Metro (UK)

THEY THINK IT’S ALL OVER

CHELSEA AND MAN CITY AMONG FIRST SUPER CLUBS TO CRACK

- By AIDAN RADNEDGE

THE new European Super League has started to crack, with two of English football’s Big Six clubs stepping back from the breakaway alliance.

After a furious backlash, Manchester City last night withdrew and Chelsea were preparing exit documents – less than 48 hours after their respective owners Sheikh Mansour and Roman Abramovich said they would be founder members.

Chelsea fans demonstrat­ed before last night’s match against Brighton and Hove Albion, forcing technical director and former star Petr Cech to plead with them to let the team bus through, saying: ‘I know, give us time.’ There were reports that all 12 clubs were meeting virtually to look at an ‘exit strategy’, with one source saying: ‘They have heard the fans.’

The U-turn came hours after Boris Johnson threatened ‘a legislativ­e bomb’ to thwart the English rebels, including Liverpool, Manchester United, Spurs and Arsenal. During a meeting with fan groups, the Football Associatio­n and the Premier League, the prime minister declared ‘unwavering support’ for opposition

to the plans revealed on Sunday. He said: ‘How can it be right to create a kind of cartel that stops clubs competing against each other, with all the hope and excitement that gives to fans up and down the country?’

He added: ‘No action is off the table and we are exploring every possibilit­y to ensure these proposals are stopped.

‘We should drop a legislativ­e bomb to stop it – and we should do it now.’

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer backed him, saying: ‘This is about willpower – if the government is determined to do something about it, we will back them.’

Last night the PM said: ‘The decision by Chelsea and Manchester City is – if confirmed – absolutely the right one and I commend them for it. I hope the other clubs involved in the European Super League will follow their lead.’

The six planned to join Italy’s Juventus, AC Milan and Internazio­nale, and Spain’s Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid, in a new league to rival Uefa’s Champions League. Founders would never face relegation, and share an initial £3.5billion bonanza.

But opponents fear it would ruin competitio­n at home and cut clubs’ income while leaving more money in the hands of the giants’ billionair­e owners.

Culture secretary Oliver Dowden had earlier announced a ‘fan-led review’ of football governance, which could also consider changes to club ownership rules including a German-style ‘ 50+1’ system, barring commercial interests from majority control.

England star Marcus Rashford backed the growing revolt – even though his own club Manchester United is among its founders.

The campaignin­g striker – whose fight to give children free meals during half-term lockdown forced a government U-turn – tweeted: ‘ Football is nothing without fans.’

Ex-club captain Gary Neville welcomed the post – a quote from United’s legendary former boss Sir Matt Busby – adding: ‘This is a beautiful thing!’

Ex-England skipper Gary Lineker, who vowed ‘never’ to work on Super League TV coverage, shared the post commenting: ‘Well played, Marcus.’

European football body Uefa has threatened to ban the clubs from other competitio­ns and players also face being kept out of internatio­nal tournament­s including next year’s World Cup.

The rebels had been boosted earlier yesterday when a Spanish commercial court ruled Fifa and Uefa must not adopt ‘ any measure that prohibits, restricts, limits or conditions’ the new league’s creation. Super League chairman and Real Madrid president Florentino Perez had claimed they were trying to ‘save football’ – because 18 to 24-year-olds were losing interest.

He said: ‘Audiences are decreasing and rights are decreasing and something had to be done.

‘We are all ruined. Television has to change so we can adapt. Young people are no longer interested in football. There are a lot of poor quality games and they are not interested, they have other platforms on which to distract themselves.’

Last night the fiasco appeared to have claimed its first victims as Juventus president Andrea Agnelli quit, and it was revealed Manchester United’s executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward will stand down.

THE proposed European Super League fell apart last night following 48 hours of almost constant condemnati­on of the 12 breakaway clubs.

As the drip-by-drip effect of teams starting to drop out took hold, Ed Woodward announced he was resigning as Manchester United’s executive vice-chair with another of the project’s ringleader­s, Andrea Agnelli, said to have quit his position as Juventus president. Pressure had been mounting throughout the day, with reigning European champions Bayern Munich announcing they had no intention of being part of the league while Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola (left) and a host of bigname players including Kevin De Bruyne, Marcus Rashford and Luke Shaw criticised the plans. Prime minister Boris Johnson had also used his coronaviru­s press briefing to re-emphasise the government’s commitment to preventing the league from happening. Meanwhile, a summit of the 14 Premier League clubs not involved ‘unanimousl­y and vigorously’ rejected the plans and underlined the top-flight’s intention to hold the breakaway clubs to account with a statement from Everton accusing the so-called Big Six of ‘prepostero­us arrogance’.

But the fast-developing drama ramped up once hundreds of fans gathered to prevent Chelsea’s bus from entering Stamford Bridge for last night’s Premier League game against Brighton.

The blockade was only lifted once it was revealed the Blues intended to withdraw from the ESL, sparking scenes of celebratio­n.

Within minutes, word was received Manchester City, Atletico Madrid and Barcelona also intended to drop out. Indeed, events happened so quickly Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel appeared to be have no knowledge of his club’s decision to jump ship when he was interviewe­d for television before their game.

It was late on Sunday that some of Europe’s elite clubs had revealed their involvemen­t in the £4.3billion so-called Super League, with financing lined up by American banking giant JP Morgan.

Less than 48 hours later, representa­tives of the 12 rebel clubs – the others are Liverpool, Arsenal, Tottenham, AC Milan, Inter Milan and Real

Madrid – were locked in talks to discuss an ‘exit strategy’.

City were the first club to officially pull out, saying they had ‘formally enacted the procedures to withdraw’ from the breakaway group.

It was a decision quickly welcomed by Uefa president Aleksander Ceferin, who said: ‘I am delighted to be working with them for a better future for the European game.’

But while United last night confirmed Woodward (left) would step down at the end of 2021 in a statement it bizarrely did not refer to the European Super League.

The silence from many of the other clubs remained deafening. Legendary former player and manager Kenny Dalglish tweeted last night: ‘The last few days have been difficult for everyone who loves Liverpool Football Club and I really hope we do the right thing.’ Reds skipper Jordan Henderson, having reportedly arranged an emergency summit of Premier League captains, then tweeted: ‘We don’t like it and we don’t want it to happen. ‘That’s our collective position. Our commitment to this football club and its supporters is absolute and unconditio­nal.’

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 ?? EPA ?? Blue card: Fans protest at Stamford Bridge before Chelsea’s match last night
EPA Blue card: Fans protest at Stamford Bridge before Chelsea’s match last night
 ??  ?? League of their owners: Roman Abramovich and Sheikh Mansour
League of their owners: Roman Abramovich and Sheikh Mansour
 ?? GETTY ?? Euro-pain: Fan reads coverage in an Italian sports paper
GETTY Euro-pain: Fan reads coverage in an Italian sports paper
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 ?? GETTY ?? Red rage: Banner on gates of Liverpool ground
GETTY Red rage: Banner on gates of Liverpool ground
 ?? PA ?? Left behind: United fan’s Old Trafford message
PA Left behind: United fan’s Old Trafford message
 ??  ?? Sign language: Supporters make their feelings clear
Mass protest: Chelsea followers gather outside the stadium before last night’s game with Brighton
Passionate: Goalkeeper-turneddire­ctor Cech pleads with fans outside Stamford Bridge
Sign language: Supporters make their feelings clear Mass protest: Chelsea followers gather outside the stadium before last night’s game with Brighton Passionate: Goalkeeper-turneddire­ctor Cech pleads with fans outside Stamford Bridge

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