Atletico Madrid and Inter Milan followed all six English Premier League clubs in pulling out of the European Super League, dealing a fatal blow to a planned project that prompted backlash from supporters.
The move by the Spanish and Italian teams on Wednesday came a day after six English Premier League clubs also quit the controversial elite competition following a storm of protests from fans, players, managers and governments.
The game’s European and world governing bodies UEFA and FIFA also threatened to impose bans and sanctions.
“For the club, harmony is essential between all the groups that make up the rojiblanco family, especially our fans,” Atletico said in a statement.
Manchester City were the first to back out of the venture and then Arsenal, Manchester United, Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea announced they were following suit.
The Super League issued a statement suggesting that while they might be suspending their project, they had not completely abandoned it.
“Given the current circumstances, we shall reconsider the most appropriate steps to reshape the project, always having in mind our goals of offering fans the best experience possible while enhancing solidarity payments for the entire football community,” the statement said.
The Madrid-based organisation said the departure of the English teams was due to “pressure” placed on them and said they were “convinced that the current status quo of European football needs to change”.
The league, which was announced on Sunday with 12 founding members, is being championed by Real Madrid President Florentino Perez, the new competition’s chairman. It is now left with three Italian clubs – AC Milan, Juventus and Inter Milan – plus Perez’s Real Madrid along with Barcelona and Atletico Madrid from Spain.
UEFA, whose elite Champions League competition was at risk from the proposed new league, threatened to ban the clubs and players who joined the Super League.
UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin, however, had earlier urged the English clubs to think again and adopted a conciliatory tone.
“I said yesterday that it is admirable to admit a mistake and these clubs made a big mistake,” he said after the English clubs announced their decisions to leave.
“But they are back in the fold now and I know they have a lot to offer not just to our competitions but to the whole of the European game.
“The important thing now is that we move on, rebuild the unity that the game enjoyed before this and move forward together,” he said.
Adding to the drama, Manchester United Executive Vice Chairman Ed Woodward announced his resignation shortly before his club gave up on a project he had been influential in bringing about.
#SuperLeague has been officially SUSPENDED 🚨🚫
– English clubs have left (Chelsea too, official soon).
– Inter have left, AC Milan are set to leave.
– Juventus and Spanish clubs: waiting for official position.
The whole #SuperLeague has been stopped to “reshape the project”.
— Fabrizio Romano (@FabrizioRomano) April 20, 2021
Reigning European champions Bayern Munich and French giants Paris Saint-Germain came out strongly opposing the breakaway league.
Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson tweeted a statement on behalf of the squad, saying: “We don’t like it and we don’t want it to happen. This is our collective position.”
The Super League had argued that it would increase revenues to the top clubs and allow them to distribute more money to the rest of the game.
US investment bank JP Morgan was brought in to finance the new league, providing a 3.5 billion euros ($4.2bn) grant to the founding clubs to spend on infrastructure and recovery from the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, the sport’s governing bodies, other teams and fan organisations said the Super League would boost the power and wealth of the elite clubs and the partially closed structure of the league went against European football’s longstanding model.
Unlike Europe’s current top-level Champions League competition, where teams have to qualify through their domestic league, the founding Super League teams would have guaranteed themselves a place in the new competition every year.
Most of the English clubs made only brief statements, but Arsenal apologised to their fans for being involved.
“It was never our intention to cause such distress, however when the invitation to join the Super League came, while knowing there were no guarantees, we did not want to be left behind to ensure we protected Arsenal and its future.
“As a result of listening to you and the wider football community over recent days we are withdrawing from the proposed Super League. We made a mistake, and we apologise for it,” the London club said in an open letter to fans.
The magnitude of the split in the game and the strength of feeling it generated 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.
The 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.
“We have listened carefully to the reaction from our fans, the UK government and other key stakeholders,” Manchester United said in a statement.
“We remain committed to working with others across the football community to come up with sustainable solutions to the long-term challenges facing the game.”