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The Athletic - LFC related articles

Discussion in 'The Football Forum' started by Hass, Jun 3, 2020.

  1. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

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    Henderson and Alexander-Arnold: Reunited with their childhood coaches
    Caoimhe O'Neill Oct 16, 2021[​IMG] 15 [​IMG]
    Shaun Turnbull is visibly shaking as he takes a seat inside the Activity For All sports centre in Bootle, Liverpool.
    Turnbull has just completed the 170-mile trip down from Sunderland, where he works as a school caretaker. He has been given permission by the headteacher to take today off because, in less than half an hour, he will be meeting Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson as part of BT Sport’s Reunited series in partnership with The Athletic.
    The pair have met before multiple times. But even so, Turnbull is anxious the Premier League and European Cup-winning Anfield skipper and 67-cap England international will fail to recognise him. It is more than 20 years since he coached Henderson, now 31, for Fulwell Juniors Under-10s team and they last saw one another around 15 years ago.
    It is a lot different for Ian Barrigan, who does not have the same concerns when preparing to surprise Trent Alexander-Arnold.
    The Liverpool academy scout is the man fabled for discovering Alexander-Arnold who first played for an under-sevens team, Country Park, at the age of six. The two families have remained close ever since and that’s why when Barrigan calmly walks onto the astroturf pitch, the 23-year-old Liverpool and England full-back immediately berates him.
    “I can’t believe you keep sneaking into these shoots, you know!” Alexander-Arnold says, looking round as Barrigan and Turnbull approach. “He loves seeing himself on telly, don’t yer.”
    Meanwhile, Turnbull is eager to find out if Henderson does indeed recognise him.
    “Can you remember us or not?” he asks with caution.
    “Of course I can! How are you doing?” Henderson says putting his boyhood coach at ease.
    [​IMG]
    Turnbull congratulates Henderson on his playing career with hometown club Sunderland, Liverpool and England, before showing him a photo he has brought along, wrapping it in a plastic sandwich bag to protect it on the journey. It is of Henderson, aged around eight or nine, with his Fulwell team-mates. “Can you remember the lads on that, Jordan?” he asks.
    “That’s Glen, isn’t it?” Henderson asks.
    “Yeah, that’s Glen — our Derek’s boy,” Turnbull answers.
    “Micky, Stephen, Callum, Dink…” lists Henderson, as Alexander-Arnold trots over to have a look.
    When asked by The Athletic how it feels to be reunited with one of his first-ever coaches, Henderson is instantly appreciative.
    “It is good to see him. Those days when we used to just travel and play football… They are obviously good memories. (Then to Turnbull) You have done a lot for me, and my dad will be over the moon I have met you when I tell him.
    “People like Shaun massively helped me in my career at a very early age. I wouldn’t be where I am today without them.”

    When asked to describe who Barrigan is, Alexander-Arnold steers clear of the sort of joke he’d made when his former coach first walked in.
    “He was probably the first person that believed in me and gave me the chance to play football… He just gave me everything at a really young age — the opportunity to play, to enjoy myself, to develop and learn and just have fun,” the right-back says. “He has always been there for me, throughout my career. I’ve seen him around the academy all the time. I know him and his family really well and our families are really close. So it’s a tight bond. It’s a very tight bond.”
    “You didn’t think when he was playing for Country Park when he was seven that he’d be the kid to win the league,” Barrigan says. “So we’ve waited 30 years, haven’t we? I didn’t think when we were in the Walton and Kirkdale league he would be the one winning the league the next time we won it. It has been unbelievable.”
    Alexander-Arnold arranged for Barrigan and his son to be at the Champions League final win over Tottenham Hotspur in Madrid two years ago. “Madrid is the biggest one for me,” Barrigan, who can remember Alexander-Arnold getting his photo taken with the trophy at the academy after the previous time the club won it in Istanbul in 2005, explains.
    But as is known, the man who is now Liverpool’s first-choice right-back was not a defender in those early days. “(He played) in midfield and you scored all of the goals didn’t you, Trent! Nine, 10 a game.”
    “It’s like that in training, isn’t it?” Alexander-Arnold asks his Liverpool team-mate.
    Henderson cuts across to ask: “Was he always a bad loser, Ian?”
    “Terrible. In fact, what I do now at the academy is always look for kids who are bad losers,” Barrigan laughs.
    “The thing is, he never beats us at anything so he is just constantly in a bad mood all of the time,” Henderson says.
    “He used to play table tennis when he was younger — I had to get this one in, he will be gutted now — and I beat him, 21-3. So I always say (to people), ‘Have you beat anyone at table tennis who has won the Champions League? I have!’” Barrigan boasts.
    “I must have been about seven! I must have been about seven!” Alexander-Arnold protests. “I am a lot better (at losing) now than I was when I was a kid — I used to cry and everything.”
    “He used to cry,” Barrigan confirms. “So what we used to do in training if it was getting a bit boring, we used to give away a couple of penalties against him and the next thing there would be murder. His mum would phone after training and say, ‘He hates you (and) he is never playing for you again’.”
    When Turnbull is asked if there are any standout memories he has of Henderson, he asks, “Am I allowed to show you up?”
    “Tell them what you want,” the midfielder says.
    “We were in a semi-final once, and nobody ever beat us — it was very, very rare (for us to lose)…” Turnbull tells. “I can’t remember who we played. It might have been an academy team. I remember it was a penalty… He stepped up and missed. He got really upset to his dad. Really upset. But we still won it, 5-1 or 6-1, and he probably got a couple as well because he was one of those lads who would run box to box — he’s never changed… If I would have told him to go in goal, he probably would have. He would play anywhere.”
    “Nothing has changed, has it?” Henderson laughs looking at Alexander-Arnold.

    On his journey down to Liverpool, Turnbull got talking to a Sunderland fan who marvelled at local lad Henderson’s crossing ability.
    “Trent doesn’t appreciate that,” Henderson continues. “He never passes to us, he just puts the crosses in. You don’t appreciate my crossing, do you?”
    “I’ve given you a couple of assists though, haven’t I?” Alexander-Arnold retorts.
    “Yeah, off corners,” Henderson says. “You are not claiming them! After the AC Milan game, by the way, he said he meant the corner (that led to Henderson’s volleyed goal from the edge of the box in last month’s opening Champions League group match).”

    “It was the spin on the ball!” Alexander-Arnold argues. “It’s true!”
    “You can’t talk about corners,” Barrigan interrupts. “He has taken the greatest corner in history (for the goal which capped Liverpool’s comeback against Barcelona in the 2018-19 Champions League semi-final second leg).”
    “That is the greatest corner, I’ll admit that,” Henderson yields.
    Although he is a fan of Newcastle United, Sunderland’s neighbours and arch-rivals, Turnbull has plenty of fond memories of that Champions League semi and the ensuing 2-0 triumph over Spurs in the final. He has taken great joy in following Henderson’s career with Liverpool and England from afar.
    “You should have kept that one quiet,” Alexander-Arnold jokes when it is revealed who Turnbull supports, given Henderson is a boyhood Sunderland fan.
    “Sorry,” Turnbull responds. “I have seen you at Newcastle a few times. He gets absolutely loads of stick but not off us. To be honest he is a north east lad, so he shouldn’t. But it is Newcastle versus Sunderland…
    “There are a lot of people who don’t believe us when I say Jordan played for my team. I phoned my mate and said, ‘I am on my way to Liverpool to surprise Jordan Henderson’, and he didn’t believe us.”
    Barrigan displays the same level of awe over the fact Alexander-Arnold went from Country Park to international stardom: “A couple of years ago, I walked in JD (Sports) and there was a fifty-foot poster of him. It was a bit of a shock, you know what I mean? It is funny when you see the adverts when you think of him as a little kid arguing with everyone, trying to win games. It’s brilliant.”
    Once the BT Sport cameras stop rolling, the catch-up continues with Henderson and Alexander-Arnold both posing for pictures with Turnbull and signing autographs for his grandchildren.
    The friends who failed to believe Turnbull when he said he once coached the Liverpool captain will now be proven very, very wrong.
     
  2. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

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    Klopp criticises England U21 after Jones returns injured & cannot play v Watford
    By James Pearce
    October 15, 2021Updated 12:26 PM GMT+1
    23 Comments

    [​IMG]
    Jurgen Klopp has criticised England Under-21s for their handling of Curtis Jones after the Liverpool midfielder returned injured from international duty.

    The academy graduate had been expected to start Saturday’s Premier League clash with Watford in the continued absence of Thiago but a groin problem is now expected to keep him out.

    Klopp is furious that boss Lee Carsley brought Jones off the bench against Andorra on Monday – despite the fact he hadn’t trained due to fitness concerns and had sat out the previous international with Slovenia. Jones set up the winner for Arsenal’s Emile Smith Rowe.

    “By the way, when we talk about federations, Curtis Jones came back injured from the under-21s. Great. That’s not okay as well,” Klopp says.

    “It’s really difficult to get in proper contact even with the English federation. They just do what they want. Curtis didn’t train, he wasn’t involved in the first game, they didn’t do a scan and then he played a few minutes against Andorra. Very important he played there! He came back with a slight injury and isn’t available for tomorrow.

    “These are the situations we have to deal with. We have these massive squads so they can use players like machines. The federations, I mean all of them, have to think about the game again and not only their own interests. I’m six years here and we talk but obviously no-one is listening.”
    Is his absence a blow for Liverpool?

    Yes, it further depletes Klopp's midfield options. Thiago is still sidelined by a calf problem and Fabinho won't feature on Saturday after Liverpool decided to fly him and Alisson directly to Spain following their international commitments with Brazil.

    With Jones and Fabinho out, that only leaves Jordan Henderson from the midfield that started against Manchester City a fortnight ago.

    James Milner, Naby Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are competing to fill those two vacant spots.
     
  3. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

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    Rest, right-side connection, mentality: Lijnders on how Salah has become ‘unstoppable’ for Liverpool
    [​IMG]
    By James Pearce Oct 17, 2021[​IMG] 35 [​IMG]
    Roberto Firmino left Vicarage Road clutching the match ball after scoring his first Liverpool hat-trick for nearly three years.
    A resurgent Sadio Mane became only the third player to score a century of Premier League goals without any of them being penalties as Jurgen Klopp’s unbeaten side ran riot.
    Yet, try as they might, there was no wrestling the spotlight away from Mohamed Salah. Once again the conversation was dominated by the mesmerising brilliance of the twinkled-toed Egyptian, who moved level with Didier Drogba as the highest-scoring African in Premier League history (on 104 goals) in dazzling fashion.
    “He’s phenomenal,” purred Klopp. “At the moment, for sure, he’s the best player in the world. I’ve got no problem mentioning that’s the case.”
    Salah’s consistency has been remarkable since his arrival at Anfield from Roma in the summer of 2017 but there’s no doubt he’s gone to the next level this season. With seven goals and four assists in the opening eight games, he’s averaging a goal or assist every 65 minutes in the Premier League so far this term.
    For context, last season (22 goals, five assists) that figure stood at 114 minutes. In the title-winning campaign of 2019-20 (19 goals, 10 assists) it was every 100 minutes and in 2018-19 (22 goals, 8 assists) it was 109 minutes.
    Currently, he’s even outperforming his record-breaking debut year for Liverpool when he set a new Premier League record for a 38-game season (32 goals, 10 assists), scoring or creating a goal every 70 minutes.
    The burning question is: what’s enabled him to take that leap? He’s always produced “wow” moments but why is he now delivering them with such glorious and awe-inspiring regularity? After all, he’s currently locked in a highly competitive goal of the season battle with himself.
    Speak to staff and team-mates at Liverpool and various factors are held up as reasons for finding the form of his life.
    For a start, there was the seven-week break he had between the final game of 2020-21 and reporting for pre-season in Austria in July. Not only did he return refreshed but also in incredible physical shape, having divided his time off between the beach and the gym. He accepted Liverpool’s decision not to release him for the Tokyo Olympics, knowing he would benefit over the course of 2021-22.
    His strength was showcased at Watford by the manner in which he shrugged off Danny Rose before delivering the perfectly-weighted pass with the outside of his left boot which created the opener for Mane.
    “Even top players need a break. This in combination with a full pre-season created the right base,” Liverpool assistant boss Pep Lijnders tells The Athletic.
    “Sometimes people underestimate the importance of regaining freshness after emotional, high-intensity playing periods. His mentality since the start of the pre-season has been outstanding. He’s a true example.”
    Salah’s goals helped Liverpool salvage Champions League qualification from a troubled 2020-21 season but the absence of silverware stung him. So too did playing behind closed doors. Team-mates don’t believe it’s any coincidence that the return of supporters has coincided with him raising the bar.
    “Mo is a performer and the best performers excel in front of an audience,” says one dressing-room source. “His hunger and desire to succeed has never been higher. Everyone has picked up on it. He’s on a mission. Physically and in terms of self-belief, he’s in a great place. He wants the Golden Boot back but more than anything he wants more trophies with this team.”
    For all the speculation about his future, as talks rumble on over an extension to a contract that currently runs until the summer of 2023, Salah hasn’t allowed it to become a distraction. With every passing week, his heroics only serve to strengthen the hand of his representative Ramy Abbas Issa in those discussions with sporting director Michael Edwards.
    No one inside the club doubts the 29-year-old’s ongoing commitment. It was telling that as he celebrated in front of the jubilant Liverpool fans on Saturday he repeatedly patted the liver bird on his chest. He’s adored at Anfield and he cherishes that bond.
    “We all know that Mo is a special player and he is playing with pure joy,” adds Lijnders.

    “When top players can enjoy football and have this professionalism they become unstoppable. Sometimes it looks like he is in the park, a young boy again, dribbling and combining to score.”
    Another vital ingredient is the structure of Klopp’s team and how they are functioning so much better as a unit.
    Yes, Salah is showcasing breathtaking individual talent but he’s also benefiting from the contribution of those around him — not least Trent Alexander-Arnold, who is back to his brilliant best. It’s not only the right-back’s ability to pick him out with a pass, whether long or short, but also the intelligent movement when he bursts forward which helps create space for Salah to flourish.
    Liverpool have rediscovered the attacking fluency of their title-winning season with 22 goals in eight league games so far. They have scored three or more goals in six successive away games in all competitions – something no other English top-flight team has ever managed.
    With so much possession and territory, Salah is inevitably receiving the ball in dangerous areas more frequently. The return of centre-backs Virgil van Dijk and Joel Matip has enabled Liverpool to defend higher up the field and they are pressing so much better as a unit because of this. Then they are able to force mistakes.
    “The team and especially our right side is connecting really well and that helps in terms of the timing to find good positions,” says Lijnders.
    “This calmness in our positional game is so important for our front three to become unpredictable. When spontaneity and creativity come together then goals like Saturday or against Man City can happen.”
    It was Naby Keita’s persistence on the edge of the box and Firmino’s alertness that led to the latest wondergoal for Salah’s growing collection. The close control, the skill, the balance and the curling finish were bewitching as Cucho Hernandez, Juraj Kucka and Craig Cathcart were left trailing.
    “You could see how the team celebrated that goal. Everybody realised immediately it was something special,” added Klopp.
    Alexander-Arnold’s reaction was to burst out laughing. Salah is making the preposterous look almost routine. In this shape and with the swaggering quality around him, he has the perfect platform to keep hitting new heights.
     
