The Times has been forced to publish a full retraction after it emerged that a story it ran about a multimillion pound 'Qatari Dream League' turned out to be false.

The paper originally reported that Qatar was ready to offer some of the biggest teams in Europe up to £175m just to compete in a biannual tournament between 24 teams.

But following reports that the Dream League story was inspired by a hoax article which first appeared on a French football website, the paper declared it had made a "massive mistake" in running the piece. Checks had not been sufficient enough in the rush to publish the story as an "exclusive", a spokesperson said.

The Times' football editor Tony Evans wrote: "Because so many significant people in football did not laugh off the idea, it seemed that the story could be genuine.

"The warning signs - that no one had heard specific details of the DFL or seen its plans - were missed. In principle, the idea was possible. There was plenty to attest to that.

"In reality, the story appears to have been invented and had just enough plausibility to be seductive."

The reports suggested that the billionaire oil-rich Qatari royal family would back the league and would offer Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur £175m the chance to fill one of the four spaces on offer.

Jerome Latta, the editor of Les Cahiers du Football, declared that the entire story all "came out of my imagination".

Despite this, Oliver Kay, the Times reporter who wrote the story and included the £175m figure, was adamant at the time of publication that it was genuine.

He said: "I've been amused by the speculation about the source of this story. I can guarantee you 100 percent, 1,000 percent, 175 million percent, that my story had nothing to do with any website, spoof or otherwise.

"I've no idea about their modus operandi. What I know is that my source is very good, the information is very good and that there is more where that story came from."