The two Milan giants and Atletico Madrid followed all six English Premier League clubs in pulling out of the European Super League on Wednesday, dealing a kil blow to the project.
The withdrawals by Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham came just 48 hours after the league’s unveiling late on Sunday following a furious response from fans and officials.
The three Italian clubs involved – Juventus, AC Milan and Inter Milan – admitted defeat and La Liga leaders Atletico Madrid also pulled out.
Real Madrid and Barcelona – the last of the initial group of 12 clubs to sign up – have yet to make any comment but the project in its current form is dead in the water.
AC Milan were one the main drivers behind the plans, having missed out on the Champions League for the past seven seasons.
The seven-time European champions said change was necessary due to the changing football landscape but admitted they “must be sensitive to the voice of those who love this wonderful sport”.
Italian champions Juventus said they remained “convinced of the soundness of the project’s sport, commercial and legal premises” but accepted it could not go ahead in its original form.
The Super League promised guaranteed entry for its founding clubs and billions of dollars in payments. Most of the clubs have huge debts and wage bills, and suffered a sharp drop in revenues during the coronavirus pandemic.
But the project was vehemently opposed across the football spectrum, from fans to players, coaches, politicians and Uefa and Fifa, the European and world football bodies.
The clubs were threatened with a ban from domestic and European football, while their players could even have been barred from representing their countries.
Uefa president Aleksander Ceferin struck a conciliatory tone on Wednesday, saying he wanted to “rebuild the unity” of European football, and described the English clubs as “back in the fold”.
“I said yesterday that it is admirable to admit a mistake and these clubs made a big mistake,” Ceferin said in a statement.
“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.”
Shares in Juventus plunged by more than 13 percent on Wednesday following a slump in the value of Manchester United stocks.
In response to the English pull-outs, the Super League had said it was looking for ways to “reshape”, insisting the “status quo of European football needs to change”.
“We shall reconsider the most appropriate steps to reshape the project,” its statement said.
Liverpool owner John W Henry apologised for his part in the planned Super League after club captain Jordan Henderson said the players did not want it to happen.
“I want to apologise to all the fans and supporters of Liverpool Football Club for the disruption I caused over the last 48 hours,” the American said in a video posted on the club’s Twitter site.
“It goes without saying but should be said, the project put forward was never going to stand without the support of the fans.”
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson hailed the English pull-outs, telling parliament: “The announcement was the right result for football fans, for clubs and for communities across the country.”
The English Football Association also welcomed the withdrawals, praising fans for “their influential and unequivocal voice”.
Reigning European champions Bayern Munich and French giants Paris Saint-Germain had both come out strongly opposed to the breakaway league, dealing it a heavy blow.
Adding to the drama on Tuesday, Manchester United announced that executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward would step down from his role at the end of 2021.
Several players at the English clubs had voiced opposition to the Super League, and Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola commented: “It’s not a sport when success is already guaranteed.”
Chelsea protests, Arsenal apology
In just 48 hours, English football fans forced four billionaires, a Russian oligarch and an Emirati sheikh into a hasty retreat as the European Super League collapsed with the withdrawal of six Premier League clubs.
After more than a year in soulless stadiums, with supporters shut out due to coronavirus restrictions, perhaps those running the clubs forgot the importance of the match-going fan.
The show has gone on behind closed doors to protect lucrative television contracts of the sort the breakaway clubs thought they were buying into. A $3.5 billion pot was to be shared among the founder members of the ESL, borrowed against future TV rights revenues.
However, after years of being pushed around to accommodate prime kick-off times in San Francisco and Shanghai, inflated ticket prices and with less say in how their club is run, supporters in England have emerged triumphant.
“It doesn’t matter what club you are, it doesn’t matter allegiance, it’s not tribal, it’s about the rich, the few, the minority trying to take what is our game,” said Chelsea fan Will Todd, at a fan protest ahead of Tuesday’s Premier League game against Brighton.
The furious backlash could prove the tipping point over the issue of the open nature of club ownership in England.
“The whole ESL move shows how out of touch these owners are,” said British culture secretary Oliver Dowden in promising to still press ahead with a fan-led review of football governance.
The disconnect with English football culture is a physical as well as emotional one. Not one of the owners from the breakaway six live in Britain.
United, Liverpool and Arsenal are owned by US-based billionaires, used to working in the American sports franchise model without the perils of having to earn a place in the top leagues every year by performing on the pitch.
Chelsea and Manchester City have become global brands on the back of investment from Roman Abramovich and Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Mansour.
Tottenham are the only British-owned club of the six, but even their billionaire owner, Joe Lewis, resides in the Bahamas.
Arsenal were one of the earliest to issue an apology.
“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,” the club said.
“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.”
Buoyed by their victory, fans’ groups are now rallying to build on their momentum for further change, starting with the boardrooms of their own clubs.
The Manchester United Supporters’ Trust (MUST) said: “This must be a turning point for football, and it must be a turning point for United too.”
The Glazer family’s controversial leveraged buy-out of the Red Devils in 2005 has left the club picking up the bill for hundreds of millions of pounds in interest payments, while the Glazers regularly take out dividends.
“This is a real opportunity for the Glazers to now change the current path of their legacy and open the door to supporter shareholding with full voting rights,” added the MUST.
The Chelsea Supporters Trust said it had “little or no confidence in our current leadership at board level”.
There remains a long road ahead for supporters if they want to oust unpopular owners. The valuations of the six Premier League clubs are in the billions.
But for once the collective power of the humble fan has brought down the plans of billionaires to further line their pockets.
“This is our club, not yours,” said Liverpool fan group Spion Kop 1906. “Never take us for granted because once again you have seen that it’s the fans who have the power, not the men with the briefcase.”
(Reports by AFP)