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  4. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

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    Tension, suspicion and plotting – what happened after the collapse of the Super League
    Adam Crafton and more 4h ago[​IMG] 10 [​IMG]
    Against the backdrop of the mountain-lined views of Lake Geneva, the President Wilson Hotel in Switzerland formed a formidable location for last month’s summit meeting of the European Club Association. This was the setting for European football’s most wealthy and powerful; where they sought to rebuild relations after the sport descended into all-out war earlier this year.
    On Sunday, April 18, a dozen of Europe’s most famous football clubs announced a plan to launch a Super League, in which a new midweek competition would be established. Although the league was registered officially as the European Super League company, the trading name was and remains The Super League, suggesting room had been left for participants from outside that continent at a future date.
    The 12 founder members were Manchester United, Liverpool, Manchester City, Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur from England, as well as Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid from Spain, plus Juventus, AC Milan and Inter Milan from Italy. A statement, issued after 11pm UK time on that Sunday evening, stated that three further clubs would join as founder members ahead of its inaugural campaign. The Super League 12 — described by critics as the Dirty Dozen — anticipated a public announcement and behind-the-scenes negotiations would force Paris Saint-Germain, Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund to join the group, which would ensure representation from the sport’s five most popular domestic leagues.
    As we know, the plot failed, spectacularly blowing up in the faces of its architects, as criticism poured in from politicians, broadcasters, pundits, coaches, players and even Prince William, the future king of the United Kingdom.
    This is the story of what happened next; of the mistrust that developed between some of the 12 and the leagues they play in, and the political manoeuvring behind the scenes as clubs jostle for power, money and influence.
    We will explain:
    • How leagues are now keeping a closer eye on the Super League 12 than ever before
    • Tensions between Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain
    • Real Madrid, Barcelona and Juventus’ determination that sceptical fans can be won round
    • Suspicions that the 12 Super League sides are cooking up new plans
    • The continued divide between ‘legacy clubs’ and those with new money

    As the Super League clubs conspired, they did not expect their plan to culminate in the resignation of Manchester United’s executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward. Nor did they foresee public and private complaints from key players, or the postponement of a Premier League fixture between United and Liverpool following sustained supporter protest outside and then inside Old Trafford on the original match day. And absolutely they did not predict how, only five months on, they would be the red-faced recipients of a humiliating lecture in ethics from PSG president Nasser Al-Khelaifi — a man they have long considered as one of the sources of football’s ills.
    Over the past decade, hostility developed among the group of old-school aristocrats of European football — traditional powerhouses such as Real Madrid, Barcelona, Juventus and AC Milan, as well as the American-owned English clubs. The predominant source of the angst is the new-money or state-backed spending of clubs such as Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain. Newcastle United’s subsequent Saudi takeover, confirmed last week, will only enhance these worries.
    [​IMG]

    Manchester United fans were furious at the Super League proposal (Photo: James Gill – Danehouse/Getty Images)
    Media reports may cover complaints over alleged human rights violations in the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Saudi Arabia but in the corridors of European power, different fears grew more acutely. The major worry was that clubs such as Real Madrid, Milan and Liverpool may find themselves unable to compete without taking serious steps to restrict the spending power of the new upstarts. There were UEFA punishments, at times, for both City and PSG over alleged breaches of Financial Fair Play, but this rarely constituted enough in the green eyes of their rivals.
    When the Super League came along, these “legacy” clubs eyed an opportunity to level the playing field.
    City, along with Chelsea, were long-term sceptics of a Super League but as the train left the station, a fear of being left behind overpowered their instincts. They jumped on board. Juventus chairman Andrea Agnelli and Real Madrid president Florentino Perez expected the official unveiling of the Super League to put such fear and anxiety into PSG that they would have no choice but to join the party, too.
    But PSG did not. Instead, Al-Khelaifi, along with Bayern and Dortmund, read the wider mood and resisted. Not only that, but the French club subsequently sensed opportunity amid football’s financial crisis that originated in reckless spending but was exacerbated by the pandemic.
    In the subsequent summer transfer window, PSG prised key players away from Liverpool, Barcelona, Real Madrid, AC Milan and Inter Milan, while refusing to sell their star player Kylian Mbappe to Real Madrid, even when an offer exceeding £160 million landed on their table. And off the field, Al-Khelaifi contrived to become the most powerful executive in club football.
    The 12 clubs resigned their positions at both UEFA and the European Club Association upon signing up to the Super League and all except for Juventus, Real Madrid and Barcelona returned to the organisations with their tails between their legs following the collapse. At the European Championship final between England and Italy in July, British prime minister Boris Johnson is even said to have approached Al-Khelaifi in Wembley’s smart seats, eager to recognise the roles the former felt they had both played in preventing the Super League from coming to fruition.
    In the ECA meeting suite last month, Al-Khelaifi chastised what he described as the “not-so-Super League”. He mocked “fabulists and failures”. He referred to the plot as a “midnight coup”.
    In Switzerland, attention was paid to those who attended but also those who were missing. Football’s world governing body, FIFA, had senior representation in FIFA council member Hany Abo Rida but its president Gianni Infantino was a notable absentee, particularly as reports have emerged suggesting that FIFA may have been more sympathetic to the Super League than suggested by the statement they released on the Monday morning after its unveiling. Several sources pointed to jokes going around the room at last month’s summit, teasing that Infantino may even have prepared a speech either way on his Super League position, depending on the public response. FIFA, for their part, insist it is false and misleading to say that Infantino was in two minds and point to the speech he gave on the day after the announcement on April 20, where he insisted FIFA strongly disapproved.
    At the ECA summit, the room tuned in to an Infantino video address, described by one critic as a “Kofi Annan-style, ‘I am going to save the world’ speech”. FIFA say he missed the meeting as he had prior engagements elsewhere and that the current world is accepting of video attendance in any case. As we know, Infantino is focusing on a consultation period to introduce a World Cup every two years, rather than four, which is opposed by the ECA. This is despite a meeting where Infantino attempted to persuade Al-Khelaifi of the plan’s merits.
    At the ECA, it would previously have been unusual for figures such as the Premier League chief executive Richard Masters to attend, yet he was present along with his counterparts from the Bundesliga, Ligue 1 and Serie A. La Liga chairman Javier Tebas missed the meeting, but was present in Geneva that same week to show his support. The sentiment from all these domestic league figures is that they simply must keep a sharp eye on the former Super League club executives to avoid any repeat attempts. The six Premier League clubs were fined a combined £22m by their rivals in England and will be fined a further £25m each if they attempt a further breakaway.
    Representatives from each of the Premier League’s Big Six took their seats in Geneva, listening in as the room united around their perceived treachery. Woodward, on his way out at United, was not present. Hemen Tseayo, head of corporate finance, instead represented the Old Trafford club. Chelsea chairman Bruce Buck, Arsenal chief executive Vinai Venkatesham, Liverpool chief executive Billy Hogan, Manchester City chief executive officer Ferran Soriano and Tottenham executive Rebecca Caplehorn all flew to Geneva.
    Mistrust lingers, both towards the Big Six and within the group, but Venkatesham is said to have done the most to re-establish positive relations, while Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy earned election as the Premier League’s representative on the ECA board. He beat Soriano despite a two-page pitch by City’s CEO. Chelsea were the only English club to support Soriano’s bid, despite frosty relations between certain personnel at those two clubs.
    In Spain, the leading clubs Barcelona and Real are not falling into line so easily and neither are Juventus in Italy. The three clubs remain engaged in legal action under the Super League umbrella. It has so far managed to deter UEFA from picking up the €15m goodwill payments it originally “agreed” as punishments for the nine clubs who dropped out of the Super League, while Real, Barcelona and Juventus all remain committed to the project but have not been kicked out of UEFA competitions.
    [​IMG]

    Gianni Infantino and Florentino Perez want different things from the future of the game (Photo: Hannah Peters – FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)
    One critic of the three clubs compared it to “Donald Trump after the American 2020 presidential election”, going round and attempting to overturn the inevitable outcome. Critics argue that any legal result will ultimately not matter as the plan is doomed anyway in the court of public opinion. Yet the Super League project is still fighting. Those three rebels believe that the same key issues remain; notably too many disinteresting matches in European competition and a competitive imbalance, in their view, created by state-supported clubs. There is also a genuine belief among the remaining Super League clubs that supporters are not as opposed to it as the media has portrayed. They cite data from late in 2020, which allegedly showed 80 per cent of Spanish supporters to be advocates of the plan, while they note that the level of opposition in England was not reflected in Spain and Italy.
    “We are simply happy for Madrid’s president Florentino Perez to bang on about it forever,” quipped one sceptic, while the Super League has even become known as “FloreLeague”, in some quarters.
    As the Premier League clubs scuttled for relevance, Al-Khelaifi aimed his sniper at Juventus, Real Madrid and Barcelona. Addressing the room, he said: “While the three rebel clubs waste energy, twist narratives and continue to shout at the sky, the rest of us are moving forward and focusing every energy on building a better future for European football.”
    He set out new principles for these summit meetings, declaring there would be “no closed sessions” to avoid future plotting. He spoke of a “united football family.”
    Peace on the horizon? Don’t count on it. As one source says: “There is a lot of double talk, double face, people that say one thing publicly and then privately do differently.”

     
  5. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

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    Part 2

    To understand the future, we must return to the past. In the week leading up to the Super League’s announcement in April, European football appeared unified. Both UEFA and the ECA appeared to have agreed and signed off on a commitment to support proposals for a reformed Champions League, which would change the model to 36 teams. At an ECA meeting early in that week, in which Super League clubs were represented by figures such as Agnelli, Woodward and Real Madrid’s vice-chairman Pedro Lopez Jimenez, most of those on the video conference appeared relieved and content. These reforms had required almost two years of painstaking work.
    Perhaps most strangely, when set against what happened next, Europe’s leading clubs appeared to be benefiting from the changes. UEFA was coming closer to accepting a significant change to the manner in which the Champions League is broadcast and marketed. For over 25 years, UEFA had worked exclusively with a Swiss-based marketing firm called TEAM, which performed commercial duties for UEFA club competitions. Europe’s elite, however, resented this model as they are accustomed to having a greater say over business matters in their domestic leagues. Since Al-Khelaifi became ECA president, these plans have been accelerated and, in his first meeting with UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin, he secured sign-off for this change that the larger clubs believe will earn them more money.
    Additionally, the elite clubs had secured an additional two places, outside of usual qualification through a domestic league finish, which would allow clubs to qualify for the Champions League on the basis of their UEFA co-efficient over the previous five seasons. Following the failure of the Super League, however, it is still to be confirmed whether these positions will remain, as it is perceived as creating the perception of a closed shop, where access is granted more on the name of a club than its most recent performance. However, as things stand, no alternatives have been suggested.
    The concessions secured in April were deemed insufficient. The Super League clubs craved more. By the pivotal Thursday and Friday in April, the final two Premier League clubs, Chelsea and Manchester City, fell into line with the Super League plan and across Europe, particularly in the Premier League, the whispers and suspicion began to grow. Executives called one another, each time hearing little clues, but unable to form the full pieces.
    By Saturday, the key players had gone to ground. UEFA chief Ceferin would later describe Woodward and Agnelli as “snakes” for their part in the perceived deceit. Agnelli simply turned his phone off, despite repeated calls from Ceferin, a man he had previously named as the godfather of his daughter. Ceferin later told German magazine Der Spiegel: “It was an honour for me when he asked me back then. Obviously, I made a mistake with him and misjudged him. After all, the Super League thing showed that closeness wasn’t a consideration. Agnelli and I are (now) as far apart as we can be.”
    On the Sunday, The Times in the UK and The New York Times reported that a Super League plan was in motion and an announcement was likely to be made the very same day. At 4pm that afternoon, the ECA called an emergency board meeting. Those Super League club executives, such as Agnelli, Jimenez and Woodward, did not dial in. It was left to Ajax chief executive Edwin van der Sar to chair the meeting. Perhaps one moment of lightness came when Inter Milan director Steven Zhang momentarily dialled into the video conference, despite his club having signed up to the Super League. He was spotted on the screen and his peers immediately wanted to know what on earth he had signed up to. He swiftly logged off, adding to the confusion.
    The ECA, whose job it is to lobby UEFA on behalf of their clubs, was left in a perilous position. Some clubs even suspected that key non-club executives at the ECA may have been in on the Super League plans but this was not the case. Instead, they made a plan to mobilise. The former ECA chair and Bayern Munich executive Karl Heinz Rummenigge stepped up. One ECA source describes the German, as well as Al-Khelaifi, as “absolute rocks” during those fateful days. Indeed, some in European football circles even suspect that clubs not included in the Super League (many of whom have outlined public opposition) may have made discreet enquiries to see if they could find a way into the Super League during those turbulent days.
    Behind the scenes, the Super League 12 continued to lobby both PSG and Bayern. There were bold warnings, cautions that the two clubs would be left in the slipstream of their rivals. Real Madrid president Perez had previously travelled to Paris to convince Al-Khelaifi but he had been unsuccessful.
    The motivation behind Al-Khelaifi’s refusal is contested.
    He did not have a particular individual loyalty to Ceferin, as the pair had rarely been close and indeed had sparred over Financial Fair Play (FFP) cases. In addition, PSG’s revenue streams were severely damaged by the collapse of the domestic French television rights deal. As such, Al-Khelaifi’s critics argue that his leadership of BeIN Media may have dictated the stance he took against the Super League. This is because the broadcaster possesses contracts worth hundreds of millions to show European domestic leagues and UEFA competitions across the world. These rights would have been severely devalued if a Super League had been formed.
    Sources close to Al-Khelaifi, however, counter that while he had no particular loyalty to Ceferin, he did feel he should be loyal to the institutions of UEFA and ECA, where he held senior positions.
    [​IMG]

    PSG signed players from several Super League clubs (Photo: Sebastien Muylaert/Getty Images)
    Additionally, he has privately claimed that he still, to this day, considers his first European group stage fixture as PSG chairman as one of the highlights of his tenure. This was a home fixture against Austrian side Red Bull Salzburg in the Europa League in September 2011. It may seem insignificant to most yet he apparently reflected on this moment when contemplating the Super League. A source explained: “It brought home to him that PSG’s own journey would be almost impossible to repeat, as the 15 founder clubs would have been locked into a 20-team competition.”
    What we do know, however, is that both PSG and Bayern were privy to Super League conversations at some point in the years leading up to the announcement. Indeed, leaked paperwork revealed that some versions of the plan even had proposed joining dates for both clubs. It would be unusual, given the stakes, for either club not to even consider the approach. In the case of Bayern, some rival clubs mischievously speculate that their hierarchy was more tempted than is publicly known. But Bayern’s leaders were bound by a 2016 commitment of the advisory board not to join a Super League. Dortmund, meanwhile, were never likely to jump on the train unless Bayern did so before them.

    On the Monday in Switzerland, Al-Khelaifi and Ceferin embraced. A source recalls: “Their first hug was for Nasser to say ‘I am standing by you,” The second hug, on the following day, came once it became clear that the plot had fallen apart.
    Al-Khelaifi’s new golden child status was inconceivable only six months ago. Indeed, for some conspiracy theorists, it almost appears to be a masterplan to undo the Super League, expose the financial precarity of his rivals and pick off their best players. The reality is less polished, much as allies of Al-Khelaifi would love to claim he had conceived a Machiavellian plot to rule European football. Instead, they say, he made a sound judgement and then maximised the opportunities that ensued.
    At the ECA, a replacement for Agnelli became required. Rummenigge was a former chair but was due to retire from his role at Bayern at the end of the 2020-21 season. Van der Sar is highly-rated but lacks the clout of a club such as PSG that regularly competes at the very highest level of the Champions League. Al-Khelaifi first turned down the role, citing his multiple other roles, not only at PSG but also his leadership positions at BeIN Media Group and the Qatar Tennis Federation. Dr Michael Gerlinger has represented Bayern on the ECA executive board since 2017 but his role as director of legal affairs at his club made it unlikely he would be a contender for ECA chairmanship.
    As PSG and Bayern’s rivals ceded status and influence, the 2020 Champions League finalists formed a new power axis at the top of both UEFA and the ECA. Bayern received the ECA’s “Chairman’s Award” for their “exceptional leadership and commitment to European football”. Al-Khelaifi and Gerlinger posed together for a photograph.
    Behind the scenes, however, the truce is uneasy, to put it lightly. Bayern have been long-term critics of PSG’s spending patterns and the two clubs do not share the same view on the future of financial restrictions in European competition. Bayern would, ideally, like a reformed FFP that regulates via a salary cap and strong punishments for breaches.
    PSG are among those more supportive of a luxury tax, whereby those who compete in UEFA competitions are limited to spending a set percentage of revenue on their salaries, expected to be around 70 per cent. Those who exceed the cap would then be expected to pay a tax, where any overspend is redistributed to clubs across Europe. This, critics argue, could be open to abuse by extremely wealthy owners who do not mind paying the tax to achieve broader ambitions.
    Critics of the former version of FFP counter that it serves to prevent clubs outside the established elite from investing ambitiously in the transfer market.
    The hostility between PSG and Bayern was only heightened when Al-Khelaifi became unhappy after Bayern chairman Herbert Hainer said on a podcast that he was trying to understand how PSG’s investment into Lionel Messi would “go along” with FFP.
    The likely outcome is that the luxury tax wins the day, while it remains possible that a top cap figure may also be included to ease concerns about how clubs such as PSG, Manchester City, Chelsea and now Newcastle, too, could benefit from spending their untold riches.
    Ceferin, for his part, wants a level of tax that disincentivises extortionate spending. He told Der Spiegel: “In future, we should speak of competitive balance rather than FFP. If they exceed a limit, they have to pay a kind of tax that is redistributed to other clubs. This tax should be very, very high. If the rule is that a club can only spend 300 million euros, but it becomes 500 million, then it might have to pay another 200 million to go to the others. That has to be a robust set of rules. Nothing has been decided yet.”

    In the Premier League, the Big Six are struggling to regain the trust of their rivals, employees and supporters. Even within the Big Six, there are those who suspect that their rivals may still be plotting, despite public denials.
    Over many years, the six clubs grew increasingly close, hunkering away in little groups at meetings. In 2019, the six organised a study by a major consultancy firm to appraise the growth of Premier League broadcasting rights deals. United, it is said, were the club always most keen to participate in joint research projects, easily securing approval for six-figure funding contributions, while Tottenham and Arsenal could be a little more frugal. The main thrust of the consultancy report was that the growth story of the 2010s “had been exhausted,” according to one well-placed source, “which led some of us to recognise a heightened necessity of a project such as the Super League.”
    For some owners, therefore, joining the Super League was about the short-term injection of funds to offset COVID-19 losses but also around their projected exit strategy. These clubs, remember, are now valued into the billions.
    [​IMG]

    Ed Woodward resigned at Manchester United after working with owners the Glazers on the Super League plan (Photo: Nick Potts/PA Images via Getty Images)
    A well-placed source close to one Big Six club explains: “This would have been the best way out for the American owners at these clubs. They receive their valuation and they get this growth story with the Super League. Think about it. If you have worked for decades to be a billionaire, does it make sense to put your money into an asset where there is no obvious growth? Investors are also increasingly unwilling to buy clubs and put them in debt, as you get shit from fans. The Super League was the opportunity to change that problem and pump the value. Once the American owners sensed stagnation in the television market and the threat to the asset caused by COVID-19, they pulled the trigger.”
    The clubs were braced, to an extent, for criticism. After all, Manchester United and Liverpool had received a backlash when they unveiled Project Big Picture previously. Those two have had a long-term engagement over reducing the size of the league to 18 clubs, as has happened in France and is under consideration in Italy, while the leading clubs share a long-held desire to remove the Carabao Cup from the calendar.
    A source explains: “They always presumed a baseline of pushback for any of these plans but they never foresaw scenes like the ones at Chelsea or the ones at Old Trafford when the game against Liverpool was postponed. They would have been embarrassed that somebody so close to home, like Sir Alex Ferguson, who never criticises the owners, publicly dumped on the plan. Ed Woodward had been hearing from Gary Neville for years, so that would not have bothered him so much, but Sir Alex, you say to yourself, ‘We have done something wrong of the highest order here’.”
    All six clubs have made pledges of increased fan representation — although their pledges have been met with cynicism — and perhaps most remarkably, United’s co-owner Joel Glazer attended two fans’ forums after over a decade of silence from the United ownership. United have also pledged to create a fan advisory board and interviews are currently ongoing for positions. Tottenham are awaiting the government’s fan-led review before pressing on with their plans to reform but the club’s supporters trust has claimed that chairman Levy recently refused a meeting to discuss concerns. Arsenal fans, meanwhile, pin their hopes on reported interest in the club by Spotify owner Daniel Ek, amid ongoing concerns about the approach taken by the Kroenke family. For Chelsea and Manchester City, rebuilding was more straightforward considering the overall popularity of their owners among supporters, while Liverpool are creating a Supporters Board with the promise of fan representation over strategic decisions.
    The previous lack of communication and engagement by owners of Premier League clubs is, ironically, one of the reasons the Super League is deemed to have failed in the eyes of its architects. “You can’t win an election without going on a campaign trail,” noted one Super League advocate, before pointing out the lack of contenders to sell the Super League vision to English football supporters.
    The vacuum was filled by opponents on the screens, airwaves and streets of England. In a Premier League meeting following the Super League unveiling, which the six breakaway clubs did not attend, Everton chairman Bill Kenwright at one point began quoting William Shakespeare and later said: “We’re all in the Twilight Zone now!” Brighton’s Paul Barber read out the content of a call he’d had with Levy that morning, where the Tottenham chief executive insisted the six had to act.
    The 14 remaining clubs departed the main Premier League shareholders WhatsApp group and formed their own group. They remain suspicious. Indeed, one executive present at a Premier League shareholders meeting since the Super League told The Athletic that “the big six do not even look at the little clubs. It remains an ‘us versus them’ mentality.”
    As one source close to UEFA concludes: “These directors are subdued, rather than defeated. The trick is to find common ground, where everyone is pissed off to the same level.”
    (Other contributors: Matt Slater, Oliver Kay, Raphael Honigstein, James Horncastle, David Ornstein. Top image: Sam Richardson)
     
  6. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

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    Premier League clubs vote to block potential Newcastle sponsorship deals
    By Adam Crafton
    October 19, 2021Updated 8:09 AM GMT+1
    85 Comments

    [​IMG]
    Premier League clubs have moved to block Newcastle United from making lucrative sponsorship deals in an emergency meeting on Monday.

