May 14, 2021

Man Utd

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Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden vows the Government will try to kill the rebel European Super League

5 min read

UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin lambasted Manchester United vice-chairman Ed Woodward and the other architects of the European Super League as ‘snakes’ and ‘liars’ on another extraordinary day that ended with the Government pledging to block any breakaway.

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden told the Commons last night that the Government would use every tool at their disposal — including changes to competition law — to kill the proposed rebel league.

Both sides have engaged lawyers for an increasingly acrimonious dispute that appears destined for the courts.

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden (pictured) spoke out against the European Super League

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden (pictured) spoke out against the European Super League

Ceferin confirmed UEFA are seeking legal advice about banning players from the 12 clubs who have signed up so far — including England’s Big Six — from taking part in international competitions, including the World Cup and European Championship, although any such ban would not come into effect before this summer’s delayed Euro 2020 tournament.

Ceferin, the 53-year-old Slovenian lawyer, reserved his strongest criticism for Woodward — who he accused of lying to him about supporting UEFA’s plans for an expanded 36-team Champions League that were confirmed yesterday — and Juventus president Andrea Agnelli, who he branded a serial liar.

Instead, the pair had been secretly conspiring with Real Madrid president Florentino Perez and AC Milan’s Ivan Gazidis to set up a new closed European league of 20 clubs, with the 12 founding members announced on Sunday night.

Ceferin said: ‘If I start with Ed Woodward, he called me last Thursday evening saying he’s very satisfied with and fully supports the (Champions League) reforms and the only thing he wants to talk about is financial fair play, when obviously he had already signed something else.

UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin described the league's architects as 'liars' and 'snakes'

UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin described the league’s architects as ‘liars’ and ‘snakes’

‘Andrea Agnelli is the biggest disappointment of all. I’ve never seen a person that would lie so many times, so persistently as he did. It’s unbelievable.

‘I spoke with him on Saturday afternoon. He said these are only rumours, don’t worry, I will call you in an hour. And he turned off the phone. We didn’t know we had snakes so close to us; now we know. Greediness is so strong that all the human values evaporate.’

Ceferin went on to describe the ESL, which will initially be funded by a £2.8billion loan from US investment bank JP Morgan to be distributed among the clubs and repaid over 23 years, as a ‘nonsense’ and a ‘spit in the face’ for football fans.

The ESL have yet to secure a broadcast deal, but competition details are well advanced, with each club to play 18 group matches in two pools of 10, followed by two-legged quarter-finals, semi-finals and a final.

Ceferin strongly criticised Manchester United executive vice chairman Ed Woodward (right)

Ceferin strongly criticised Manchester United executive vice chairman Ed Woodward (right)

In addition to 15 founding clubs, five places would be available via a yet-to-be-determined qualifying mechanism every season, although three of the foundation spots remain available after Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund and Paris Saint-Germain rejected invitations to join.

‘We are all united against this nonsense of a project,’ Ceferin added. ‘I cannot stress more strongly how everyone is united against these disgraceful, self-serving proposals, fuelled by greed, above all else. It is a cynical plan, completely against what football should be. We cannot and will not allow that to change.

‘Players who will play in the teams that might play in the closed league will be banned from the World Cup and Euros. We urge everyone to stand tall with us as we do everything in our power to ensure this never ends up in fruition. This idea is a spit in the face of all football lovers. We will not allow them to take it away from us.’

Woodward’s actions have led to serious questions about his conduct inside Old Trafford, and he was forced to hold an emergency briefing with unimpressed United players at the training ground yesterday morning.

The Slovenian called Juventus president Andrea Agnelli 'the biggest disappointment of all'

The Slovenian called Juventus president Andrea Agnelli ‘the biggest disappointment of all’

Sportsmail understands some members of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s squad were angered after they found out about the breakaway league — and their employer’s central role in it — via the media on Sunday.

Insiders disclosed that some also felt Solskjaer was unfairly exposed to questions from Sky Sports after the story broke during their 3-1 win against Burnley. 

The players made their feelings known as Woodward delivered a briefing via Zoom. Sources say the reception among many of the squad was ‘lukewarm at best’.

The Premier League moved quickly to launch their own attempts to thwart the rebel competition, with the remaining 14 clubs to hold an emergency meeting today to discuss their strategy. 

Supporters of the Big Six clubs in England have been almost unanimously opposed to the plan

Supporters of the Big Six clubs in England have been almost unanimously opposed to the plan

While the nuclear option of kicking the rebels out of the top flight has been discussed, the most immediate sanction is likely to be removing representatives of the Big Six from positions of influence within the League.

The Premier League handbook states that clubs cannot enter competitions not endorsed by UEFA, the FA or the EFL without the written approval of the board. Whether rule L9 can be lawfully enforced will be a focus of the battle, with the rebels preparing a legal challenge arguing it amounts to restraint of trade.

The impact of Brexit presents another complication as a UK court would have to rule in addition to the European Court in Brussels, making Dowden’s threats all the more intriguing.

‘We are examining every option, from governance reform, to competition law, to the mechanisms that allow football to take place,’ he told the Commons. 

‘These six clubs announced this decision without any consultation with football authorities, or with the Government. Worst of all, they announced it without any dialogue whatsoever with their own fans.

‘It was a tone-deaf proposal but the owners of those clubs won’t have been able to ignore the universal roar of outrage from all parts of the football community over the last 24 hours. This move goes against the very spirit of the game.’

Meanwhile, Uefa yesterday confirmed their proposed reforms to the Champions League, expanding the competition from 32 to 36 clubs for the 2024-25 season. Each club will play 10 matches in a single-league format, with the top eight teams qualifying automatically for the last 16.

The teams finishing from ninth to 24th will meet in two-legged play-offs for the final eight spots in the knockout rounds.

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