New rules with bite required in order to ensure deluded billionaires cannot steal the beautiful game from fans – Stuart Rayner

It has been one of the most remarkable weeks in the history of football, but it ends – on the surface at least – with everything as it was at the start. The vital question is where we go next.

Everyone has had their say and that is the point – football belongs to all of us, not 12 billionaires.

Few hit the nail on the head more sharply than Sheffield United’s interim manager Paul Heckingbottom.

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“It’s the wrong way to go about it, clubs or managers speaking about their own self-interest,” he argued. “It’s that self-interest and that selfish way of thinking that’s brought these problems on.”

ANOTHER WORLD: Real Madrid's Alvaro Odriozola, left, is challenged by Liverpool's Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain during a Champions League quarter final second leg match at Anfield last week. Picture: AP/Jon Super.

That so many put self-interest aside was one of the most heartening aspects of a sordid affair as managers and players spoke out against their bosses.

For too long, clubs have made their own rules in a bunfight where each looks after No 1.

In their desperation as their debts rose in the wake of Covid-19, and blissfully ignorant of the lessons of Project Big Picture which saw the Premier League’s “Big Six” almost instantly slapped down last year in their attempted powergrab, the owners of AC Milan, Arsenal, Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Chelsea, Inter, Juventus, Liverpool, Manchester City and United, Real Madrid and Tottenham Hotspur came up with the idea of a breakaway European league they could not be relegated from. It was so against “the essence of football,” as Barnsley manager Valerien Ismael put it, barely anyone has had a good thing to say about it.

Real Madrid’s Florentino Perez was the only owner to attempt a justification and embarrassed himself, unable to remember Spurs signed the Faustian pact and claiming 16 to 24-year-olds did not have the attention span to watch football for 90 minutes.

THE NUMBERS GAME - Graphic: Graeme Bandeira.

In fairness to Perez, it puzzled us all why Spurs were involved in the first place.

For clubs to claim a divine right to play in an elite competition in perpetuity, you would think there would be some criteria. Manchester City and Madrid could claim to be amongst the best teams in Europe but the Milan clubs could only rely on history. Spurs had neither, having not won a major trophy for 13 years, the title for 60 or, like Atletico, City and Arsenal, ever lifted the European Cup.

“The Premier League has 20 members and it can vote to expel any member but you need 15 of the 20 clubs to do that. Perhaps that’s the reason six were part of this,” explains Peter Nunn, a Mishcon de Reya sports lawyer.

It is no coincidence Americans such as Manchester United’s Joel Glazer, Arsenal’s Stan Kroenke and Liverpool’s John W Henry should try to ring-fence their clubs from relegation. American sports have that security, but are evened up by a draft system creating equality. The football club owners forgot that bit.

Fans gather to protest against the European Super League outside Elland Road on Monday. Picture by Simon Hulme

For decades, the top clubs have wanted a bigger slice of the cake – it is why the Premier League was invented – and the rest have been too frightened to resist.

“I suspect the temporary impact will be a decline in their soft power,” says Nunn. “It’s always been the big threat, ‘We’ll walk away,’ but they’ve played their hand and it’s not worked.”

The time is therefore right for reforms.

The Government, which threatened a “legislative bomb” to stop the breakaway, kick-started its promise of a fan-led review of football. The importance of supporters made plain by empty stands to all but those 12 myopic owners, must be enshrined in law.

STUCK IN THE MIDDLE WITH YOU: Marcelo Bielsa and Jurgen Klopp on the touchline at Elland Road on Monday night. Picture: Simon Hulme

Many have asked why they can be harnessed so effectively to bring down a super league, problems such as racism are worsening. More inclusive bodies and boardrooms would help.

Many took Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund – as well as Paris Saint Germain – refusing to join the bad guys as proof Germany’s 50+1 rule, which keeps clubs majority-owned by fans, must come here. But can Manchester United fans buy half a club valued at £3.05bn and saddle themselves with half the liability for a £455.5m net debt? Perhaps a better example is Chelsea Pitch Owners, who own the freehold of Stamford Bridge, giving them – they claimed as battle raged – the right to stop the club playing there or anywhere else without their permission.

Those who tried to divide football cannot be beaten by divisive measures. They have paused, not stopped.

“I don’t think the solution is for these clubs to be punished but to convince them,” said Leeds United coach Marcelo Bielsa.

As usual he as a point but there is a lust for retribution, and no punishment is no deterrent.

“A lot of people would like to see a points deduction,” says Nunn, “but there are too many commercial reasons not to punish them too severely. They might impose a fine but is there really much point fining Manchester City?”

They must be sporting punishments, so reader John Heasman’s suggestion of a transfer embargo was a good one. It did Chelsea some good – bringing the freshness of home-grown players in – last season.

This week has made clear the values supporters hold dear. They need to be put into regulations with genuine bite to restore the game to the people 12 deluded billionaires had forgotten it belonged to.

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