    The clubs have passed a temporary amendment banning commercial opportunities involving pre-existing business relationships, known as related party transactions.

    These deals cannot now be made for the next three weeks, with clubs intent on passing more lasting measures in the meantime through the creation of a working party.

    Newcastle believe that the rule is anti-competitive, backed up by their own legal advice, and could be unlawful.

    This includes every club in the league except for Manchester City. They are believed to have abstained based on strong legal advice that the vote was unlawful and would see the league acting as a cartel. The Abu Dhabi owned club have been accused of benefitting from related party transactions in the past.

    The Athletic understands that a leading director outside of the big six clubs gave an impassioned speech, in which he outlined that these restrictions had been considered for years, and if the clubs truly believed in the regulation, they needed to push it through.

    Several clubs were also shocked that managing director Lee Charnley represented Newcastle at the meeting rather than new director and minority stakeholder Amanda Staveley.

    He is not associated with the new Newcastle leadership, and so having him as the sole club representative while issuing legal advice was not received warmly.

    As The Athletic’s David Ornstein revealed, the Premier League clubs held an extraordinary meeting last week, where league officials tried to explain the decision to sanction a deal that many of its members vehemently oppose for multiple reasons.

    Tonight’s vote is one product of that dissatisfaction.
     
  7. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

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    Analysed: How back three helped Leicester cut through United, Newcastle’s passing problem and dominant Henderson
    [​IMG]
    By Mark Carey 4h ago[​IMG] 5 [​IMG]
    Chelsea returned to the top of the Premier League on Saturday with a hard-fought 1-0 win away to Brentford, thanks in no small part to goalkeeper Edouard Mendy’s fantastic display.
    Earlier in the day, there was a thrilling end to proceedings in the West Midlands derby as visitors Wolverhampton Wanderers came back from 2-0 down against Aston Villa to snatch the winner in the fifth minute of added time. Meanwhile, Manchester City eased to a 2-0 win against Burnley — rather than their customary 5-0 thrashing at home to Sean Dyche’s men — to remain nicely placed two points off the top.
    We are never short of topics to cover off the back of a weekend’s fixtures, so let’s dive into this latest data-driven column analysing three talking points from the Premier League…

    Leicester look more balanced at both ends playing a back three
    It was interesting to hear Brendan Rodgers reflect upon the role he might have played in his Leicester side’s recent struggles. After Leicester City produced their best performance of the season to beat Manchester United 4-2 on Saturday, manager Rodgers’ admission was refreshing.
    “I maybe haven’t picked the right systems or whatever,” he said, “but I just know that we needed to fix what our issues were and that started with our defending, our aggression, our intensity, and then from that we can play fast football and dynamic football.”
    It felt as though Leicester’s improvement was heavily influenced by the switch to a back three system, facilitated by the return of Jonny Evans as the central defender flanked by Caglar Soyuncu and Daniel Amartey.
    Not only did a back three help in shoring up their recent defensive issues with their second-lowest expected goals against (xGA) in a Premier League game this season, but this system seemed to improve Leicester’s build-up play when in possession.
    Soyuncu and Amartey would stretch wide across the pitch, which allowed wing-backs Timothy Castagne and Ricardo Pereira to stay high and wide on either side of the halfway line. This in turn allowed midfielders Youri Tielemans and Boubakary Soumare to drop in and offer for the ball, where Leicester would often have the numerical superiority to get out of any Manchester United press — however rare that was on the day.
    [​IMG]
    If the option through the middle was not on, Castagne and Pereira would stay high and wide, which allowed Evans to play lofted balls out to the flanks — bypassing the midfield and using the width effectively.
    [​IMG]
    This build-up play was effective in helping Leicester play through the lines and keeping United guessing.
    Here, we see Evans play a ball out to Soyuncu on his left…
    [​IMG]
    …who carries it wide and finds James Maddison, who had dropped deep to collect it. Maddison plays a neat one-two with Tielemans, who makes a run into space beyond him, evading the half-hearted press…
    [​IMG]
    …Maddison finds Tielemans, opening up the pitch and allowing the Belgian to drive forward and drill a ball in to striker Kelechi Iheanacho
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
    …who manages to get a shot away. The chance itself does not test goalkeeper David de Gea as Iheanacho pulls his effort wide, but it is an example of the neat build-up by Leicester from back to front on the day.
    [​IMG]
    The inclusion of Iheanacho for his second consecutive start of the season gave an extra potency to Leicester in attack, as Rodgers’ men were more likely to turn that possession into shots when they did get the ball into the attacking third.
    This is borne out by the numbers.
    Of the Leicester possessions that reached the final third, 63 per cent resulted in a shot — which is a significant increase on their previous fixtures this season.
    [​IMG]
    It shows just how efficient they were in working the ball forward and having an end product, with their 22 shots in the game equalling the most they have managed in any of the previous seven games this season.
    The standard has been set for Leicester, as Rodgers will be hoping this is the performance to kick-start the season properly.

    Newcastle desperately need to exert some control over their play
    It was very much a day of mixed emotions at St James’ Park on Sunday as Newcastle United welcomed Tottenham Hotspur for their first game under new ownership after the end of Mike Ashley’s 14-year reign. Football ultimately become insignificant when the game was suspended during the first half after a fan collapsed in the stands — fortunately, the person received swift medical attention and is now in a stabilised condition.
    The day had started with a new sense of optimism, which made for an incredible atmosphere as the home fans welcomed their team out onto the pitch. Newcastle’s start could not have been better, as Callum Wilson returned from his latest injury lay-off to put them ahead within two minutes and almost blow the roof off St James’ Park.
    Unfortunately, that was about as good as it got for them on the pitch. Spurs overcame that initial scare to score the next three goals and ended up winning 3-2, with the game far more comfortable for the visitors than that final scoreline suggested.
    Newcastle’s new owners are surely under no illusions that the current squad, second-bottom of the table on three points and still winless after eight league games, is not sufficient to climb up the table with ease in the weeks before the transfer window re-opens in January. Newcastle need to have some form of identity and must keep the ball far better than they have been doing.
    Digging into the numbers, we find only Everton and Burnley have averaged fewer possessions consisting of nine or more passes this season. Put simply, when Newcastle do have the ball, they are not holding onto it for very long.
    [​IMG]
    You might point out that Everton are the lowest in this metric, yet sit in the top half of the table (eighth). However, Everton’s style of play is already starting to emerge under new manager Rafa Benitez, built upon playing with control when out of possession and fast, counter-attacking play when they regain the ball — working from back to front with few passes of the ball in transition.
    Unfortunately, Newcastle’s style of play is less clear, and they cannot continue to simply rely on Allan Saint-Maximin to drive them upfield each time with his relentless dribbles and carries.
    It looks likely a new manager will soon be tasked with fixing the issue, but if Newcastle are going to exert any dominance on the pitch, as they aim to do with their finances in the coming transfer windows, they need to string a few more passes together.

    Captain Henderson leads the way
    If there was any danger that Watford might be buoyed by the title-winning presence of their latest new manager Claudio Ranieri in the dugout, that was quickly quashed as Liverpool ran out comfortable 5-0 winners in Saturday’s early kick-off.
    Liverpool’s front three hogged the main headlines once again — Sadio Mane scored his 100th Premier League goal, Roberto Firmino bagged a hat-trick and Mohamed Salah scored one of his best goals in a Liverpool shirt since… well, his previous game for them against Manchester City.
    However, the glue that held the whole team performance together was Liverpool’s captain, Jordan Henderson. With Fabinho not in the squad due to his international commitments in South America, it was Henderson who anchored the midfield with utter dominance.
    Liverpool’s captain had 124 touches in total across the 90 minutes — more than double any Watford player and by far his highest tally in the league across the campaign, indeed, more than any Liverpool player has had in a league game so far this season.
    As you can see below, Henderson patrolled the middle of the park and was the definition of box-to-box in possession, exhibiting the level of maturity and discipline we have come to expect from the 31-year-old, 67-cap England international and 2019-20 football writers’ player of the Year.
    [​IMG]
    Henderson dictated the tempo of the game, always showed for the ball and ensured that Watford were barely able to get out of their half. By the end of the 90 minutes, Liverpool had allowed their hosts just 11.6 seconds on the ball per possession — the least amount of time any of their opponents have held the ball all season.
    With Fabinho likely to return to the side at the soonest opportunity after COVID-19 quarantining, Henderson will most likely return to his role on the right of the midfield three, but manager Jurgen Klopp will surely have no hesitation in using his captain in that anchoring role again soon as he rotates his midfield options this season.
     
  8. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

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    How Chelsea and Manchester City were late to board Super League train, then raced to be first off
    Oliver Kay 4h ago[​IMG] 20 [​IMG]
    When it comes to describing the events of those turbulent few days in April when 12 leading clubs tried to destroy European football as we know it, there is a popular analogy used among those whose commitment was already wavering.
    It is that of a high-speed train about to leave a station. Liverpool and Manchester United had their seats reserved long ago — along with Real Madrid, Barcelona, AC Milan and Juventus — and were strapped in, excited by thoughts of the groundbreaking, money-spinning journey ahead. Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur were on board too, joined by Inter Milan and Atletico Madrid.
    And then, at the very last moment, Chelsea and Manchester City were summoned and told to get on board now — quick — or risk being left behind forever.
    That was the thing about the self-appointed elite behind the European Super League (ESL). They didn’t want to involve Chelsea and City any more than they had to, but they needed strength in numbers, particularly with Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund and Paris Saint-Germain all having said no. So they put the squeeze on, giving Chelsea and City an ultimatum to get on board immediately or regret it.
    Various sources suggest it was not until April 15 — just three days before the ill-fated launch — that Chelsea and City were presented with the ESL proposals. They were told that if they weren’t among the 12 founding members, they would have to qualify every year while their rivals enjoyed guaranteed entry.
    “So we were in a position where four of our rivals from the Premier League and most of our main rivals from across Europe were already on board and we were being told, ‘The train is about to leave the station and if you don’t jump on now, you’ll miss it altogether’,” one source says. “That is the situation Chelsea and Manchester City were in. ‘The train is leaving with or without you. It’s up to you. But if you’re going to jump on board, you have to do it now’.”
    Chelsea and City are not comfortable bedfellows at ownership or executive level, but one thing they shared here was FOMO: fear of missing out. They knew little about the finer details of the ESL, but at least this way, having boarded the train, they might be able to have a say in how the project unfolded. Not an equal say, they suspected, but a say nonetheless. So they jumped.
    And it was partly the speed with which everything hurtled out of control over the next 48 hours that left the two last-minute passengers scrambling for the emergency cord. And one unanswered question, six months later, is which of Chelsea and City pulled that cord first, bringing the Super League bandwagon to a shuddering, humiliating standstill?

    City are convinced they were the first to bail. Last in, first out. The brief statement confirming their withdrawal came at 9.19pm on that Tuesday, 96 minutes ahead of Arsenal, Liverpool, United and Tottenham and more than three and a half hours before Chelsea, whose announcement came at 12.51am on Wednesday.
     
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    Hass Well-Known Member

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    Part 2

    UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin even issued a statement that night, welcoming City “back to the European football family”. “They have shown great intelligence in listening to the many voices — most notably their fans — that have spelt out the vital benefits that the current system has for the whole of European football,” Ceferin said. “As I said at the UEFA congress, it takes courage to admit a mistake but I have never doubted that they (Manchester City) had the ability and common sense to make that decision.”
    That was quite a badge of honour for City, given their previous relationship with UEFA and their apparent distaste for a project that was driven by the very same elite — minus Bayern — that had been so determined to keep them at arm’s length since they were taken over by Sheikh Mansour in 2008. Pep Guardiola had spoken out against the ESL concept earlier that day, saying that a closed-shop competition “is not sport”.
    Real president Florentino Perez is known to have had City in mind when he said in an interview with Spanish radio show El Larguero 24 hours later that “there was one of the English clubs who didn’t seem too interested and that spread to the rest. They signed the contract but we could already see that they were not convinced”.
    Perez also referred, separately, to “the one from Manchester” — and he certainly wasn’t talking about United.
    But there is a belief at Chelsea that they were first. Not first to announce it, clearly, but first to begin the process of withdrawing from a project that they quickly came to realise was doomed from the moment it was launched on the Sunday evening.
    Sources at Chelsea were less than ebullient on the subject throughout that Monday. “We can’t be passive partners now that we’re in it, but there has to be a level of understanding that this hasn’t been driven by us,” one source told The Athletic at the time.
    Chelsea chairman Bruce Buck arrived at the club’s Cobham training ground on Monday morning to address the players, who had been as surprised as anyone by the announcement the previous night. He told the players this should be considered a positive development for football and for themselves — a new competition offering more matches against the elite teams — and that more information would follow. In the meantime, he said, it was to be business as usual.

    Some of the players were deeply unsettled by the idea, particularly by reports that UEFA might look to expel the ESL clubs from the Champions League with immediate effect  — and ban those clubs’ players from the summer’s European Championship.
    Buck also addressed the club’s staff at Stamford Bridge and then held a conference call with members of the Chelsea fans’ forum on that Monday afternoon. According to the Chelsea Supporters’ Trust, the chairman “extensively defended” the club’s plan to remain in the ESL, which it called “the ultimate betrayal”.
    The persistent line from Buck was that the club had an obligation to their supporters to make sure Chelsea was not left behind — even if they recognised those supporters’ evident revulsion for the idea.
    But throughout that Monday, Chelsea’s position changed significantly. Already there were rumblings about cracks appearing in the ESL alliance. A source at one of the other clubs involved suggested that two of the Premier League clubs were getting cold feet. It was pretty apparent which clubs these might be, even if the suggestion was still being comprehensively denied at the time.

    When Jurgen Klopp faced the media before and after Liverpool’s 1-1 draw with Leeds United on the Monday evening — a game that was preceded by an angry protest against the Super League, involving fans of both teams — he made clear his distaste for the ESL project, but stopped just short of condemning it outright, presumably out of respect for the Merseyside club’s owners.
    Guardiola, attending a pre-match press conference the following afternoon, was less guarded. He said “it is not a sport” when “the relation between effort and success does not exist, when success is already guaranteed, when it doesn’t matter when you lose”. He also ridiculed the idea that a European Super League could exclude Ajax, who, after all, have won more European Cups than Manchester United, Inter Milan and Juventus — never mind Arsenal, Tottenham and City.

    Unlike Liverpool the previous evening, City immediately published their manager’s comments on their official website and their social media channels. Those posts were then shared by several City players on Twitter and Instagram. As trivial as this might appear, it caused panic among some of those involved in the ESL project. This wasn’t just a manager speaking out of turn and an over-eager club journalist rushing to publish. This looked more and more like a club that wanted out.
    Guardiola had already said all of this in a candid exchange with City’s chief executive Ferran Soriano and sporting director Txiki Begiristain. Crucially — again reflecting a difference with Klopp’s situation at Liverpool — the board shared the manager’s opinion. Some of City’s players had been outspoken in criticising the Super League concept not just on social media but in a meeting with the club’s senior management.
    Just before that, on Tuesday lunchtime, the Times published a story saying “at least one” of the Premier League clubs was considering pulling out. Martyn Ziegler wrote that while “Super League insiders insist that all 12 are committed to the project, at least one English club is having emergency internal discussions on the best way forward”.
    “At least one” referred to both Chelsea and City. Both clubs had indeed held emergency talks at executive level, reflecting the growing sense of unease at the top of both clubs.
    ESL insiders responded to the Times report as “mischief-making”, saying the alliance remained strong. With regard to Chelsea in particular, ESL officials continued to brief that there was no issue. If we really doubted Chelsea’s commitment to the project, then it would be there for all to see when the club published comments to the fans forum on their official website. When? Imminently.

