LONDON (AP) — Chelsea was preparing to dramatically abandon its plan to join a breakaway Super League on Tuesday, threatening to implode the project by a group of elite English, Spanish and Italian clubs less than two days after it was announced.
Chelsea is preparing documents to tell the Super League it wants out of the 12-team plan, a person with knowledge of the decision told The Associated Press.
The person spoke on condition of anonymity because Chelsea was yet to send its decision to the organizers of the new, largely closed competition that would split the teams away from UEFA’s existing Champions League.
Chelsea was one of six English clubs along with three elite teams from both Spain and Italy who signed up to the Super League.
The decision came as fans protested outside the club’s Stamford Bridge stadium and as English opposition to the Super League intensified.
The Premier League threatened to sanction the six rebel clubs and Prime Minister Boris Johnson considered introducing laws to stop them forming a new European competition he called a “cartel.”
Divisions within the Super League clubs also grew with Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola saying the Super League would damage the integrity and values of sport. Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp has also expressed concerns about the actions of his club’s owners.
The Premier League has already threatened the six Super League clubs with expulsion if they go it alone in Europe. The other 14 clubs met on Tuesday and “unanimously and vigorously” rejected the Super League plans.
“The Premier League is considering all actions available to prevent it from progressing, as well as holding those shareholders involved to account under its rules,” the English top division said in a statement.
The six clubs, driven by the American owners of Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal, have teamed up with the Spanish and Italian teams to rip up the structures of the European game.
Tottenham is also part of the breakaway that would see the teams guaranteed entry each year into the Super League rather than having to qualify through the previous season’s Premier League placing.
“Sport is not a sport when the relationship between the effort and the success, the effort and reward doesn’t exist,” said Guardiola, whose Manchester City side leads the Premier League. “It’s not a sport. It’s not a sport when success is already guaranteed. It’s not a sport when it doesn’t matter when you lose.”
Premier League officials were also part of a meeting alongside representatives of fan groups led from Downing Street by Johnson, who told them the government would “drop a legislative bomb” on the Super League if necessary.
“I think it’s not in the interests of fans, it’s not in the interests of football,” Johnson said later in a news conference.
The government could adopt the 50-plus-1 rule from Germany that gives fans the majority of voting rights, nominally to protect clubs from being controlled by private investors. The Super League aims for 15 founding Super League clubs — three places are yet to be filled — and only five spots with more open access.
“How can it be right to have a situation in which you create a kind of cartel that stops clubs competing against each other, playing against each other properly, with all the hope and excitement that gives to the fans up and down the country?” Johnson said. “I think it offends against the basic principles of competition.”
Everton decried the “preposterous arrogance” of Super League clubs. Everton’s nine titles are the fourth most by a team in the history of the English top division, and the club from Merseyside was considered part of the country’s elite in the 1980s and early 1990s.
“The backlash is understandable and deserved — and has to be listened to,” Everton’s board of directors said in a statement. “This preposterous arrogance is not wanted anywhere in football outside of the clubs that have drafted this plan.”
Everton’s majority owner, British-Iranian businessman Farhad Moshiri, has spent heavily in recent years in an effort to push the team, which is managed by Carlo Ancelotti, into the group stage of the Champions League for the first time.
West Ham is also pursuing a top-four finish to qualify for the Champions League for the first time. The east London club said the Super League was an “attack on sporting integrity, undermines competition.”