally to protect clubs from being controlled by private investors. The Super League aims for 15 founding Super League clubs — three places are yet to be filled — and only five spots with more open access.
“How can it be right to have a situation in which you create a kind of cartel that stops clubs competing against each other, playing against each other properly, with all the hope and excitement that gives to the fans up and down the country?” Johnson said. “I think it offends against the basic principles of competition.”
Everton decried the “preposterous arrogance” of Super League clubs. Everton’s nine titles are the fourth most by a team in the history of the English top division, and the club from Merseyside was considered part of the country’s elite in the 1980s and early 1990s.
“The backlash is understandable and deserved — and has to be listened to,” Everton’s board of directors said in a statement. “This preposterous arrogance is not wanted anywhere in football outside of the clubs that have drafted this plan.”
Everton’s majority owner, British-Iranian businessman Farhad Moshiri, has spent heavily in recent years in an effort to push the team, which is managed by Carlo Ancelotti, into the group stage of the Champions League for the first time.
West Ham is also pursuing a top-four finish to qualify for the Champions League for the first time. The east London club said the Super League was an “attack on sporting integrity, undermines competition.”