    But Buck’s comments were never published. Chelsea and City were both, independently of each other, trying to extricate themselves from the doomed project.
    Executives at the other clubs could read the writing on the wall. They said their Chelsea and City counterparts had been suspiciously quiet in the meetings held over the previous 24 hours.
    Even going back to the launch on the Sunday evening, when there was “a real sense of unity and collaboration” among the 12 clubs involved, one source said there had been a feeling that “if you had asked anyone which two clubs might cave in, everyone would have said Chelsea and City — not necessarily because of any great strength of opinion against it but because they hadn’t really been part of the process and they probably wanted to see which way the wind was blowing.”
    The source suggests it was possibly, with hindsight, a mistake to include them at the very last moment. Does he mean they should have been included earlier or excluded until the project had got off the ground? “Either, I suppose,” comes the reply. “You can’t really launch something of this magnitude if you’ve got two clubs who aren’t fully committed.”

    Earlier that day Ceferin, speaking after a meeting of UEFA’s executive committee meeting, had been defiant in his condemnation of the “disgraceful, self-serving proposals we have seen from a select few clubs in Europe that are fuelled by greed above all else.”
    He addressed the owners of the Premier League clubs in particular, telling them, “Gentlemen, you made a huge mistake,” but also saying, “There is still time to change your mind. Everyone made mistakes. English fans deserve to have you correct your mistake.”
    “Come to your senses,” Ceferin added. “Not out of love for football — because I imagine some of you don’t have much of that — but out of respect for those who bleed themselves dry so that they can go to the stadium to support their team and want the dream to be kept alive. For those, you change your mind. Do it out of respect for the English people, for the home of football.”
    It was interesting — the implication was that Premier League clubs might be more open to an appeal to their conscience.
    [​IMG]

    Ceferin said the English clubs had made a ‘huge mistake’ (Photo: Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images)
    Chelsea and City like to characterise themselves as clubs that are owned for personal enjoyment rather than for financial gain, distancing themselves from the capitalist ownership model at some of their rivals. They portray their scepticism towards the ESL — and their almost immediate withdrawal — as reflective of different values.
    That is only half the story, though. Because few imagine that Chelsea and City are run “out of love for football”.
    Various sources suggest one of the biggest problems the ESL faced was from those clubs whose owners’ priorities lie outside of sport or business. This was most apparent in the case of PSG, whose Qatari owners could not risk going to war with UEFA and FIFA when the country is building towards staging next year’s World Cup.
    If we were talking about PSG purely as a football club, one whose broadcast revenue in Ligue 1 is only a fraction of that earned by the leading Premier League clubs, they arguably had more than anyone to gain from joining the ESL. But the club is owned by Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund and joining a “rebel” league appears not — for now at least — to be in the interests of Qatar.
    And by opposing the ESL project, PSG (and Qatar) strengthened their strategic position within European football, with their president Nasser Al-Khelaifi taking over from Andrea Agnelli as the head of the European Club Association.
    Likewise, there is a theory in ESL circles that City dropped their support for the project not out of respect for Guardiola’s and his players’ feelings — let alone those of the supporters — but because it was not going to “work” for Abu Dhabi if it meant alienating UEFA (after the bridge-building of the previous 12 months), FIFA and, moreover, the European political establishment.
    Remember that threat from prime minister Boris Johnson to drop a “legislative bomb” to stop the ESL after holding a conference call with the Football Supporters’ Association and other fan groups on that Tuesday morning?
    There was also a direct warning to Abu Dhabi at diplomatic level. Lord Udny-Lister, Johnson’s former chief of staff, is reported to have warned the United Arab Emirates on a visit to the Middle East that weekend that its relationship with the UK could be jeopardised if City were involved in the ESL. It came at a time when the two countries were finalising a £10 billion investment project involving Mubadala, a sovereign wealth fund run by City’s chairman, Khaldoon al-Mubarak.
    The significance of these factors is hard to estimate but, just as financial issues weigh less heavily in City’s approach to the ESL project, it seems reasonable to suggest that geopolitical considerations weigh far more heavily than with, for example, the Glazer family at Manchester United or Fenway Sports Group at Liverpool. And on a very basic level, when the whole venture at City is about winning friends and influencing nations, going against the wishes of the club’s supporters would not have been a good look.
    As for Roman Abramovich’s ownership of Chelsea, it is often said it is (or was) about having some fun and enjoying the reflected glory, but it is widely assumed that it also brings certain benefits for an oligarch who benefitted greatly from Russia’s post-Yeltsin carve-up of the 1990s. Or at least that owning Chelsea brought benefits until 2018, when his UK visa was not renewed amid deteriorating relations between London and Moscow.
    The Athletic was told at the time of the ESL launch that Abramovich might have “had one eye on how things would be perceived in Russia from a political perspective”. After all, next year’s Champions League final is in Saint Petersburg, which is also the base of Gazprom, a Russian energy corporation that is predominantly owned by the state and is one of UEFA’s main commercial partners. The Russian Football Union was scathing in its opposition to the ESL and it is easy to see how Abramovich, a friend of the Kremlin, might have felt the presumed financial benefits to Chelsea were outweighed by other considerations.
    Abramovich is said to have been indifferent to the Super League idea until Buck and other board members spelt out the “train leaving the station” scenario, at which point he went along with the chairman’s judgement. Over the next 48 hours, watching from afar and seeing the growing hostility to the ESL, he became convinced it was a bad idea.
    The decision was said to have been taken “by the owner and the board” — not by Abramovich unilaterally or by the board independently of the owner. And whether that was a conference call among all the board members, or whether views were funnelled to and from Abramovich via directors Eugene Tenenbaum and Marina Granovskaia, Chelsea’s position became clear.
    There was talk from both clubs about how — more than Arsenal, Liverpool, United and Tottenham — Chelsea and City have owners who recognise their clubs’ importance to their communities. In the eyes of their owners, those clubs are not mere businesses. But they are not regarded as mere football clubs either. It is more complicated than that.

    By late afternoon on Tuesday, there were hundreds of Chelsea fans on Fulham Road, joining a loud, angry demonstration against the ESL. By early evening, hundreds had become thousands and there was a sit-down protest outside Stamford Bridge, holding up the team buses before a Premier League match against Brighton & Hove Albion.
    There were repeated chants of “Fuck the Super League” and several memorable banners, one of which famously said, “We want our cold nights in Stoke”.
    Perhaps the most striking image came when former Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech, now the club’s technical and performance adviser, arrived on foot and tried to appease the protestors. As well as pleading with them to let the buses through, Cech asked the supporters to “give us time” to sort the situation out.

    Cech left to chants of “We want our Chelsea back” and “Petr, sort it out”. And within 20 minutes or so, at 6.45pm, the BBC’s Dan Roan said — in the first unequivocal report on the matter — that Chelsea were now preparing documentation to withdraw from the ESL.

    The news spread like wildfire and, among the fans gathered on Fulham Road, it was celebrated with euphoria to rival Kai Havertz’s goal against City in the Champions League final five weeks later. Twenty minutes later came unofficial confirmation that City were pulling out too. A statement to that effect soon followed. Less than 48 hours after its launch, the ESL was falling apart.
    As tempting as it might be simply to piece together the video footage with the statements and draw a neat timeline — fans protest, club legend listens, club reacts, fans celebrate — it wasn’t quite like that. Chelsea, like City, had been working on their withdrawal for several hours before that.
    But nobody at either club downplays the significance of the various protests, including the banners that were hung outside City’s Etihad Stadium the previous evening.
    One source points out that the pressure applied by the government — whether diplomatically or felt on a more local level by those in charge of the day-to-day running of the clubs — simply would not have happened had there not been such a loud, angry and widespread backlash from public and media alike.
    As for which was first to pull the emergency cord, we might just have to call it a draw. Both clubs boarded the train with certain misgivings, both were troubled by the chaotic launch on the Sunday evening, both were rapidly losing faith in the project by the Monday evening and both were actively seeking a way out by the Tuesday lunchtime at the latest.
    It was Chelsea whose withdrawal was reported first and City who were first to issue a statement confirming their withdrawal — and were lauded by Ceferin for doing so.
    The party line from one of those clubs is that they were immensely relieved when the whole thing collapsed six months ago and that they hope never to hear of it again. But we wait with some trepidation to see if (or more likely when) the ESL project will be revived and whether, at that point, Chelsea and City will remain firmly opposed to the idea.
    Few people would be naive enough to think those clubs’ positions will be dictated by what the fans think.
    Whatever the reasoning, though, it comes to something when the two clubs find themselves competing not just for trophies but for the honour of being first to withdraw from the project.
    All that can be said for certain is that when it comes to that particular title then, as the famous Chelsea anthem has it, blue is the colour.
    As for the next line — “football is the game” — it would be nice to think that was what dictated the two clubs’ change of heart. But too often these days it feels like it is just part of a much bigger game.
     
  10. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

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    Premier League’s US TV rights auction: ‘A $3 billion deal over nine years is possible’
    Matt Slater and Felipe Cardenas 4h ago[​IMG] 28 [​IMG]
    When NBC outbid ESPN and Fox for the right to broadcast Premier League games in the United States in October 2012, it publicised its coverage with an old joke: Americans know nothing about football.
    Ted Lasso, the hapless but endearing fish out of water pictured above, was the vehicle for that joke and the good news is people are still laughing — all the way to the bank, in fact. Apple has turned those viral videos into an Emmy-winning, smash-hit series, while the Premier League has just sold Apple the rights to use match action and league brands in the show’s third season.
    But the premise for the original joke has worn thin: Americans know quite a lot about football now, particularly English football.
    And that is why the current auction for the US broadcast rights is no laughing matter for NBC, its rivals or the Premier League.
    What was a $250-million punt (£180 million) in 2012 is likely to be an investment of at least $2 billion (£1.46 billion) in 2021, perhaps more, boosting each Premier League club’s budget by a minimum of at least £10 million from next season.
    The invitations to tender have been sent and sealed bids must be in by early November. The league is not expecting to be short of offers.

    How much are the US rights worth now?
    About £150 million a season.
    NBC became the home of Premier League football in the US when it paid $250 million (£180 million) for the exclusive live rights to all 380 games a season between 2013 and 2016. This was triple what ESPN and Fox had paid three years earlier.
    In 2015, NBC’s parent company Comcast re-upped on “EPL” action to the tune of $1.1 billion (£800 million), in a six-year deal worth about £116 million a year for the first three seasons and then £150 million for the last three. The current season is the last of those.
    [​IMG]

    Rebecca Lowe, Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe watching live Premier League matches for NBC in 2013 (Photo: Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)
    This stonking deal was one of several with overseas partners that helped the Premier League become football’s richest domestic league, with broadcast income of more than £3 billion a year.
    In comparison, La Liga’s new US deal with ESPN is worth about £120 million this season, with UEFA earning just over £100 million from CBS for the Champions League and other competitions. Serie A is getting less than £50 million a season from CBS, while ESPN pays the Bundesliga just under £25 million a year for its rights.
    Why does the Premier League get so much more than its rivals?
    The short answer is eyeballs, in that the Premier League attracts more of them. But it would also tell you it does not get enough money for doing so.
    The Athletic understands the league’s 20 clubs were shown some remarkable numbers at their most recent shareholders’ meeting in September. According to research by market analysis specialists Neilsen this summer, soccer is the fourth most popular sport in the US, behind American football, basketball and baseball but ahead of ice hockey.
    Furthermore, soccer fans are younger, more diverse and wealthier than fans of America’s traditional “big four” sports, and soccer’s following is growing at a faster rate, too.
    MLS has the biggest overall following, but the Premier League has the largest number of “core” fans.
    This audience, carefully nurtured by NBC, has more than doubled since 2013, and more than half of all US soccer fans watch Premier League games. In fact, more than a quarter of them only watch the Premier League.
    A survey by London-based firm Ampere Analysis found that 15 per cent of American sports fans were interested in the Premier League, up from 12 per cent in 2019. Nearly one in 10 sports fans said they would be willing to pay to watch English top-flight games, an increase of 50 per cent in two years.
    OK, it is popular but it takes two to tango: who else wants it?
    If the Premier League’s sales team is to be believed, this will be more of a line dance than a tango, with up to 10 different companies potentially involved.
    That might be overstating things slightly, as streaming giants Apple and Netflix have not shown much desire to add live sport to their offerings. The Premier League’s US rights might be a bit rich for the so-called “Netflix of sport” DAZN, which has already splurged on premium rights elsewhere, and FuboTV, a relatively new entrant to the market.
    Amazon, on the other hand, might be tempted onto the dancefloor, as it has already proven to itself that you can convert sports fans into online shoppers. But the real action is expected to come from three of America’s five biggest media groups: NBC’s owner Comcast, ViacomCBS and The Walt Disney Company, owner of cable sports network ESPN.
    All three need live sport to satisfy advertisers on their free-to-air offerings and stop any more of their cable subscribers “cutting the cord”, and all three have new streaming platforms to fill with premium content.
    Initially, NBC broadcast Premier League games in English on NBCSN — with pop-up channels showing simultaneous games — while stablemates Telemundo and Universo aired them in Spanish. Occasionally, games would show up on other Comcast channels, such as USA Network. But in 2017, NBC began streaming some of the overflow games behind a paywall called “Premier League Pass”.
    In 2018, Comcast bought British media giant Sky, bringing Sky Sports under the same umbrella as NBC Sports. NBC’s coverage of the Premier League had always spoken with a British accent, thanks to the large number of local commentators, presenters and pundits it used, but now it even looks like “the real thing” as the transatlantic partners share shows and on-air graphics.
    By offering American fans something authentic and different — at a time on Saturday mornings when the main competition was children’s shows — NBC built a large, loyal and growing audience.
    [​IMG]

    International stars, such as Mexico’s Raul Jimenez, have helped NBC grow the Premier League brand in the US (Photo: Visionhaus/Getty Images)
    After years of steady growth, the total audience for Premier League football in the US dipped slightly last season, with NBC moving many of the top games to its new streaming service Peacock. This ruffled feathers back at the Premier League’s London HQ — eyeballs are important to the league’s sponsors — but things seem to have been smoothed over, with Comcast making it clear it is still delighted with the relationship.
    According to its own “total audience delivery” metric — a combination of viewers across linear TV and those streaming at home or out and about — there were eight matches last season that delivered audiences of more than one million people.
    NBC would love to pull the same trick as its Comcast partners Sky Sports, Sky Deutschland and Sky Italia managed in their territories, rolling over their deals for another three years on the same terms. But, despite the league’s admiration for the stellar job NBC has done in growing its fanbase in the world’s richest market, there is no way the Premier League would let them get away with that — not when CBS and ESPN are throwing money at football.
    Having beaten off ESPN, Fox and Turner for the Champions League rights in 2019, CBS has been hoovering up football rights for its CBS Sports Network cable offering, Paramount+, a rival to Peacock. Over the last year, it has added Argentine, Brazilian, Italian and Scottish league football to its portfolio, while also picking up the rights to the National Women’s Super League and the USA national teams’ World Cup qualifiers.
    ESPN, on the other hand, has got German and Spanish football and MLS, as well as England’s FA Cup.
    The Premier League has suitors, then, but have they got any money?
    This is America: of course they have money.
    Earlier this year, the National Football League agreed a package of deals with all the major players that will run from 2022 to 2033. These contracts will bring in $10 billion (£7.3 billion) a year, a jump of more than 70 per cent on the previous cycle. In terms of a percentage increase, the National Hockey League did even better when it switched from NBC to ESPN and Turner, doubling its money to more than £450 million a year.
    “There is no doubt sports are a key competitive battlefield for US TV companies at the moment,” says Jack Genovese of Ampere Analysis.
    “On the one hand, sports continue to deliver strong viewing figures on linear TV, which is essential to the broadcasters’ advertising business, especially at a time when most other genres are increasingly being consumed online and on-demand. And on the other hand, broadcasters are starting to use sports to grow their subscription-based streaming services, as NBC has shown by moving Premier League matches and some events during this summer’s Olympics to Peacock.
    “In fact, it looks like football will be at the forefront of this shift. In March, ViacomCBS added Serie A rights to the Champions League rights it bought last year. Both are available on the broadcaster’s new streaming service, Paramount+. Meanwhile, Disney recently signed an eight-year contract with La Liga, with a plan to put the majority of the games on OTT (over the top) service ESPN+.
    “The growing strategic importance of sports rights for US companies has led to some big increases in the annual fees paid. The reported fee for Serie A went up by 30 per cent, the Champions League rights went up by 50 per cent and, while the terms for the previous deal were not disclosed, we estimate La Liga’s annual fee has roughly doubled.”
    What do US broadcasters get in return?
    Competition law in the UK and European Union has forced the Premier League to offer its rights in three-year cycles. This has meant the league has almost never stopped being in sales mode, a situation it was relaxed about when there was competition out there. But that has not been the case for several years, which explains why the domestic rights dipped in the current cycle and are flat next time.
    The league has tried various stunts to remedy this problem — selling more matches, offering more prime-time slots and new packages to bring in the streaming big guns — but it has tended to keep things simple overseas, selling all the games to the highest bidder.
    There have been exceptions — the last US deal, for example — but now those exceptions are becoming the norm. The Premier League completed the European auctions over the summer and its partners in the Balkans, Nordic region and Russia all have six-year deals. These were all big mark-ups on the previous contracts, particularly the agreements with NENT in the Nordics and Telekom Srbija in the countries that used to be Yugoslavia.
    [​IMG]

