Ed Woodward quit as Manchester United executive vice-chairman as the controversial European Super League project lay dead in the water.

Woodward was the most high-profile victim of the ESL debacle as the clubs involved in the breakaway cartel were forced to abandon the controversial £4.6billion project due to a fierce backlash from fans.

United chief Woodward, one of the main drivers of the contentious ESL proposal, will remain in his role until the end of the year, despite tendering his resignation on a day of high-drama.

It is understood Woodward was due to step down at the end of the year, but the announcement of his departure was brought forward because of potential leaks, although the timing of the decision to make public his exit suggests it was heavily linked to the disastrous ESL venture.

With the ESL facing huge opposition, Chelsea were set to confirm their intention to withdraw late last night, with Manchester City set to follow, as the grandiose plan folded – less than 48 hours after it was launched.

The rest of the 12-club breakaway cartel, including United, Liverpool, Arsenal, Tottenham, Barcelona and Real Madrid are all expected to follow Chelsea and City by quitting the ESL.

All 12 clubs were last night said to have been involved in a hastily-convened conference call over how to best announce their exit strategy from the ESL.

None of the clubs anticipated the scale of the backlash that followed the announcement of the £4.6billion proposed league and the fury it generated among supporters worldwide.

Ed Woodward's tenure is coming to an end
Ed Woodward's tenure is coming to an end

Woodward said: “I am extremely proud to have served United and it has been an honour to work for the world’s greatest football club for the past 16 years.

“The club is well positioned for the future and it will be difficult to walk away at the end of the year.

“I will treasure the memories from my time at Old Trafford, during a period when we won the Europa League, the FA Cup and the EFL Cup. I am proud of the regeneration of the club’s culture and our return to the Manchester United way of playing.

"We have invested more than £1bn in the squad during my time here and I am particularly delighted with the progress the players have made under the astute leadership of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and his coaching team in the last two years.

“I am sure that with the changes we have made on-field and to the coaching and football staff in recent years this great club will soon be lifting silverware again. It deserves to.

“I desperately wanted the club to win the Premier League during my tenure and I am certain that the foundations are in place for us to win it back for our passionate fans.

Marcus Rashford of Manchester United
Marcus Rashford of Manchester United

“Our world-famous academy is flourishing again, with 34 players progressing into the first team since 2013, and it has been a pleasure to watch talents such as Marcus Rashford, Mason Greenwood and Axel Tuanzebe flourish in the first team environment.

"In the years to come the club’s production line of young talent will continue to push established first team players for their places. That competition bodes well for the future.

“We have also established Manchester United women and their progress is further evidence of the demand for success at this great club.

“The last 16 months have brought so many unique challenges and the club's work in the community and around the world during the Covid-19 pandemic has been heroic.

“The financial impact on football clubs has been severe, but United have been one of the most robust and resilient in the face of extraordinary financial pressures.

“I would like to thank United’s passionate fans for their support during the good and bad times. I know this has been a challenging period in our history, but your support for the team has never, ever been in doubt.

“Finally, it has been a pleasure to work with so many magnificent, talented and hard-working people.”

Manchester United's outgoing executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward
Woodward's exit is now confirmed

Co-chairman Joel Glazer added: “Ed Woodward has served the club with great distinction. On behalf of everyone at United I would like to place on record our sincere thanks for his tireless work and dedication.

“His contribution to the club has been massive, and he will always be welcome at Old Trafford as a part of the Manchester United family.”

With Woodward remaining in play until the end of the year, it gives the club's owners time to find a suitable replacement, with the search beginning immediately.

European Super League announcement fallout

Players from the six Premier League clubs who signed up to the ESL made their feelings clear to their respective chief executives.

United skipper Harry Maguire is understood to have made clear the squad's disapproval to Woodward, while City playmaker Kevin De Bruyne took to Twitter to publicly denounce the ESL proposal.

De Bruyne wrote: "With all the events that have been happening over the past few days, maybe this is a good moment for everyone to come together and try to work for a solution."

The sheer weight of opposition – from fans, players and football's authorities – forced the clubs behind the ESL into a humiliating climbdown from the power-grab that had plunged the game to the brink of a civil war.

City boss Pep Guardiola savaged the 'closed-shop' culture of the ESL, saying: “It's not a sport where the relation between the effort and the success, the effort and the reward, does not exist.

“It's not a sport when success is already guaranteed or it's not a sport when it doesn’t matter if you lose.

“It's not fair when one team fights, fights, fights and arrives at the top and cannot be qualified because the success is already guaranteed just for a few teams.

“I support my club, I know the people and I am part of the club, but also I have my own opinion.”

Luke Shaw took to Twitter to voice his opposition and said: “I grew up watching the Premier League and Champions League and fell in love watching what in my opinion are the two biggest club competitions in the world.

“There is so much passion around the world for football and I have been privileged to experience that first-hand, however I worry that these changes could impact the sport that I and millions of others love.

“Fans and players should always have a voice and their opinion should always be counted.”

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