Super chance to reform global game, says Leeds United boss Marcelo Bielsa

Leeds United coach Marcelo Bielsa says the breakdown of a rebel European “super league” has given world football an opportunity to reform and improve, and he would like a reduction in the number of matches as part of that.

On Sunday it was revealed AC Milan, Arsenal, Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Chelsea, Inter, Juventus, Liverpool, Manchester City and United, Real Madrid and Tottenham Hotspur were planning a 20-team league they could not be relegated from, but it had collapsed by Tuesday in the face of overwhelming opposition not just from the public and the clubs not involved, but managers, players and fans of those that were.

Although Covid-19 restrictions meant the game was played behind closed doors, on Monday fans of both clubs gathered outside Elland Road to boo Liverpool’s players – some of whom later voiced their objections – as they arrived to play Leeds.

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The collapse of the idea has prompted much debate about what needs to be done to improve and safeguard the game.

Leeds United players wearing 'Football Is For The Fans' shirts. Picture: PA.

Government plans for a fan-led review of football governance promised in the 2019 manifesto have been accelerated, and there have been calls for Manchester United to change its voting rights to loosen the Glazer family’s power.

As one of football’s most respected figures former Argentina and Chile coach Bielsa, whose Leeds side host the Red Devils in the Premier League tomorrow, has given his views.

“These decisions consider a lot of aspects, the majority out of my reach or capacity to analyse, but I do think it’s a good opportunity to have a look at the problems in football in a global sense,” he said.

“There are things that shouldn’t be ignored like the fact we should reduce the amount of games, improving the quality.

Leeds United head coach Marcelo Bielsa.

“A path to raising the quality of games is to make the players better.

“For that there needs to be more space for preparation and to lower the fatigue of the players due to the constant games.”

Coronavirus has led to this season being played in a shorter timeframe than usual but almost no reduction in matches. With the 12 rebels fancifully hoping to tack their league onto existing competitions, it would have created yet more for the top players, but that is already the direction of travel in world football.

The next World Cup will be expanded to 32 teams, just as the last European Championships was to 24, and in 2018 a Nations League was set up to be played between those tournaments.

On Monday, with focus elsewhere, Uefa voted through an expansion of the Champions League so that from 2024-25 it features 225 matches. Bielsa’s focus is on quality, not quantity.

“For younger generations to stay linked with football, the spectacle has to be improved,” he argued. “It’s about focusing on better players, better prepared and better performances, and rationalising the revenue created.

“The way to do this is to reduce the games and for absolutely transparency in all the incomings and outgoings within the structure of a club.

“I’m only repeating what’s been talked about – the problems and the solutions. I’ve found these opinions from people more capable than I am about the subject.”

On Thursday, the Government released a policy paper outlining the scope of its review, which will lead to a final report to the sports minister, culture secretary and Football Association recommending reforms. The final report will be laid before Parliament and published.

It will consider the present directors’ tests, assess the merits of a single, independent regulator, examine the effectiveness of measures to improve club engagement with supporters, look at ways for leagues to better scrutinise club finances more often, look at the “trickle down” of money through solidarity and parachute payments, whether governance structures and ownership models in other countries should be used in England, consider measures to protect club identities, geographies and histories, and examine the relationship between club interests, league systems and their place within the football pyramid.

Meanwhile, Lord Jim O’Neill, who attempted to oust the Glazers in 2010 as part of the “Red Knights” group, has joined hedge fund manager Sir Paul Marshall in writing to Manchester United co-chairman Joel Glazer demanding all shares in the Old Trafford club be given equal weight and the same voting rights, and that the family reduces its stake to 49.9 per cent.

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