European Super League debacle exposes football’s greedy traitors - Stuart Rayner

What a joy it was to sit in the press box at Hull City on Tuesday following the results as they came in: Chelsea game delayed because the team buses were struggling to get past protestors, Roman Abramovich pulling his club out of the breakaway European league, Ed Woodward resigning as Manchester United vice-chairman, Juventus president Andre Agnelli, too – no, hang on, sounds like that one has gone to VAR.

The unearned arrogance of 12 owners who deemed their clubs too good to go down made the whole house of cards collapsing so spectacularly extremely gratifying – but it was only a major battle lost, not peace in our time.

This audacious, duplicitous gaggle with eyes only on the next dollar but no feel, never mind love, for the game they have bought into – but not bought – will be back, reconstituted but with the same greedy goal.

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A “European super league” has been talked of as inevitable since at least the 1970s but never happened.

Clear message: Leeds United players wearing 'Football Is For The Fans' shirts as Liverpool arrive at Elland Road. Picture: PA

The inevitability is the idea will not go away.

It should not have taken an attempt to rob the game in broad daylight to highlight what Barnsley coach Valerien Ismael called “the essence of football”.

Now is the time to enshrine those principles more securely.

There will be calls – Gary Neville led them on Sunday – to throw the book at these “criminals” (his word, though “bottlejobs” was more apt) and retribution will be sweet in the minds of many, even those like Neville whose own club would suffer.

Banners are seen outside Liverpool's Anfield Stadium after the collapse of English involvement in the proposed European Super League. (AP Photo/Jon Super)

Actions need to be taken to make the next Joel Glazer think twice – once would be a start – before attempting something like this again but far more important are regulatory reforms more rigorously enshrining the principles of fair play and fair competition, and giving fans a more meaningful say in the running of clubs.

The Government promised the latter in their 2019 manifesto and whilst it would be myopic in the extreme to ignore the fact they have had more important things on their plate since, the dirty dozen have kick-started them. Meaningful change is needed to make football’s governing bodies more diverse, independent and representative and less blinkered.

Those in charge of clubs must be an awful lot more accountable to their constituents, their own fans.

Many have picked up on the fact opposition was led by Bayern Munich, the leading club in Germany’s Bundesliga.

Tottenham Hotspur's Gareth Bale and Southampton's Mohammed Salisu (right) during Wednesday night's Premier League game (Picture: PA)

The rise of a corporate wolf in sheep’s clothing like RB Leipzig – hey, idiot peasants, you know as well as we do the RB stands for Red Bull, not RasenBallsport but watcha gonna do about it? – shows it is not the footballing Valhalla it is sometimes portrayed as, but it is better than most when it comes to listening to fans. (Mr Kroenke, that is what we call football customers here.)

Whereas Tottenham Hotspur chairman Daniel Levy thought he could get away with ignoring supporters even though he could not over furloughing staff or Project Big Picture, his Bayern Munich counterpart Herbert Hainer knew he could not.

The reason, many say, is Germany’s 50+1 rule, which means clubs must be majority owned by members. A lot of fans would like it in England.

Fine principle though it is, it is a difficult one to start with if you want to compete with sovereign states in elite 21st Century football, which is why Leipzig have taken the mickey out of it by only having 17 members, most of whom work for Red Bull.

Juventus President Andrea Agnelli, center facing the camera, speaks to unidentified men ahead of the start of a Serie A soccer match between Juventus and Parma, in Turin's Allianz stadium, Italy, Wednesday, April 21, 2021. (Piero Cruciatti/LaPresse via AP)

It works for phoenix clubs starting from a low base, but is it realistic for even Manchester United’s huge fanbase to buy half of a club valued at £3.05bn? Should they be liable for their share of a net debt of £455.5m which had they had their way the Glazers would never have been allowed to run up?

A more intriguing idea came from one of the stories on that incredible Tuesday.

At one point the idea was floated that Chelsea’s fans might be able to legally stop them playing in this abhorrent league. Chelsea Pitch Owners are 13,000 supporters who own the freehold of Stamford Bridge. Shares cost £25 (plus admin fee).

CPO believe their 199-year lease gives the right to stop the club playing home games there, or anywhere, without their permission. Thankfully, it will not be legally tested but seems a positive act by future Leeds United chairman Ken Bates.

Maybe as English football’s version of 50+1, fans at all levels should have the legal right to buy the freehold of their club’s pitches as a safeguard.

Something needs to be done because the greed and crass insensitivity of these footballing traitors will not melt as quickly as their ill-thought-out plans.

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