    The Premier League has been coming up with creative ways to increase its TV revenue (Photo: Justin Setterfield/Getty Images)
    American broadcasters love long rights deals. As they say, you cannot invest in a product without a degree of certainty and that long-term investment is how you build an audience. It is an argument the Premier League is increasingly open to and The Athletic understands it will entertain bids for nine-year terms, providing the headline number is right.
    “A $3 billion (£2.2 billion) deal over nine years is possible,” concludes Genovese.
    Belgium-based sports rights expert Pierre Maes agrees, up to a point.
    “If there is the fierce competition between all the parties mentioned, well, let’s say the sky is the limit,” says Maes. “After all, the Premier League is by far the most attractive domestic league in the world and every US platform will want it.
    “The limit, however, would be that the interested parties are serious professionals and not crazy gamblers like Mediapro (the Spanish-based group that overpaid for the French domestic rights in 2018 and had to hand them back in 2020).  They certainly know how high they can go while keeping it sustainable.
    “This is why I would consider a doubling of the fees as an absolute maximum. A crazy offer by Amazon or DAZN seems unlikely. And if the deal is unsatisfying in terms of money, they will then talk about long-term options to save face. There is no long term in football, is there?”
    Could there be more than one winner here?
    You mean more than the Premier League, its clubs and whoever wins the bid?
    With the English top flight still coming to terms with the fallout from the failed Super League and the takeover of Newcastle by a Saudi Arabia-linked consortium, this is certainly a good time for chief executive Richard Master to announce a bumper payday for his clubs.
    And there could be more winners, too. For the first time in the US, the league is offering four different packages.
    The first is the status quo: all 380 matches, to be split between the bidder’s various platforms. The second is new: all 380 games but shared on a co-exclusive basis between two partners.
    The third and fourth are single, exclusive packages of 190 games each. One package would bring the first-, third-, fifth-, seventh- and ninth-choice games in odd rounds of matches, and the second, fourth, sixth, eighth and 10th picks in even rounds. The other package would flip the picks.
    All bids are expected to include detailed plans for marketing the league with events and new content, and the Premier League is more than willing to help.
    We have already mentioned the missionary work done by Ted Lasso, but the league is also considering bringing “meaningful games” to the US, which is understood to mean a pre-season tournament, perhaps as early as next summer. The league is also looking for a US office in order to have boots on the ground in its most important market outside the UK.
    What do the Americans say?
    “We’re going to bid hard,” says an NBC executive.
    “We have one more season left on our current view of the Premier League and we have an awesome relationship with them,” added Peacock’s chief revenue officer Rick Cordella. “We really believe that we helped elevate the league in America.
    “You can remember the Ted Lasso marketing campaign we had, and the fact we made a lot of content available that before was hard to find. We put it on broadcast TV with consistent windows.
    “So, we’re really happy with how the Premier League’s performing, both linearly and on Peacock. We’d love to renew it.”
    The guys at Walt Disney seem pretty keen, too.
    Speaking in May, when the company announced the La Liga deal, James Pitaro, chairman of ESPN and sports content, said: “We just celebrated our third anniversary at ESPN+ and, from day one, we’ve made soccer a priority for the service. Our goal quite simply was: if you are a soccer fan, you need to have ESPN+.
    “If you fast forward to today, especially with this partnership with La Liga, we believe that is absolutely the case. But, like any other area of our business, we will acquire rights that add value for our sports fans but also that add value for our business.
    “So, we’re always looking to acquire more content and because soccer has been, and continues to be, such a huge priority, we are always interested in having conversations around continuing to expand the service.”

    And it is definitely not a no from CBS.
    When asked in March if the Premier League was on CBS’s shopping list, Jeff Gerttula, the executive vice-president and general manager of CBS Sports Digital, said: “We look at every set of rights that come across our desk.
    “We have conversations. We’re rigorous with our models and making sure the economics would support our streaming business. And, ultimately, we’ve proven that when we have that, ViacomCBS is willing to spend to make the investment.
    “We’re looking at everything. We’ll see how that plays out. Some of it’s not always in our hands, but certainly we’ll evaluate everything as it comes up. The EPL’s obviously a great property but we’ll assess everything we can, as we can.”
    CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus put it in similar terms last month.
    “I’m not going to lay any odds on this one,” he explained. “We’re really happy with the 10 separate deals we’ve done for all this soccer content, so we’re not actively looking to add any more content.
    “Having said that, EPL is a great property. I admire what NBC has done with it — they’ve built it up and they’ve promoted it and they’ve produced it in a first-class manner. So we’re open for business. We’ll look at any property that comes along.”
    A decision on where Americans will find their EPL fix from next season onward is expected in mid-November. A decision on the Australian process should come then, too, and that one could be quite punchy, as well.
    What is announced that day could go a long way to deciding how the Premier League views itself after almost two years that have been dominated by a rampant virus, empty stadiums, huge financial losses, rows about competition formats, disputes over the distribution of its revenues, an interminable takeover saga and an attempted coup by the richest clubs.
    It has been a bit crap, frankly. Something good on telly would cheer everyone up.
     
  11. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

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    Can Harvey Davies end Liverpool’s 56-year wait for a Scouse first-team goalkeeper?
    [​IMG]
    By Caoimhe O'Neill Oct 19, 2021[​IMG] 14 [​IMG]
    It was a great weekend for Liverpool’s young goalkeepers.
    With Alisson quarantining after international duty in South America, Caoimhin Kelleher was barely troubled in the first team’s 5-0 win away to Watford but needed to stay alert to deny Ismaila Sarr late on and keep his clean sheet.
    And for the under-23s, it was Harvey Davies who helped ensure another shutout as Liverpool beat Arsenal 3-0 in Premier League 2.
    “Harvey, Harvey, Harvey,” chanted almost 2,500 fans gathered inside Anfield after the 18-year-old denied Folarin Balogun from close range before turning Charlie Patino’s stoppage-time effort around the post.
    The Kop were showing support to one of their own. Davies is from Childwall in the south east of the city and has been with the club since under-nine level.
    Last season, he was a mainstay for the under-18s en route to the FA Youth Cup final, turning in vital performances against Manchester United and Leicester City in that run.
    Before the final, which Liverpool lost 2-1 to Aston Villa at Villa Park, captain Jarell Quansah told The Athletic: “When you walk out with him, you feel comfortable, you feel like every game you are going to keep a clean sheet.”
    As well as featuring in the UEFA Youth League this season, Davies has been working much more closely with the under-23s.
    He signed his first professional deal in July and made his youth international debut this month for England Under-19s against Mexico in a 3-1 win in Marbella.
    It has been a busy season so far for Davies who is shouldering a lot more responsibility having also featured in the EFL Trophy against Rochdale in August.
    [​IMG]

    Davies is making good progress in the under-23s (Photo: John Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images)
    In a difficult period for the under-23s — the win against Arsenal ended a run of six defeats on the spin — Davies’ display was particularly timely.
    “He pulled off two really good saves (at the end),” Barry Lewtas told The Athletic. “He is a young goalkeeper but really accomplished with his feet. I thought his passing out was really good. We built from the back well today and Harvey played a big part in that. He’s a presence, isn’t he? He’s a big lad. He looks like a goalkeeper. I thought the one-on-one save was excellent.”
    There is however a lack of Liverpool-born goalkeepers in the club’s ranks and history.
    The last Scouser to feature for Liverpool was Billy Molyneux, who played in the last game of the 1964-65 season.
    Tony Warner, also from Childwall, is one Liverpool-born goalkeeper who got close to playing for the first-team during his playing days. He spent five years at Liverpool and appeared on the bench 121 times during the 1990s before making more than 350 league appearances, including a spell as Fulham’s No 1 in the Premier League.
    “I haven’t really got an answer for you,” the now-Bristol Rovers goalkeeper coach answers when asked why there is an absence of Scouse goalkeepers. “It is strange we have had nobody from the city who has played top-level football for the best part of 40 years now. It is not really in fashion to be a goalkeeper — nobody wants to be one. There are so many role models to replicate now that you think would change that.
    “Maybe it is because everyone wanted to be Robbie Fowler and Steven Gerrard or Duncan Ferguson and Tim Cahill? They’re still the sorts of players children want to be.
    “At 18, Harvey is in the door, which is great but to make that final push… that’s where a lot of academy keepers will fall down. Liverpool and Everton have always brought in keepers from elsewhere. I went to the academy eight years ago to train and there were no Scouse keepers then.
    “They are going to Poland and Brazil for goalkeepers. There might be one or two really good ones in Liverpool but they can’t compete with the rest of the world. If you can choose from a worldwide network of goalkeepers the odds are the best one you can find won’t be from on your doorstep.”
    Warner signs off by agreeing it is going to take a special goalkeeper to break the wait. Academy coaches at the club are hopeful Davies could eventually be the one to do it. Davies did taste first-team experience last season when he was picked to be a substitute by Jurgen Klopp on three occasions in the Champions League — including for both quarter-final legs against Real Madrid.
    Under-18s goalkeeper Oscar Kelly is from the city and there are more signed up at younger age groups but for now, Davies is the closest. He is said to have a fantastic attitude to training and learning.
    During the summer he spent time with the first-team squad for pre-season. Alisson spoke with Davies about the importance of training, having a good work ethic and doing the right things on and off the pitch.
    In terms of his style, he is very much in the modern-day goalkeeping mould. He is good with his feet, as Lewtas pointed out, passing out from the back well. His shot-stopping is improving, a burgeoning skill that was on full display in the win over Arsenal.
    Davies has a long way to go but is edging closer to ending a 56-year wait for a homegrown goalkeeper to play in the first team.
     
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  12. rurikbird

    rurikbird Part of the Furniture Honorary Member

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    @Hass, can you post that James Pearce article about Keita? Thanks, mate!
     
  13. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

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    Inside the ‘incredible’ Premier League meeting – and what it means for Newcastle and beyond
    Dan Sheldon and more 6h ago[​IMG] 224 [​IMG]
    One club executive left Monday’s emergency Premier League meeting and described it as the “most astonishing” they had ever attended. That feeling was shared across the board.
    “I’d never seen or heard anything like it in my life… it was incredible,” mused a person present. You get the idea: this wasn’t a standard shareholders’ meeting.
    The reason for their incredulity was because they had listened to a verbal statement from Lee Charnley, Newcastle’s managing director and a man very much associated with the old Mike Ashley regime. He threatened legal action against not only the Premier League but also the executives in attendance if a vote was passed to block the club from making lucrative sponsorship deals. It also transpired Newcastle had sent a letter outlining their stance to the Premier League before the meeting but Charnley’s statement was the first other club executives had heard of it.
    “Newcastle only sent the letter to the Premier League,” said a source. “Everyone has now seen the letter but nobody knew it existed before the meeting started. We found out from Lee’s statement.”
    Nineteen of the Premier League clubs had already held an extraordinary meeting last week, at which officials tried to explain the decision to sanction Newcastle’s takeover by a Saudi Arabia-linked consortium fronted by Amanda Staveley, a deal that many of its members vehemently opposed for multiple reasons.
    Tensions were already simmering before Monday’s meeting at the Premier League’s Paddington headquarters in London but Charnley’s statement created a siege mentality among those present. It led to 18 clubs voting in favour — Newcastle voted against and Manchester City abstained — of introducing a temporary amendment that bans new commercial opportunities involving pre-existing business relationships going through.
    [​IMG]

    Charnley (right) with former Newcastle owner Ashley in February 2020 (Photo: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
    In layman’s terms, this would stop Saudia, Saudi Arabia’s airline, for example, from immediately becoming Newcastle’s shirt sponsors. “Other clubs are worried that next week Newcastle’s shirt sponsor will be paid off and a new one will appear, agreeing to pay them £100 million a year,” a source said.
    “When Charnley spoke about us all being liable, it split the room,” said a Premier League chairman. “Some of the clubs said they needed to take time to reflect on that. But a lot of other clubs said, ‘No, fuck this, we’re not going to be threatened’.”
    Multiple sources indicated that Crystal Palace’s part-owner and chairman, Steve Parish, was the most vociferous and rallied the other clubs together to vote against the proposals, especially after being threatened with legal action.
    “He basically said, ‘I don’t care about your threats’,” the chairman present continued. “Ultimately what he (Parish) said carried the room because everyone, bar two clubs, voted in favour.”
    Other executives, The Athletic has been told, were keen for the meeting to be paused so that the possibility of being sued could be discussed in more detail before they made a rational decision.
    But the vote was passed through and contributed to one of the most explosive Premier League meetings in recent history.
    “The point of it was to try to scare people into not voting for the resolution,” said one executive. “It actually made people vote in favour, for sure.”
    Here, The Athletic explains what happened and what it means — for Newcastle and beyond…

    What was said?
    “Charnley read a statement from Newcastle saying the new rules would be unlawful, discriminatory and prejudicial,” said a well-placed source. “But incredibly, the statement also said that the new rules would open up the Premier League, the other clubs and directors of other clubs to be liable for that.”
    Several club executives, speaking anonymously to The Athletic, criticised Newcastle’s new owners — a representative of Saudi’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), which owns 80 per cent of the club, or 10 per cent shareholders PCP Capital Partners and the Reuben brothers — for not showing up to the meeting and sending Charnley instead.
    “They just didn’t turn up, except for Lee who sat there and read a statement like he was at a German wedding,” a source said.
    “Poor old Lee, put in an impossible position like a puppet,” said another. “Absolutely unbelievable.”
    There was disbelief that the club’s new buyers didn’t attend the meeting, be it in person like around 80 per cent of attendees or via Zoom, but there was widespread sympathy for Charnley.
    “We all like Lee,” a well-placed figure reflected. “He’s Mike Ashley’s man and sending your outgoing CEO to make legal threats to the rest of the league is not great.
    “If I’d been advising Newcastle, I’d have told them, ‘Vote for this and then wait and see what comes back… make the rules evolve in a way you want further down the line’, but don’t threaten people.”
    They (Newcastle’s new owners) just needed to turn up to the meeting, sit down and talk it through,” said another executive. “There was no need for all of this.”
    [​IMG]

    Executives were surprised to see Newcastle’s new owners, such as Amanda Staveley, were not at the meeting (Photo: Owen Humphreys/PA Images via Getty Images)
    Although Parish led calls for the vote to be held, it is understood Arsenal, Tottenham, Everton and Aston Villa were also vehemently in favour of putting a temporary ban on related-party sponsorships in place.
    “Everybody is so emotional about it,” an executive said. “(Alan Pace) at Burnley is up in arms. He’s so agitated it’s been allowed to happen.”

    Have Newcastle been targeted by rival clubs?
    This is certainly how it looks, especially as they are now backed by one of the world’s largest sovereign wealth funds and are still in the relegation zone, but club executives will point to the fact that new rules have been a long time coming.
    One source, defending Newcastle, admitted that fresh regulations should have already been put in place as it now looks like a deliberate witch hunt to prevent the north-east club from replicating the success Manchester City have achieved over the past decade.
    “You bring Newcastle to the table and say, ‘Let’s look at the rules together’,” the Premier League executive explained. “The rule amendments are right, but there’s no need to make it an anti-Newcastle statement.”
    They also referred, by way of example, to USM Holdings, the company owned by Everton owner Farhad Moshiri’s business partner Alisher Usmanov, agreeing a reported £12 million-a-year deal re-name Finch Farm — Everton’s training ground — to USM Finch Farm. The firm has also concluded a £30 million deal to gain an exclusive option of sponsoring the club’s new stadium, even though it is still under construction.
    [​IMG]

    Everton have secured planning permission for a new stadium at Liverpool’s Bramley-Moore Dock (Photo: Everton Football Club)
    Manchester City, who are backed by the Abu Dhabi United Group, remained neutral throughout the meeting, and Chelsea and Liverpool stayed relatively silent.
    It is understood that Liverpool fully support the proposals, even if they are not the ones driving them, but have become more careful about what they say at Premier League meetings after being burned before.
    Manchester United, like Liverpool, are not leading the calls for change but did vote in favour of new regulations being put in place.
    Newcastle’s hierarchy were involved in talks of their own on Monday, with Staveley travelling down to London to meet other members of the new board. This was planned already and not a reaction to the outcome of the Premier League meeting. However, it is understood Staveley was up until the early hours of Tuesday morning digesting what happened.

    What happens next?
    The Premier League are setting up a working group, which will be populated by representatives from clubs who put themselves forward, to create long-lasting measures. The expectation is that they will report back in three weeks to discuss the solution they have come up with.
    One executive on the call praised Jon Varney, Brentford’s chief executive, who is believed to have suggested several intelligent proposals about what can be done. Manchester United’s Richard Arnold is also being viewed as someone incredibly knowledgeable about commercial deals, although it was the club’s head of legal who attended on Monday.
    “Jon is commercially savvy,” the source said. “Rather than getting carried away with the politics, he actually understands commercial contracts.
    “In reality, most of us don’t know the ins and outs of what we can and can’t do commercially as it’s not our job. But there a few people like Richard Arnold and Jon Varney who do know because it’s their job and they haven’t had to worry about the football side of the club.”

    How will this impact Newcastle and the other clubs in the future?
    There are relatively few clubs in the Premier League that rely on major related-party contracts, which is why Newcastle’s confrontational letter claimed that rules forbidding or restricting deals of that nature would be discriminatory. Newcastle feel that new regulations are specifically targeting a very small group of clubs and owners.
    Manchester City have been accused of earning heavily from related-party deals in the past. Reflecting on their abstention, one director told The Athletic: “It’s not that City will be massively affected immediately. They just don’t like the direction of travel.”
    For now, the 18 clubs voting in favour has imposed a three-week moratorium on related-party sponsorship — a direct result of the fear that Newcastle would try to act quickly by arranging and announcing major new sponsors before all loopholes were closed. A draft version of new rules controlling related parties should be completed by the end of that three-week period, ready for debate and amendments.
    [​IMG]

    Manchester City play at the City of Manchester Stadium, known as the Etihad under sponsorship terms (Photo: Simon Stacpoole/Offside/Offside via Getty Images)
    It was a warning, as a well-placed executive put it, that Newcastle’s owners “can’t just waltz in and do what City did” after the club was taken over in 2008. The view of the 18 clubs is that almost all of their own commercial revenue is generated through conventional means. They argue that a system whereby owners can use related parties to secure vastly inflated and unrealistic income is unfair and in need of reform.
    The aim is to establish regulations that not only limit related-party contracts but also require them to be approved by the Premier League before they are finalised, rather than fought over retrospectively. Clubs would be forbidden from taking the money and then arguing about it later.
    Close attention would be paid to market value and inflated deals would be blocked. Industry sources estimate that Newcastle’s shirt deal is worth in the region of £5 million annually. A related company trying to pay three or four times as much would be forced to explain how and why that valuation had been reached — and most likely see the agreement rejected.
    Premier League sources have told The Athletic that the rules will be broad and wide-reaching. They could cover any of the firms that the PIF, for example, has invested in — even the likes of Disney.
    “If Disney offers £4 million a year to sponsor the shirt, no one’s going to complain,” said one. “It’s a fair deal. But if they offer £20 million, they could well be classed as a related party — simply because it’s not a realistic market value. That’s the point.
    “I don’t think anyone seriously thinks Disney would do that but there might be other related companies, less well known, who could be used to pay well over the odds.”

