Chelsea and Man City withdrawal reports as Super League goes to court
Premier League clubs Chelsea and Manchester City were reported to be preparing the paperwork to withdraw from the breakaway European Super League less than 72 hours after agreeing to join it, in a major blow for the proposed new competition.
Shortly before the BBC reported that the two English clubs were set to back out of the breakaway competition, in Spain the new league went to court to stop the soccer authorities from thwarting its plans.
Chelsea and City were among the 12 teams who announced on Sunday that they were setting up a rival to UEFA's Champions League without the need for annual qualification.
The announcement has prompted a wave of opposition from within the game, political world and public opinion, particularly in England.
The news that Chelsea, owned by Russian Roman Abramovich, were taking steps to pull away from the plan, was celebrated wildly by Chelsea fans who had been protesting outside their team's behind closed-doors Premier League game against Brighton and Hove Albion.
Neither Chelsea, Manchester City nor the Super League organisation immediately responded to a request for comment.
The moves came shortly after the Super League won a preliminary ruling from a Madrid court to stop European soccer body UEFA and the sport's global governing body FIFA from imposing sanctions designed to stop the new formation.
The company set up to run the new league is headquartered in Madrid and Real Madrid president Florentino Perez is the league's first chairman.
The court said in a ruling seen by Reuters that FIFA, UEFA and all its associated federations must not adopt "any measure that prohibits, restricts, limits or conditions in any way" the Super League's creation.
It was not immediately clear what authority the Madrid court, which adjudicates corporate disputes, had over the Swiss-based soccer bodies and a source close to UEFA said the organisation was "relaxed" about the ruling.
The Super League has been hoping that a mixture of defensive court actions and momentum would lead soccer's authorities to accept their new competition within the game.
FIFA president Gianni Infantino said that the clubs cannot be "half in, half out" of the established framework.
UEFA has threatened to ban the 12 clubs, who include Manchester United and Real Madrid, from domestic and international competition, with Infantino adding his voice to the backlash.
"We strongly disapprove ... if some go their own way then they must live with the consequences of their choice, either you are in, or you are out. You cannot be half in and half out," Infantino told UEFA's congress in Montreux, Switzerland.
The magnitude of the upheaval has led political leaders across Europe to speak out, and, in some cases, to threaten intervention.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said his government would consider passing legislation to stop the breakaway, likening the plans to creating a cartel.
Johnson held a meeting with representatives from the English Football Association, the English Premier League and fan groups where he confirmed the government would not stand by to allow the creation of a closed shop.
"If necessary, in order to protect that principle of competition we will seek, as I said, to the bodies earlier on, we will seek the legislative solution."
Amid continued condemnation and threats, UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin offered an olive branch to the breakaway dozen, asking them to "think again".
The Super League argues it would increase revenues to the top clubs and allow them to distribute more money to the rest of the game.
However, the sport’s governing bodies, other teams and fan organisations say it will increase the power and wealth of the elite clubs and the closed structure of the league goes against European football's long-standing model.
Unlike Europe’s current elite Champions League competition, where teams have to qualify through their domestic league, the founding Super League teams would guarantee themselves a place in the new competition every year.
England's 'big six' -- Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal -- came under fire from their domestic rivals for their involvement, with Everton accusing them of preposterous arrogance.
The English Premier League said it "unanimously and vigorously" rejected the plans.
After a meeting with the 14 clubs not involved, it said it was considering "all actions available" to stop the new competition.
The German Football Association (DFB) went even further, demanding the suspension of the 12 founding clubs until they reconsider.
"The clubs and their youth teams should be banned from all competitions until they think of their many supporters who have made them into top clubs in the world in the first place, and not only of their purses," DFB President Fritz Keller said on the official DFB Twitter account.
As well as the 'Big Six' from England and Real, Italian clubs Juventus, AC Milan, Inter Milan signed up along with Spain's Barcelona and Atletico Madrid.
UEFA chief Ceferin accused the breakaway dozen of contempt for smaller clubs, but the Slovenian insisted there was still time for reconciliation.
"I would like to address the owners of some English clubs. Gentlemen, you made a huge mistake," he said. "Some will say it is greed others disdain, arrogance or complete ignorance of England's football culture but actually it doesn't matter.
"What matters is that there is still time to change your mind, everyone makes mistakes, English fans deserve to have you correct your mistake, they deserve respect."
Addressing UEFA's congress Ceferin made a point of thanking Paris St Germain president Nasser Al-Khelaifi whose club is not one of those involved in the breakaway.
Portuguese giants Benfica also issued a statement denying they were in discussions to join and rejecting the plan.
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola was candid in his opinion of the proposed league.
"It is not a sport where the relation between effort and success does not exist," he said, while saying those behind it had an obligation to give more information.
"It is not a sport where success is already guaranteed or it doesn't matter where you lose."
Despite the universal wave of criticism, the instigators continued to argue that the breakaway was good for football.
In a letter to the club's commercial partners AC Milan chief executive Ivan Gazidis said: "We're confident that this new competition will capture the imagination of billions of soccer fans all over the world and will be a new, exciting chapter for the game."
* FIFA warns breakaway Super League clubs must be 'in or out'
* UEFA says there is still time for rebel clubs to change minds
* Bayern and PSG reject notion of joining breakaway
* Football is being saved by the league - Real Madrid president
* UK PM Boris Johnson keen to talk to other nations involved