LONDON (Reuters) – Chelsea are set to pull out of the breakaway European Super League in a major blow to the plans for a new competition to rival the Champions League, the BBC reported on Tuesday.
The BBC said they “understand that the club owned by Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich are preparing documentation to request withdrawing from the European Super League.”
The London club were one of six Premier League teams who signed up as founder members of the 12-team Super League on Sunday — a move that has brought widespread condemnation.
There has been huge opposition to the plans in English football and fans celebrated in the streets around Stamford Bridge as the news was reported before the team’s Premier League home game with Brighton & Hove Albion.
The kickoff was put back by 15 minutes because the Chelsea coach was delayed by protesting fans who blocked the road outside the ground, chanting “We want our Chelsea back,” and carrying signs that read: “Shame on you, Chelsea.”
Former Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech, a member of the team that won the Champions League in 2012, came out to urge supporters not to block access to the stadium.
“I know, but give everybody time,” Cech, who is now a technical and performance advisor with the club, implored the crowd.
Chelsea and the Super League company did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Should Chelsea’s withdrawal be confirmed it would be a major blow to the plans for a breakaway competition set up to rival European soccer body UEFA’s Champions League.
Manchester City seemed likely to follow Chelsea’s lead with media reports saying they were also withdrawing.
Earlier the Premier League met with the 14 clubs not involved and issued a statement saying they had “unanimously and vigorously” rejected plans for a European Super League.
It said it was considering all “actions available to prevent it from progressing.”
The Super League organisers, headed by Real Madrid president Florentino Perez, had said they hoped to add three more founding members before launching their competition “as soon as practicable”.
The Super League argues it would increase revenues to the top clubs and allow them to distribute more money to the rest of the game. However, the sport’s governing bodies, other teams and fan organisations say it will increase the power and wealth of the elite clubs and the closed structure of the league goes against European football’s long-standing model.
Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson likened it to setting up a cartel and threatened to pass legislation to stop it.
Unlike Europe’s current elite Champions League competition, where teams have to qualify through their domestic league, the founding Super League teams would guarantee themselves a place in the new competition every year.
UEFA has warned it may impose sanctions against clubs and players who take part in the breakaway competition.
(Reporting by Simon Evans, editing by Pritha Sarkar/Toby Davis/Ken Ferris)