LONDON, ENGLAND – APRIL 20: Fans hold banners opposing Chelsea signing up for the newly proposed European Super League ahead of the Premier League match between Chelsea and Brighton & Hove Albion at Stamford Bridge on April 20, 2021 in London, England.

Chloe Knott – Danehouse | Getty Images Sport | Getty Images

LONDON — Plans for a breakaway elite soccer league in Europe have already unraveled, following widespread criticism and even threats of government intervention.

Announced on Sunday, the European Super League is designed to rival the UEFA Champions League format, which is currently Europe’s top annual club competition.

Twelve of Europe’s wealthiest teams had signed up as founding members of the new league, and it was being backed with $6 billion in debt financing from JPMorgan. 

But the move sparked outrage among lawmakers, governing bodies, former players, fans, managers and pundits, with many concerned about the ramifications for the structure of domestic competitions.

Many see it as a cynical project and highly controversial, as the permanent members of the league could not be relegated.

Chelsea became the first club on Tuesday evening to signal that it was jumping ship, with fans protesting against the plans outside its West London stadium ahead of a Premier League match. Manchester City quickly followed with official confirmation of their withdrawal, and then England’s other four clubs pulled out just hours later.

UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin had condemned the project, describing it as “a spit in the face” of all soccer lovers. Meanwhile, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson vowed to “thwart” it, and likened it to a “cartel.”

The teams that originally agreed to play in the ESL included:

  • England: Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Tottenham, Chelsea and Arsenal.
  • Spain: Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid.
  • Italy: Juventus, AC Milan and Inter Milan.

On Monday evening, the chairman of the European Super League, Florentino Perez, said the plans to form the new breakaway elite competition were designed “to save” soccer.

He pushed back against the widespread criticism by claiming that change is necessary because young people “are no longer interested” in the sport.

—CNBC’s Sam Shead and Sam Meredith contributed to this article.

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