    What other consequences might there be?
    There is a strong possibility that this saga will spell the end of Premier League chairman Gary Hoffman.
    Some Premier League clubs were already concerned about his leadership before the Newcastle takeover. One director spoken to by The Athletic remarked that the Project Big Picture and European Super League fiascos “wouldn’t have happened under (former executive chairman Richard) Scudamore”. Many who sit in the Premier League’s fortnightly meetings share that view.
    The Athletic has been told that the “final straw” for Hoffman was the Premier League announcing the Newcastle takeover to its member clubs via a curt email with little explanation. The clubs’ expectation was that they would at least have received a phone call outlining the reasons for the approval and the Premier League’s sudden change in stance. Again, that was Scudamore’s style.
    Rival clubs were unhappy that it was made to look as if all 19 agreed with the takeover. In fact, they had not been consulted about it. The previous Premier League meeting did not even have the Saudi buyout of Newcastle as an agenda item. The first many of them knew about the sale going through was when they read about it in the media.
    One director said he believed Hoffman would be ousted and the Premier League’s failure to warn clubs of Newcastle’s impending legal threat will not help his popularity or the strength of his position.
    The clubs think the job of Premier League chairman should be one of the most coveted in the country — and that better leadership would allow Premier League chief executive Richard Masters to be more productive. Confidence in Masters appears to be intact.
     
  14. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

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    The good, the bad and the bench: Keita falls short on another big night for Liverpool
    [​IMG]
    By James Pearce 7h ago[​IMG] 102 [​IMG]
    Here was Naby Keita’s Liverpool career in a microcosm. The good, the bad and, ultimately, a stint watching on as a significant triumph was secured without him.
    The Guinean midfielder must be sick of the sight of the Spanish capital. In April, he suffered the ignominy of being substituted before half-time after an error-strewn display in a chastening Champions League quarter-final first-leg defeat by Real Madrid.
    Six months on he made it to the interval but no further as Jurgen Klopp sought greater control with the introduction of Fabinho on a crazy, chaotic night against Atletico Madrid at the Wanda Metropolitano.
    This was a golden opportunity for Keita to prove to Klopp he can be trusted for the biggest assignments after being overlooked for the games against Chelsea and Manchester City. But he failed to grasp it as his shortcomings were laid bare.
    With Curtis Jones and Thiago close to returning to action, the 26-year-old is unlikely to get another chance soon.
    This is Keita’s fourth season at Liverpool but it feels like the discourse around him has hardly changed since his £52.75 million move from RB Leipzig. The rich potential and the ability to give Klopp’s midfield something different with his creative spark is clear but ironing out the rough edges has proved problematic. There have been too many false dawns, too many fitness issues. It has been so stop-start.
    He divided opinion among supporters almost from the moment he joined and there’s been plenty for both his loyal admirers and his army of critics to get stuck into. This was Groundhog Day.
    The manner in which Keita latched on to Felipe’s poor clearance and dispatched a volley beyond Jan Oblak from the edge of the box to double Liverpool’s lead inside 13 minutes was exquisite. Diego Simeone’s side looked shellshocked by the intensity of Liverpool’s play in those opening minutes.


    But Keita then opened the door for Atletico’s spirited revival. He allowed Thomas Lemar to skip past him from a short corner far too easily. Seconds later Antoine Griezmann poked home to halve the deficit. For the equaliser, it was Joao Felix who got away from Keita and played in Griezmann. Suddenly, Atletico looked unstoppable.
    “Two cheap goals,” admitted Klopp. “The set piece was a nice routine that we knew about so we could have defended it better. And the other goal, I don’t think we ever conceded one like this. That looked really not good. The gaps we had there were not all right.”
    Keita’s work off the ball simply wasn’t up to scratch. Too many battles were lost. A pass completion rate of 85 per cent was healthy enough but he won just one of his nine duels.
    Fabinho had been omitted from the starting line-up on the basis that he had not trained with the squad since before the October international break. He had missed the preparations at the AXA Training Centre after flying directly from Brazil to Madrid with Alisson.
    However, Liverpool were crying out for his calming presence as a shield in front of the back line and Keita was always going to be the man to make way for the second half.
    “It was nothing to do with Naby. We just had to defend the right side a bit better,” said Klopp when quizzed about the half-time change. “It is really important to me that nobody thinks we played the second part of the first half (like that) because of Naby. Not at all, he’s in really good shape.”
    Klopp wasn’t about to throw him under the bus and rightly pointed to the fact that he had endured a gruelling schedule. This was his fourth start in the space of 11 days following games against Sudan, Morocco and Watford.
    But the fact is the flaws were painfully familiar and there is a big decision looming for Liverpool. By next summer, the third most expensive signing in the club’s history will be down to the final year of his contract. They will either have to give him an extension or sell him. However, he hasn’t really earned the former and the latter would involve taking a major hit given that Liverpool would be lucky to get back close to half what they paid for him.
    The coming months are make or break for Keita, who was sidelined by a groin injury when Liverpool won the Champions League final at the Wanda Metropolitano in 2019 and then was overlooked by Klopp for the last-16 first-leg defeat by Atletico in February 2020. This was a rare start for him against elite opposition.
    He has been a bit-part performer rather than a leading light in what Liverpool have achieved in recent years, starting only nine league games in the title-winning campaign and just seven last term. And he’s in serious danger of finding himself on the fringes of their latest thrilling push for glory.
    This cherished victory over the Spanish champions extended their unbeaten run in all competitions to 21 games and moved Klopp’s men a giant step closer to the knockout stages.
    “The dirty three points are very often the most important and they were dirty tonight. It was not our best football,” smiled Klopp.
    Liverpool were indebted to the brilliance of Alisson, who pulled off a string of commanding saves. The performance was full of holes. The lack of game management was concerning. They were far too open but there was something extra satisfying about them rising above the deafening din around them to grind it out, especially given Atletico’s shameless gamesmanship.
    For all the hosts’ complaints, the German official Daniel Siebert got the big calls spot on. Griezmann could have no complaints about the red card that followed his high boot striking Roberto Firmino in the head.
    Liverpool struggled to make their extra man count until Diogo Jota was senselessly bundled over in the box by Mario Hermoso.
    Mohamed Salah, who had earlier become the first Liverpool player to score in nine successive matches, slotted home his second of the night from the spot. He is now Liverpool’s highest scorer in Champions League history with 31 goals.
    During a frantic finale, when Siebert went to the monitor and overturned a penalty for Atletico after Jota had tangled with Jose Maria Gimenez, there was an impressive late cameo from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
    It was all too much for Diego Simeone who stormed off down the tunnel at the final whistle without shaking Klopp’s hand.
    Part two at Anfield in a fortnight promises to be compelling viewing. Next stop, Old Trafford, with momentum firmly on Liverpool’s side. Keita is likely to find himself back on bench duty.
     
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  15. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

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    Falling revenues and rising costs – the numbers behind the Super League plot
    Kieran Maguire Oct 21, 2021[​IMG] 74 [​IMG]
    In Robert Aldrich’s critically acclaimed 1967 film The Dirty Dozen, 12 convicts are given a chance to save the Allies if they successfully complete a difficult wartime mission with the promise of a pardon if they were successful. The film, starring Lee Marvin, Charles Bronson and Ernest Borgnine, was released to rave reviews and became a box-office smash.
    In 2021, a new “Dirty Dozen” appeared. Twelve football club owners were given a chance to save football if they created a new competition with the promise of huge amounts of cash if they were successful. The European Franchise Super League (ESL) starring Florentino Perez, Andrea Agnelli and the Glazer family was released to a series of raspberries and was a resounding flop, although a sequel of some sort is still possible.
    According to Perez, the Super League was needed to “save football” and “we don’t want the rich to be richer and the poor poorer”, which seemed strange as the proposals would have meant that the financial rewards of the competition would be concentrated in the pockets of the 12 (although in theory, this would expand to 15) founder members.
    But while it is easy to mock Perez, whose claims would, on the face of things, seem barely credible, does he have a point that there was a need for European football to have a reset and that it is facing an existential crisis?
    Ask any businessperson about financial survival and success and they will tell you that it is all about revenue, costs, profits and cash. We have therefore reviewed the accounts of clubs in 2018-19, pre-COVID-19, and compared to their results since then.

    Income

    Total revenues for the 12 Super League clubs overall fell by more than 12 per cent following COVID-19.
    It should be noted that some of the figures shown are for 2019-2020 and others for 2020-21, as only a few clubs have reported financial results for the most recent season.
    The decrease in income of the 12 founder members was almost £700 million. This figure is likely to increase as more results are published. Those clubs who have only published their 2019-20 financials just show the impact of COVID-19 on the final few months of the season.
    How long it will take clubs to recover financially in full is uncertain too, so the nervousness of owners and executives is understandable. Therefore owners’ desire to “de-risk” clubs as much as possible through a sealed franchise competition is understandable from a business perspective.
    On an individual club basis, before the pandemic, Real Madrid proudly boasted of compound revenue growth of 11 per cent a year, which equates to an increase of 184 per cent over a decade. Such spectacular growth seems inconsistent with Perez’s claim that football “is in a critical moment” with its existence in doubt.
    Barcelona have seen their total income fall by a quarter since 2019 as the stadium, with its museum and other facilities, has historically been a magnet for fans and tourists both on match and non-match days.
    As far as Italian football is concerned, the three who were planning to join the Super League (and remember Juventus have not announced their intention to withdraw), were operating at revenue levels substantially lower than those of most of the other clubs. Therefore the Super League was an attractive proposition as it gave a potential boost to their finances and would have allowed them to narrow the gap, as Super League revenues would be a greater proportion of overall income.
    [​IMG] [​IMG]
    The money coming into football comes from three main sources: match day, broadcast and commercial.

    Match-day income

    Match-day revenue is calculated by multiplying tickets sold per match by the number of matches and the average ticket price. Even for clubs with large fanbases, there is limited scope to generate huge revenue, as seen by Chelsea’s flatlining match-day income in recent years.
    [​IMG]
    In terms of tickets sold, most Super League clubs already sell out their home matches as they have both large numbers of season ticket holders (“legacy fans,” according to Perez) as well as match-day ticket sales (sold to plastic/glory-seeking/tourist fans according to some elitist season ticket holders).
    Therefore, ground expansion would be required to sell more tickets, and that is expensive, especially with rising material costs in the construction industry.
    It also takes time to expand stadiums due to planning regulations and the architectural challenge of expanding an already large building structure. It has not, however, prevented Real Madrid, Barcelona and Liverpool from publishing plans for ground expansion, but that does not guarantee future sold-out stadiums.
    Some clubs have further issues in that there is little or no land surrounding their existing stadiums and this makes expansion physically impossible or so expensive that the costs outweigh the benefits.
    The Super League cheerleaders will point out that Pep Guardiola had a recent ill-advised gripe at Manchester City’s fanbase when “only” 38,000 turned up to see the Champions League finalists play against RB Leipzig in a group game.
    The argument put forward by Perez is that more people would turn up to watch if the opponents were all “big” clubs, so then all group games of a Super League would sell out. This again seems to be slightly optimistic as the original Super League plans involved 20 teams, and some would be less attractive draws than others, especially the five “invited” clubs each season.
    Can the number of fixtures be increased? The Dirty Dozen had already extracted from UEFA an expansion of the Champions League via the so-called Swiss model. From 2024, out goes the eight groups of four teams (32 clubs in total) and in comes a single 36-team league, in which each club will play 10 games: five at home, five away. For clubs such as Real Madrid or Barcelona, those five home games could be worth about £5 million per match.
    Recent comments from managers such as Jurgen Klopp and Guardiola suggest that player burnout is a genuine concern and that there is limited scope to increase the number of fixtures further. More Super League games would have to come with cuts elsewhere, mainly in domestic competitions, such as the Premier League going from 20 to 18 teams or the Carabao Cup either being abolished or restricted to clubs who are not playing in European competitions.
    The reduction in domestic fixtures would also allow Super League clubs to play more lucrative friendly matches pre- and post-season, and there was also scope for some Super League matches to be played at third-party venues. Super League games in Dubai, Beijing or New York would be hugely attractive and local promoters would pay handsomely for the privilege of hosting these global brands.
    Can ticket prices be increased to raise revenues? People will, in general, be willing to pay more for a glamorous opponent. Therefore selling tickets and hospitality packages at premium prices at Stamford Bridge in the 2021-22 group stages of the Champions League for Chelsea vs Juventus is relatively easy. When it comes to Malmo or Zenit Saint Petersburg, less so.
    According to its architects, the Super League is the solution — by restricting the competition to just the “big” teams, more money can be extracted from fans as there will be more attractive ties every season.

    Broadcast income

    The Super League also claimed that more money would be generated from broadcast income, as rights holders would be confident of big audiences for Real Madrid vs Liverpool and Juventus vs Manchester United.
    Presently UEFA has to distribute broadcast money between 32 clubs, but the Super League cash would be mainly given to the 12-15 founder members, increasing their coffers. How this would leave other clubs such as Ajax, who have won four more European Cups than Super League founder members Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur combined, is uncertain. Ajax made £67 million in broadcast payments from reaching the Champions League semi-final in 2018-19.
    Perez claimed that the Super League broadcast deal would be so lucrative that those clubs who were not members would be better off too as they would receive solidarity payments. However, no broadcaster ever admitted to having signed up for the competition rights, and the distribution model was never seen, so we will just have to take his word on this.
    Under the proposals, Super League clubs would also have been able to sell their own rights directly to the consumer, as opposed to this being arranged centrally by the competition itself. This is very attractive to clubs such as Real Madrid, who generated £644 million in 2018-19 pre-COVID-19 but claim to have 490 million fans. This works out as £1.31 per fan per year, which seems low.
    Monetising the fanbase is the holy grail of every club executive. If Real Madrid could persuade just 2 per cent of their supposed fanbase (10 million fans) to pay £10 each for a pay-per-view match (and remember the EFL iFollow service charges £10 for a relatively threadbare service) this would generate £100 million from a single match. This compares to the £195 million in 2019-20 Real received from broadcast income for the whole season.
    The big cheeses at the Bernabeu and other Super League clubs have been frustrated at the continued pushback from other clubs and administrators to allow direct-to-consumer (D2C) sales of match rights by individual clubs. Having the ability to dictate how broadcast rights are distributed is very attractive to these large clubs.

    Commercial income

    Commercial income had plateaued for some Super League clubs even pre-pandemic. Manchester United, for example, are the beneficiary of spectacular initial growth following the acquisition by the Glazer family but have seen little change since 2016.
    [​IMG]
    Super League clubs were confident that annual guaranteed matches against other elite clubs would kick-start commercial growth once more as the glamour and viewer interest they generate would be attractive to sponsors.

    Costs

    There is no point boosting revenues if Sir Alan Sugar’s “prune juice” observation is true and additional income flows straight through to players and their representatives via higher wages and fees.
    Players and clubs sign fixed contracts, which historically have not had clauses relating to COVID-19 or other global disasters. As a result, the football industry was ill-prepared for what happened and the wage totals for the 12 Super League clubs have slightly increased since 2019 despite the fall in income.
    Although Barcelona’s wage bill fell in 2020-21, they had increased by over a quarter the previous season — the recruitment of Ousmane Dembele, Philippe Coutinho and Antoine Griezmann for £100 million-plus deals, plus Lionel Messi and others on already lucrative contracts. It created a perfect storm at the club in terms of its finances.
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
    Overall, the wage total of £3.1 billion had a marginal increase in absolute terms post-COVID-19. Compared to income though, wages increased from £58 for every £100 of income in 2018-19 to £65 since clubs started reporting their post-COVID-19 results. This is likely to rise further as more Super League clubs report their 2020-21 results.
    One of the Super League proposals was a wage cap of £55 for every £100 of income. Such a rule, combined with some form of agreement between the clubs not to sign/poach each other’s players, would reduce wage inflation.
    By having an agreement to not trade players between Super League clubs, agents would find it more difficult to hawk their clients to the highest bidder.

