Plans for a European soccer superleague appeared on the brink of collapse on Tuesday, a potentially spectacular implosion for a multibillion-dollar plan that had prompted howls of outrage from nearly every corner of the soccer world since it was announced on Sunday.
Chelsea, one of six English teams that had signed up as a founding member of the new league, was preparing documentation to officially withdraw from the project, according to a person familiar with the club’s discussions. A spokesman for the club declined to comment.
Manchester City, which leads the Premier League, was also close to pulling out of its agreement, according to people with knowledge of the situation. City’s about face came soon after its celebrated Spanish coach, Pep Guardiola, had slammed the plans for a closed competition, saying “it is not a sport if it doesn’t matter if you lose.” A Manchester City spokeswoman, citing legal reasons, declined to comment on the clubs plans.
The Super League, an alliance of a dozen of the world’s best, richest and most popular teams, would have redrawn soccer’s structures and economics, and brought about one of the largest redistributions of wealth in sports history by funneling billions of dollars to a handful of clubs who would become permanent members of a new elite competition. Some of the biggest brands in soccer — including Real Madrid, Manchester United, Liverpool and Juventus — were to be part of the league.
Instead, it appeared set to fall apart amid a growing wave of internal revolt, political threats, fan outrage and, most ominously, humbling U-turns by several of its founding teams.
European soccer officials had erupted in fury over the plans over the weekend, seeing them as a direct challenge to the domestic leagues and Continental competitions that have served as the backbone of European soccer for a century.
That outrage soon spread. Players on the prospective Super League clubs came out publicly against the plan. Coaches did little to disguise their opposition. And politicians in England and France pledged to oppose the plan with official action.
Hundreds of fans protesting the Super League marched on Chelsea’s stadium before its game with Manchester City on Tuesday, a day after Liverpool fans had surrounded the team’s bus as it arrived for a Premier League game at Leeds United.
Chelsea, like some of the other founding clubs, has been taken aback by the strength of opposition to the proposals from its fans and the wider British public. The strength of feeling led to the team’s change of heart, according to the person with knowledge of the club’s plans.
The Guardian newspaper reported the team was forced to pull out after a revolt by players concerned they would not be able to participate for their national teams in global events like the World Cup, or regional tournaments like this summer’s European Championship and the Copa América in South America.