Chelsea and Manchester City are preparing to pull out of the European Super League after rival football clubs, managers, players, fans and politicians united in opposition to the controversial plans.
The two English clubs have begun the process of withdrawing from the new league, according to people briefed on the decision, as other clubs also reconsidered their involvement in the breakaway competition.
The move came after 12 clubs from England, Spain and Italy had last weekend signed binding contracts to enter the Super League. This means Chelsea and Manchester City officials need to prepare documentation to leave the pact.
The decision to withdraw signals the first outward signal of discontent between the rebel clubs, who have faced international condemnation over their involvement in a project that threatens to upend the hierarchy of the world’s favourite sport.
Chelsea and Manchester City declined to comment. The Super League did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Earlier on Tuesday, England’s Premier League vowed to take action against its member clubs that have joined the new contest.
Following a meeting of the 14 top-tier clubs not involved in the proposal, the Premier League said it was considering “all actions” to prevent the project from progressing and threatened to hold the six breakaway clubs “to account”. The clubs said they “unanimously and vigorously rejected” the plans.
Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur, the English clubs that are among the founding members of the Super League, were not invited to attend the meeting.
The Super League on Tuesday secured an early legal advantage in a Madrid commercial court in a ruling made following a request filed by the group.
A judge issued interim measures restricting any action that Fifa, football’s world governing body, and Uefa, which governs the sport in Europe, might take against the Super League. The ruling means that the football federations and their members could be prevented from implementing sanctions against the clubs and their players.
The Premier League, La Liga and Uefa declined to comment. Fifa did not immediately respond to requests.
A person close to the Super League said: “The desire for dialogue is there. But this was done to protect the clubs, players and they want to protect the Super League.”
The UK government has launched a review which Oliver Dowden, culture secretary, said would consider how to give fans an “even greater say in the oversight of the game”.
Premier League club West Ham United, currently in line to qualify for next season’s Champions League, said it would “do everything possible . . . to resist this attack on football in the best interests of our club and of the game we all love”.
The Super League, with 15 permanent members including Spain’s Barcelona and Real Madrid and Italy’s Juventus, AC Milan and Inter Milan, would include only five other qualifying spots, making it much harder for clubs such as West Ham to enter. The Uefa Champions League, the continent’s most prestigious club tournament, is open to England’s top four teams each season.
The threat of tangible and co-ordinated action against the Super League clubs is the next step of a growing crisis in European football, with Boris Johnson, UK prime minister, tweeting that “no action is off the table and we are exploring every possibility to ensure these proposals are stopped”. He met Premier League officials to discuss the matter on Tuesday.
Uefa reiterated its condemnation of the Super League and is consulting its lawyers to consider sanctions.
Aleksander Ceferin, Uefa president, has threatened to ban breakaway teams from this season’s Champions League, while Uefa and global body Fifa have said players could be barred from representing their countries in international competitions.
Jurgen Klopp, the manager of Liverpool, has voiced his opposition to the plan, telling the BBC: “I don’t like it one bit and hopefully it doesn’t happen.”
Marcus Rashford, the Manchester United forward known for his campaigning efforts around free school meals, tweeted that “Football is nothing without fans”.
Pep Guardiola, Manchester City manager, also signalled his disapproval, telling a press conference on Tuesday that “sport is not sport if losing doesn’t matter”.
Nasser Al-Khelaifi, the chair and chief executive of Paris Saint-Germain, the French champions, said that “any proposal without the support of Uefa . . . does not resolve the issues currently facing the football community, but is instead driven by self-interest”.
Florentino Perez, Real Madrid president, a key driving force behind the launch of the Super League and its first chair, has, however, claimed that the competition will “save football”.