    Profits… and losses

    In 2018-19, the Super League clubs made a collective pre-tax loss of just under £45 million. This, especially for some of the American owners used to their sporting franchises being very lucrative businesses, is unacceptably low. Given that profit is income minus costs, COVID-19-related reductions in income and static costs meant that these losses ballooned to more than £1.1 billion in the most recent accounts. These losses are likely to have grown further once the full set of figures for 2020-21 are known.
    [​IMG]
    Barcelona’s losses are the most talked about, although COVID-19 is perhaps a convenient smokescreen for the financial mismanagement that has existed for some time. Inter Milan’s losses for 2020-21 were a record for an Italian club. It is no surprise that Romelu Lukaku and Achraf Hakimi were both sold in the most recent transfer window to offset the losses made in the previous season.
    There is no doubt that the Super League would allow clubs to recover from the impact of COVID-19 quicker than the existing domestic and European structures.
    Profits belong to owners, and they can either reinvest them back into clubs or withdraw them. A Super League with higher revenues, greater cost control and less risk due to guaranteed participation would generate higher sale prices for the clubs themselves if ever put up for sale.
    In American franchise sports, the asking prices when clubs are sold is often 10-12 times annual revenues. In European countries, this is a fraction of the sum. Newcastle’s recent sale to Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) was less than twice the club’s annual revenues.
    At the same time, how it would leave those clubs excluded from the Super League is uncertain as they would be playing fewer matches in less popular competitions. This would have a detrimental impact on attracting investment into the industry, and would amplify the existing large financial gaps between Super League clubs and others.
    The change of ownership of Premier League clubs such as Everton, Aston Villa and Newcastle by wealthy individuals in recent years indicates that the hope of breaking into the top four of the Premier League and qualifying for the Champions League is still an attractive proposition for investors.
    The big clubs, especially in the Premier League, fear competition. Following Leicester winning the competition in 2016, the Big Six of Liverpool, Manchester United and City, Arsenal, Tottenham and Chelsea managed to negotiate a bigger share of the broadcast revenues for themselves to increase the gap to the “Other 14”. This was aimed at ensuring that no other clubs “stole” a lucrative Champions League place that the Big Six consider to be theirs as a right rather than through sporting merit.
    When the PIF takeover of Newcastle United was announced, Manchester United’s share price, which had taken a steep dive following the announcement of the Glazer family selling 9.5 million shares earlier in the week, fell a further 2.5 per cent. Six clubs chasing four places in the Champions League is tricky. Newcastle potentially turning that into seven makes it more difficult.
    The Super League is a fantastic, lucrative business idea for each founder member — more income, better cost control and guaranteed participation. So even if a club such as Newcastle is subject to a takeover, the Super League clubs would be able to console themselves that they would still be playing each other every season.
    As for the rest of football, for anyone who has been brought up on the romantic notion of football having some form or sporting integrity, those clubs would have to feed on whatever is left.
     
  16. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

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    Super League survey: What the other clubs from across Europe think six months on
    [​IMG]
    By Luke Brown Oct 22, 2021[​IMG] 28 [​IMG]
    The plot to create a closed-shop Super League featuring 12 of Europe’s most powerful club sides may have failed back in April, but the legacy of the short-lived breakaway competition lives on as governing bodies, national leagues and clubs continue to jostle for power, money and influence.
    The positions of its 12 “founding members” is well-documented.
    The nine clubs who swiftly withdrew from the project within days of its launch released curt statements to explain their controversial involvement and apologise to their infuriated supporters. The three others — Barcelona, Juventus and Real Madrid — have meanwhile vowed to carry on with plans for a European Super League after winning an important court battle with UEFA, European football’s governing body.
    Here at The Athletic, we wanted to find out what clubs from outside the mooted closed-shop really thought about the Super League — clubs whose voices had not been amplified to the extent of their more powerful and influential rivals.
    So we sent out an anonymous survey to top-flight clubs from across UEFA’s 55 member associations, asking questions including: When did they find out about the Super League plan? What would it have meant for their club? And what would they fix about the proposal?
    The responses to our survey are below, with the results reflecting a deep unease over the Super League concept as well as a fear that the project has not yet gone away for good.

    Little warning
    The Super League’s 12 founding members — AC Milan, Arsenal, Atletico Madrid, Chelsea, Barcelona, Inter Milan, Juventus, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Real Madrid and Tottenham Hotspur — announced their intention to form a breakaway tournament in a 745-word statement released late in the evening, UK time, on Sunday, April 18.
    Clubs from across Europe not among that small group had little prior indication of the plans.
    [​IMG]
    Word of the Super League had started to filter out to some clubs, as the results of our survey show.
    But the vast majority of top-flight sides across the continent were unaware a new competition involving some of Europe’s most famous clubs was in the works.

    A frosty reception
    When clubs who were not part of the Super League plan did learn of it, they were not impressed.
    [​IMG]
    The majority of clubs we surveyed admitted to having a negative response to the announcement, despite the Super League’s insistence the new tournament would “provide significantly greater economic growth and support for European football via a long-term commitment to uncapped solidarity payments which will grow in line with league revenues”.
    Other clubs we surveyed — perhaps from some of the smaller leagues in Europe — meanwhile said they had “no reaction” to the news, perhaps an indication of how remote the top of the pyramid can seem to the continent’s smallest clubs, who have little hope of playing in either the Super League or one of UEFA’s three existing club competitions.

    A lack of trust in Europe’s most powerful clubs
    A key pillar of the Super League’s argument was that it would benefit clubs across Europe — even those without a golden ticket to participate in the proposed new tournament.
    Solidarity payments to non-member clubs would increase from current levels, the Super League argued, while the member teams would also sign up to an, admittedly nebulous, “spending framework” as a way to preserve sporting integrity across the continent.
    But the clubs we surveyed weren’t buying any of that.
    [​IMG]
    A small majority feared the creation of a Super League would have a negative impact on their club, reflecting concerns that the breakaway 12 were intending to hoard as much cash as possible with little concern for those left behind.
    Not a single club who responded thought there would be a positive impact on them from a possible Super League.

    When will it be back?
    As we know, the first attempt to create a Super League fell apart in a matter of hours, with heavy criticism pouring in from politicians, broadcasters, pundits, coaches, players and even Prince William, as well as fans.
    The football landscape has changed significantly since, with concerned governments, governing bodies and tournaments changing their rules in an attempt to thwart any future bids to get the project off the ground again.
    But it seems not many think the Super League idea has gone away forever.
    [​IMG]
    A majority of the clubs we surveyed said the concept had not gone away and was still being worked on by all or some of the “legacy clubs” — an entirely understandable opinion considering Barcelona, Juventus and Real Madrid have all vowed to carry on with plans after a Spanish court ruled UEFA cannot legally force them to ditch the project or heavily fine any clubs wishing to re-establish it in the future.
    Others said it would return, either later this season or further down the road. Less than one in five is confident the idea has been truly defeated.

    How to fix it
    The clubs we surveyed were divided over how best to fix the Super League concept.
    [​IMG]
    Perhaps unsurprisingly for a survey sent to clubs from all of Europe’s top-flight leagues, a large number wanted to see teams from a larger pool of nations invited to any such breakaway competition. The first iteration of the Super League only involved 12 teams from three nations — England, Italy and Spain — meaning 52 of UEFA’s member associations were entirely unrepresented.
    An equal number wanted to see promotion and relegation introduced, so the Super League could not protect its 12 founding members regardless of their performances on the pitch.
    Others wanted to see a different distribution of income, while a very small number were most concerned about the impact Super League matches would have on the scheduling of domestic competitions.

    Out of the rubble
    The announcement and swift failure of the Super League project led to plenty of soul-searching in football.
    [​IMG]
    It should come as no surprise that a majority of the clubs we surveyed believed that teams who were not invited to be a part of the Super League emerged from the saga with the most credit.
    But it was not an overwhelming majority.
    Others directed praise at UEFA, an indication of president Aleksander Ceferin’s popularity with clubs from less powerful member associations in light of the governing body’s spirited opposition to the project.
    Thirteen per cent of respondents identified the fans, while a smaller number still said the Super League clubs themselves, reflecting a fear that the 12 founding members are just as powerful now as they were before.
     
  17. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

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    ‘Putting a bomb through football’: Man United vice-chair Ed Woodward’s role in the Super League
    Laurie Whitwell, Adam Crafton and more Oct 20, 2021[​IMG] 79 [​IMG]
    Even now, six months on, theories linger about Ed Woodward’s exact role in clandestine attempts to launch a European Super League and the 48 dizzying hours that culminated in his shock resignation from Manchester United.
    The secrecy around the plot, combined with its toxicity when made public, has left a trail of intrigue about who knew what when, and precisely why Woodward decided to step down as executive vice-chairman at Old Trafford after eight years.
    In an exhaustive re-examination of the episode that shook football, with United at the epicentre, The Athletic has spoken to multiple associates and can report the various versions of events, with fresh details emerging about the timing and context of Woodward’s decision amid the Super League demise.
    It is an investigation that also sheds new light on:
    • The origins and motivations of United’s push for a breakaway competition
    • Woodward’s Zoom call to players and the anger from Luke Shaw and Bruno Fernandes
    • How Richard Arnold is being primed to take over as chief executive at Old Trafford and what that means for the club’s football operations
    • Whether Woodward will stay on in the game or retire to his Portuguese vineyard
    • The relevance of a Boris Johnson sketch bought by Woodward for charity

    The nuclear prospect of a Super League was on the edges of discussions at United’s London offices in Green Park long before Sunday, April 18, when Europe’s elite revealed their scheme to the world.
    United’s senior corporate personnel drew up a list of ways the business could keep expanding through broadcast revenues, with three options explored. This entailed an increase to United’s share of the Premier League’s international sales; an allocation of eight matches per season to show via the club’s own media channels; and the more outlandish proposition for a Netflix of football rather than rights being sold to television companies (although this was estimated as a £1 billion start-up cost to the top flight).
    A Super League may only have been background noise at this stage, but a clear message emerged: United were looking at disruptive methods for growth. The Glazer family, led by Joel, set the agenda, with Woodward said to be instrumental on the ground.
    A source explains: “Ed had his banker head on and kept thinking about growing and making more money. Domestically the only way United would have grown is if the Premier League gave them more rights or let them sell their games directly to a consumer, say in China.”
    [​IMG]

    Woodward, pictured in 2019, was said to be instrumental in developing Manchester United’s plans for growth (Photo: Chris Brunskill/Fantasista/Getty Images)
    The Big Six clubs engaged Boston Consulting Group to appraise the growth of the Premier League rights, with United committing hundreds of thousands of pounds on the research. The results were not encouraging, showing the rise of broadcast revenues in the 2010s had reached saturation point for the 2020s.
    Potential changes to the Champions League came under inspection. In summer 2019 a proposal was made by Juventus chairman Andrea Agnelli that 24 of the 32 teams would remain locked in the competition on a year-to-year basis, with only eight places rotating. United were on board and Woodward had regular phone calls with Charlie Marshall, chief executive at the European Club Association (ECA), over feasibility. There is a suggestion UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin backed the idea, too.
    But widespread traction was not forthcoming and Agnelli rowed back in October 2019, privately saying his intention was simply “to start a conversation”.
    That conversation developed dramatically with the onset of COVID-19. Club owners already concerned about profits plateauing felt threatened by an existential financial crisis, particularly those looking for a route to eventually selling up.
    Jim Ratcliffe’s decision in late 2019 to buy French club Nice rather than use his wealth to gain influence at United, the club he supported as a boy, struck a chord. Ratcliffe, who in 2018 was rated Britain’s wealthiest individual, said spending billions on a football club was “dumb money”.
    A source with close knowledge of United’s corporate structure says: “If you have worked for decades to be a billionaire, does it make sense to put your money into an asset where there is no obvious growth opportunity? Investors are also increasingly unwilling to buy clubs and put them in debt, as you get shit from fans.
    “The Super League was the opportunity to change that problem and pump value. The assets were threatened by COVID so they pulled the trigger. This was the only major lever they had left once they came to the realisation of stagnation.”
    The Super League became seen as a genuine antidote, whether as a stick to gain more concessions from UEFA over Champions League qualification and sponsorship control, or as an authentic breakaway. Even if the intention was not to go all the way, executives needed to do proper work to make the threat real to UEFA. A director at an elite European club not part of the Super League recalls United lobbying heavily.
    There have also been allegations the group were privately encouraged by FIFA, which wants to wrestle power over the football calendar away from UEFA. Publicly, FIFA president Gianni Infantino signed a joint statement that any Super League would not be recognised by football’s world governing body, while FIFA has pointed out it immediately expressed disapproval once plans were officially revealed.
    Finance for the Super League ultimately came from JP Morgan, Woodward’s former firm. Around 10 days before the launch, club owners at United, Liverpool, Juventus and Real Madrid gave word that the proxy war was over — they would be pushing the button for real. Multiple sources say it was those at the very top, rather than directors, who drove matters at this crucial final stage.

    In the wake of the Super League collapse, Woodward was portrayed in some quarters as a pawn in a game driven by the Glazers’ financial aims. His agency was minimal in that he was doing the bidding of his bosses, but when taking stock of the situation he realised he could not lead United into such a closed competition and therefore he had to resign.
    Woodward is said to have told colleagues about the concern he had for the scrutiny his family could come under, a year after his house was attacked with fireworks by irate fans, although this was not a factor in his decision.
    [​IMG]

    This banner flew over Turf Moor ahead of United’s match against Burnley in September 2018 (Photo: Chris Brunskill/Fantasista/Getty Images)
    United announced Woodward was stepping down on the evening of Tuesday, April 20 as the Super League dominoes were falling one by one, but The Athletic understands he has told several friends he first communicated his decision to the Glazers on Sunday morning. They asked him not to go public until a few days later to avoid distracting from the launch.
    Consideration was also given to the New York Stock Exchange opening on Monday afternoon European time and the effect such a development could have on share price. Woodward let more people know of his resignation on Tuesday morning but United waited until markets closed that evening to release the statement. However, according to multiple sources, the relevant documents were drawn up that weekend.
    “He did not expect everything to fall apart so quickly,” says a fellow Premier League executive. “He thought it was going to be 10 days of disputes and then he could leave clearly before that. But the way everything happened it looked like he was resigning because all the English clubs had left the boat.”

    The perception that Woodward judged his position untenable only after witnessing the rage the Super League plans provoked was expressed to The Athletic by numerous sources. It is a narrative given credence by a Zoom call to United players on the Monday afternoon in which Woodward, alongside football director John Murtough, argued the benefits the new competition would bring. “There is going to be more information shared and there are real plus points,” was the message.
    The players were on their day off, with some logging on from hotel rooms during mini getaways, yet they were determined to ask questions of Woodward — none more so than Luke Shaw, who led the inquisition. Sources say he believed he and his team-mates had been treated like children or, worse, like assets rather than human beings.
    The players, many of whom had dreamed of playing in the Champions League as children, could not believe the lack of consultation over a momentous shift to their professional lives. They were genuinely concerned about the risk to their international careers, even if United sources privately played down UEFA’s threat of a European Championship ban.
    [​IMG]
     
  18. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

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    Part 2

    Shaw was particularly vocal on Woodward’s Zoom call to United’s players (Photo: Alex Livesey – Danehouse/Getty Images)
    Bruno Fernandes railed against the no-relegation concept and was said to feel so strongly he would have pushed to leave United had it gone through.
    Woodward was left under no illusions that the Super League was not welcome.
    Some players wanted to voice their opposition publicly but had to weigh up the potential impact of going against their employers. Would a statement triggering a downfall leave them liable for United losses, given Super League earnings were due to surpass £300 million per season?
    On Tuesday afternoon Marcus Rashford posted a picture of the banner at the Stretford End which read: “Football is nothing without fans.” Fernandes wrote on Instagram: “Dreams cannot be bought.” Shaw gave a full exposition of his thinking once United had pulled out.
    Sir Alex Ferguson’s intervention that Sunday, before United faced Burnley at Old Trafford, set the agenda for criticism. “They always presumed a baseline of pushback for any of these plans,” says a former United staffer. “But they would have been embarrassed that somebody so close to home, who never criticises the owners, publicly dumped on the plan.
    “Ed has been hearing from Gary Neville for years, so that would not have bothered him so much, but Sir Alex? You say to yourself, ‘We have done something wrong of the highest order here’.”
    The public relations battle was quickly lost. “You’re starting something that is putting a bomb through football,” says a source close to United players. “You’d think it would be launched through press conferences with owners and executives from Madrid to Manchester.”
    Instead, Woodward had to hurriedly tell Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in a corridor of the stadium that the breaking news was legitimate. The Manchester United manager was left to answer questions on a subject completely alien to him, which he did not endorse, causing deep frustration.
    Away from the cameras, United coloured in the blanks, claiming that while there had been discussions about the future of the Champions League through the ECA, the proposals on the table from UEFA about a reformatted competition were “not right”. “That accelerated matters,” a source says.
    United had complaints about UEFA’s dual role as regulator and rights seller. They argued the Super League would appeal to fans by placing the best versus the best consistently. They promised greater distribution of wealth through football’s pyramid. They admitted a domestic competition might have to be dropped to make space for games, but the exact details were sketchy.
    An executive familiar with that period describes events as “a tornado”, adding: “The last three or four days were very hectic, crazy.” Before then, it had not been clear the owners were serious. Agnelli, in the knowledge UEFA’s congress to approve the new Champions League structure would happen the following Tuesday, told his Super League colleagues their rival tournament, “has to happen now”.
    At that congress, Ceferin let rip, branding Agnelli and Woodward “snakes” and, while such language took counterparts aback, the sentiment stemmed from assurances both men had given to staying within the Champions League.
    [​IMG]

    UEFA president Ceferin did not hold back with his criticism of Woodward and Agnelli (Photo: Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images)
    Ceferin said: “I have seen many things in my life. I was a criminal lawyer. I have never seen people like that. Ed Woodward called me on Thursday to say he was very satisfied and supported the proposals. He had already signed something else.”
    On an investor call in October 2020 when reports emerged of a renewed Super League project, Woodward gave a dismissive answer on the subject, insisting all dialogue on European reform was through the ECA. A source explaining the change of direction says: “You have to work in the forums you’re in at the time.”
    That forum remained the ECA as late as the Friday morning before the launch, with Woodward dialling into the video board meeting of all 20 members, chaired by Agnelli. Executives unaware of the Super League plot logged off pleased at agreements over the new Champions League format after 18 months of negotiations and progress made with UEFA governance in terms of the sale of rights. That optimism was misplaced.
    Woodward also took part in UEFA’s Club Competitions Committee that afternoon, another key meeting waving through the post-2024 changes to tournament structures, without saying a word about what was coming that weekend.
    When news began to break, the ECA called an emergency meeting at 4pm on Sunday. Woodward, like his Super League colleagues, did not attend, leaving Edwin van der Sar, the former Manchester United goalkeeper now chief executive at Ajax, to chair. Woodward, again in step with the others, resigned from his position at the ECA that night, coinciding with the Super League press release going out, seemingly for maximum effect.
    Only in time did it emerge that four days earlier Woodward had attended a meeting at Downing Street with Dan Rosenfield, No 10’s chief of staff, who worked at Merrill Lynch when the Glazers used the bank to launch United on the New York Stock Exchange in 2012. United say it was a long-standing invite on social terms but details of what was discussed remain concealed — despite calls from Labour for the minutes to be released and the submission of Freedom of Information requests to government departments.
    United and No 10 insist the pair, who are friends, held talks on the return of fans to stadiums. The Premier League, though, had not been informed and questions remain over whether Woodward left the meeting feeling the Prime Minister would not intervene on Super League plans, as has been alleged.
    A No 10 spokesperson denied the Rosenfield meeting gave any encouragement to the Super League idea, adding: “From the moment these proposals emerged, we were clear that we would do everything in our power to stop them and that remains the case.”
    Woodward also met Boris Johnson briefly that Wednesday, as first reported by the Independent. The Athletic understands it was a two-minute conversation in a corridor, with Woodward remarking on a previous occasion their paths had crossed. Woodward once bid highest at a charity auction for a drawing done by Johnson, and they shared a smile at the memory. Johnson also said one of his sons supports Newcastle United.
    Sources allege two English teams, thought to be Chelsea and Manchester City, joined the Super League the day after Woodward’s visit to Downing Street. “Something happened to change minds,” says someone with knowledge of that week. Those driving the initiative were said to be “cock-a-hoop” about developments.
    It proved to be a major miscalculation. Six days later, with the public enmity evident, Johnson told fans of his intention to drop a “legislative bomb” to stop the breakaway.
    Government sources say Rosenfield, a United fan, has been damaged within the Conservative party by the episode. He was, though, a guest in the directors’ box at Old Trafford for the visit of Everton on October 2.

    Woodward skipped the Everton game but he has twice attended Old Trafford since announcing his resignation — Cristiano Ronaldo’s second debut against Newcastle United and the defeat by Aston Villa — and his continuing presence has surprised players who assumed his exit would be swift. The original announcement referenced the end of this year but as yet there is no confirmed date.
    Woodward stayed away in the wake of the protests that postponed the match against Liverpool in May and Premier League directors recognised him looking “crestfallen and repentant at a very serious level”. As the months have gone on, they say his confidence has returned. He attended the Premier League shareholders’ summer party, which raised eyebrows given the strength of feeling from some counterparts towards his actions.
    Woodward was involved in all of Manchester United’s three major signings — Cristiano Ronaldo, Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane — in the summer. He called Joel Glazer to press home the commercial benefits of signing Ronaldo and phoned the Portuguese’s agent Jorge Mendes from Gary Lineker’s garden (the pair are neighbours in Barnes, west London). But he is stepping back from daily duties, with Murtough as football director taking up some of the reins. Woodward has not been seen at Carrington since the Super League collapsed.
    The matter of who replaces Woodward is now regarded as “waiting for the white smoke” to plume above Old Trafford. Richard Arnold, United’s managing director, is expected to be announced in due course.
    [​IMG]

    Arnold with Woodward in January 2020 (Photo: John Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images)
    It is thought his title could be chief executive rather than executive vice-chairman, as Woodward has been called, and there is a theory that such a switch, however minor, might indicate Arnold leaving football matters mainly to those already in situ.
    Arnold accompanied Woodward at the Premier League extraordinary meeting discussing the Newcastle takeover on October 12 and was the one to speak up on United’s behalf. Woodward stayed quiet as Arnold expressed his views on cost controls in light of Saudi Arabia’s newfound influence.
    Arnold, who regularly attends matches home and away, has started to engage more in certain football strategy meetings at United, but his strength is in commercial — he has driven revenues more than anybody since joining the club in 2007 — and the structure in place with Murtough and technical director Darren Fletcher allows for his focus to remain that direction.
    Murtough and Fletcher are expected to become much more involved in first-team transfers but it is at present unclear who a club president or super-agent would call at United come January to get a major deal done.
    David Gill, a UEFA executive committee member and former United chief executive, has been more present around the club and the incoming regime are said to be additionally amenable to Ferguson’s influence.
    Arnold first worked with Woodward at PricewaterhouseCoopers, one of the so-called Big Four accounting firms, in 1993 but they are different personalities and a degree of evolution in United’s practices is likely. Whether that extends to popping the bubble that can exist around the club’s corporate structure — the echo chamber that led to the Super League — remains to be seen.
    United’s London office is populated by skilled workers whose allegiances are to business rather than football. At one point a staff member attending a company party wearing the kit of a rival club had to be told such attire was “not the done thing”.
    What Woodward will do next is unclear. He made good progress within the ECA and UEFA but blew up those relations with his Super League conduct, so following Gill’s move into European executive circles seems improbable for the time being. United’s representative at the recent ECA meeting was Hemen Tseayo, the head of corporate finance.
    It is possible the Glazers extend Woodward a consultancy role in the same manner given to John Alexander, United’s former secretary, after his departure in 2017. They still value Woodward highly.
    Woodward has had plenty of offers to return to banking but is said to enjoy working in football, even when he would express frustrations at the London offices trying to figure out why Alexis Sanchez was not performing for United as he had for Arsenal. Sources would be surprised if Woodward moved to another club.
    He could decide for a career change entirely, however.
    Woodward would sometimes host meetings at business lunches then come back to the office to debrief staff and also give reviews of the wine he had sampled, and he decided to put his money where his mouth was by buying a vineyard in July 2018. (From 2013 to 2020, the latest year on record, United’s highest-paid director earned £21 million.)
    Woodward took ownership of Quinta da Pedra Alta, an estate in the Douro Valley region of Portugal, with his wife, and has teamed up with winemakers Joao Pires and Matt Gant, a primary school friend from Chelmsford in Essex, to produce vintages available for purchase.
    Former colleagues suggest Woodward might have benefitted from similar delegation at United, even if total oversight is what the Glazers demanded of him. “He wanted his finger on the pulse of everything,” says one. “It all made for a stressed man. When you engaged with him, he was always busy, always one call to the next. His life never seemed simple.”
    The conclusion to his time steering the United ship was certainly complex.
     
  19. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

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    How Chelsea and Manchester City were late to board Super League train, then raced to be first off
    Oliver Kay Oct 19, 2021[​IMG] 84 [​IMG]
    When it comes to describing the events of those turbulent few days in April when 12 leading clubs tried to destroy European football as we know it, there is a popular analogy used among those whose commitment was already wavering.
    It is that of a high-speed train about to leave a station. Liverpool and Manchester United had their seats reserved long ago — along with Real Madrid, Barcelona, AC Milan and Juventus — and were strapped in, excited by thoughts of the groundbreaking, money-spinning journey ahead. Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur were on board too, joined by Inter Milan and Atletico Madrid.
    And then, at the very last moment, Chelsea and Manchester City were summoned and told to get on board now — quick — or risk being left behind forever.
    That was the thing about the self-appointed elite behind the European Super League (ESL). They didn’t want to involve Chelsea and City any more than they had to, but they needed strength in numbers, particularly with Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund and Paris Saint-Germain all having said no. So they put the squeeze on, giving Chelsea and City an ultimatum to get on board immediately or regret it.
    Various sources suggest it was not until April 15 — just three days before the ill-fated launch — that Chelsea and City were presented with the ESL proposals. They were told that if they weren’t among the 12 founding members, they would have to qualify every year while their rivals enjoyed guaranteed entry.
    “So we were in a position where four of our rivals from the Premier League and most of our main rivals from across Europe were already on board and we were being told, ‘The train is about to leave the station and if you don’t jump on now, you’ll miss it altogether’,” one source says. “That is the situation Chelsea and Manchester City were in. ‘The train is leaving with or without you. It’s up to you. But if you’re going to jump on board, you have to do it now’.”
    Chelsea and City are not comfortable bedfellows at ownership or executive level, but one thing they shared here was FOMO: fear of missing out. They knew little about the finer details of the ESL, but at least this way, having boarded the train, they might be able to have a say in how the project unfolded. Not an equal say, they suspected, but a say nonetheless. So they jumped.
    And it was partly the speed with which everything hurtled out of control over the next 48 hours that left the two last-minute passengers scrambling for the emergency cord. And one unanswered question, six months later, is which of Chelsea and City pulled that cord first, bringing the Super League bandwagon to a shuddering, humiliating standstill?

    City are convinced they were the first to bail. Last in, first out. The brief statement confirming their withdrawal came at 9.19pm on that Tuesday, 96 minutes ahead of Arsenal, Liverpool, United and Tottenham and more than three and a half hours before Chelsea, whose announcement came at 12.51am on Wednesday.

    UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin even issued a statement that night, welcoming City “back to the European football family”. “They have shown great intelligence in listening to the many voices — most notably their fans — that have spelt out the vital benefits that the current system has for the whole of European football,” Ceferin said. “As I said at the UEFA congress, it takes courage to admit a mistake but I have never doubted that they (Manchester City) had the ability and common sense to make that decision.”
    That was quite a badge of honour for City, given their previous relationship with UEFA and their apparent distaste for a project that was driven by the very same elite — minus Bayern — that had been so determined to keep them at arm’s length since they were taken over by Sheikh Mansour in 2008. Pep Guardiola had spoken out against the ESL concept earlier that day, saying that a closed-shop competition “is not sport”.
    Real president Florentino Perez is known to have had City in mind when he said in an interview with Spanish radio show El Larguero 24 hours later that “there was one of the English clubs who didn’t seem too interested and that spread to the rest. They signed the contract but we could already see that they were not convinced”.
    Perez also referred, separately, to “the one from Manchester” — and he certainly wasn’t talking about United.
    But there is a belief at Chelsea that they were first. Not first to announce it, clearly, but first to begin the process of withdrawing from a project that they quickly came to realise was doomed from the moment it was launched on the Sunday evening.
    Sources at Chelsea were less than ebullient on the subject throughout that Monday. “We can’t be passive partners now that we’re in it, but there has to be a level of understanding that this hasn’t been driven by us,” one source told The Athletic at the time.
    Chelsea chairman Bruce Buck arrived at the club’s Cobham training ground on Monday morning to address the players, who had been as surprised as anyone by the announcement the previous night. He told the players this should be considered a positive development for football and for themselves — a new competition offering more matches against the elite teams — and that more information would follow. In the meantime, he said, it was to be business as usual.

    Some of the players were deeply unsettled by the idea, particularly by reports that UEFA might look to expel the ESL clubs from the Champions League with immediate effect  — and ban those clubs’ players from the summer’s European Championship.
    Buck also addressed the club’s staff at Stamford Bridge and then held a conference call with members of the Chelsea fans’ forum on that Monday afternoon. According to the Chelsea Supporters’ Trust, the chairman “extensively defended” the club’s plan to remain in the ESL, which it called “the ultimate betrayal”.
    The persistent line from Buck was that the club had an obligation to their supporters to make sure Chelsea was not left behind — even if they recognised those supporters’ evident revulsion for the idea.
    But throughout that Monday, Chelsea’s position changed significantly. Already there were rumblings about cracks appearing in the ESL alliance. A source at one of the other clubs involved suggested that two of the Premier League clubs were getting cold feet. It was pretty apparent which clubs these might be, even if the suggestion was still being comprehensively denied at the time.

     
  20. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

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    Manchester
    Part 2

    When Jurgen Klopp faced the media before and after Liverpool’s 1-1 draw with Leeds United on the Monday evening — a game that was preceded by an angry protest against the Super League, involving fans of both teams — he made clear his distaste for the ESL project, but stopped just short of condemning it outright, presumably out of respect for the Merseyside club’s owners.
    Guardiola, attending a pre-match press conference the following afternoon, was less guarded. He said “it is not a sport” when “the relation between effort and success does not exist, when success is already guaranteed, when it doesn’t matter when you lose”. He also ridiculed the idea that a European Super League could exclude Ajax, who, after all, have won more European Cups than Manchester United, Inter Milan and Juventus — never mind Arsenal, Tottenham and City.

    Unlike Liverpool the previous evening, City immediately published their manager’s comments on their official website and their social media channels. Those posts were then shared by several City players on Twitter and Instagram. As trivial as this might appear, it caused panic among some of those involved in the ESL project. This wasn’t just a manager speaking out of turn and an over-eager club journalist rushing to publish. This looked more and more like a club that wanted out.
    Guardiola had already said all of this in a candid exchange with City’s chief executive Ferran Soriano and sporting director Txiki Begiristain. Crucially — again reflecting a difference with Klopp’s situation at Liverpool — the board shared the manager’s opinion. Some of City’s players had been outspoken in criticising the Super League concept not just on social media but in a meeting with the club’s senior management.
    Just before that, on Tuesday lunchtime, the Times published a story saying “at least one” of the Premier League clubs was considering pulling out. Martyn Ziegler wrote that while “Super League insiders insist that all 12 are committed to the project, at least one English club is having emergency internal discussions on the best way forward”.
    “At least one” referred to both Chelsea and City. Both clubs had indeed held emergency talks at executive level, reflecting the growing sense of unease at the top of both clubs.
    ESL insiders responded to the Times report as “mischief-making”, saying the alliance remained strong. With regard to Chelsea in particular, ESL officials continued to brief that there was no issue. If we really doubted Chelsea’s commitment to the project, then it would be there for all to see when the club published comments to the fans forum on their official website. When? Imminently.

    But Buck’s comments were never published. Chelsea and City were both, independently of each other, trying to extricate themselves from the doomed project.
    Executives at the other clubs could read the writing on the wall. They said their Chelsea and City counterparts had been suspiciously quiet in the meetings held over the previous 24 hours.
    Even going back to the launch on the Sunday evening, when there was “a real sense of unity and collaboration” among the 12 clubs involved, one source said there had been a feeling that “if you had asked anyone which two clubs might cave in, everyone would have said Chelsea and City — not necessarily because of any great strength of opinion against it but because they hadn’t really been part of the process and they probably wanted to see which way the wind was blowing.”
    The source suggests it was possibly, with hindsight, a mistake to include them at the very last moment. Does he mean they should have been included earlier or excluded until the project had got off the ground? “Either, I suppose,” comes the reply. “You can’t really launch something of this magnitude if you’ve got two clubs who aren’t fully committed.”

    Earlier that day Ceferin, speaking after a meeting of UEFA’s executive committee meeting, had been defiant in his condemnation of the “disgraceful, self-serving proposals we have seen from a select few clubs in Europe that are fuelled by greed above all else.”
    He addressed the owners of the Premier League clubs in particular, telling them, “Gentlemen, you made a huge mistake,” but also saying, “There is still time to change your mind. Everyone made mistakes. English fans deserve to have you correct your mistake.”
    “Come to your senses,” Ceferin added. “Not out of love for football — because I imagine some of you don’t have much of that — but out of respect for those who bleed themselves dry so that they can go to the stadium to support their team and want the dream to be kept alive. For those, you change your mind. Do it out of respect for the English people, for the home of football.”
    It was interesting — the implication was that Premier League clubs might be more open to an appeal to their conscience.
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    Ceferin said the English clubs had made a ‘huge mistake’ (Photo: Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images)
    Chelsea and City like to characterise themselves as clubs that are owned for personal enjoyment rather than for financial gain, distancing themselves from the capitalist ownership model at some of their rivals. They portray their scepticism towards the ESL — and their almost immediate withdrawal — as reflective of different values.
    That is only half the story, though. Because few imagine that Chelsea and City are run “out of love for football”.
    Various sources suggest one of the biggest problems the ESL faced was from those clubs whose owners’ priorities lie outside of sport or business. This was most apparent in the case of PSG, whose Qatari owners could not risk going to war with UEFA and FIFA when the country is building towards staging next year’s World Cup.
    If we were talking about PSG purely as a football club, one whose broadcast revenue in Ligue 1 is only a fraction of that earned by the leading Premier League clubs, they arguably had more than anyone to gain from joining the ESL. But the club is owned by Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund and joining a “rebel” league appears not — for now at least — to be in the interests of Qatar.
    And by opposing the ESL project, PSG (and Qatar) strengthened their strategic position within European football, with their president Nasser Al-Khelaifi taking over from Andrea Agnelli as the head of the European Club Association.
    Likewise, there is a theory in ESL circles that City dropped their support for the project not out of respect for Guardiola’s and his players’ feelings — let alone those of the supporters — but because it was not going to “work” for Abu Dhabi if it meant alienating UEFA (after the bridge-building of the previous 12 months), FIFA and, moreover, the European political establishment.
    Remember that threat from prime minister Boris Johnson to drop a “legislative bomb” to stop the ESL after holding a conference call with the Football Supporters’ Association and other fan groups on that Tuesday morning?
    There was also a direct warning to Abu Dhabi at diplomatic level. Lord Udny-Lister, Johnson’s former chief of staff, is reported to have warned the United Arab Emirates on a visit to the Middle East that weekend that its relationship with the UK could be jeopardised if City were involved in the ESL. It came at a time when the two countries were finalising a £10 billion investment project involving Mubadala, a sovereign wealth fund run by City’s chairman, Khaldoon al-Mubarak.
    The significance of these factors is hard to estimate but, just as financial issues weigh less heavily in City’s approach to the ESL project, it seems reasonable to suggest that geopolitical considerations weigh far more heavily than with, for example, the Glazer family at Manchester United or Fenway Sports Group at Liverpool. And on a very basic level, when the whole venture at City is about winning friends and influencing nations, going against the wishes of the club’s supporters would not have been a good look.
    As for Roman Abramovich’s ownership of Chelsea, it is often said it is (or was) about having some fun and enjoying the reflected glory, but it is widely assumed that it also brings certain benefits for an oligarch who benefitted greatly from Russia’s post-Yeltsin carve-up of the 1990s. Or at least that owning Chelsea brought benefits until 2018, when he withdrew his UK visa application amid deteriorating relations between London and Moscow.
    Chelsea might have been invited to the Super League, but Russia, which has a strong relationship with UEFA and had three clubs in last season’s Champions League group stage, was not. Next year’s Champions League final is in Saint Petersburg, which is also the base of the Gazprom, the energy company that is predominantly owned by the state and is one of UEFA’s main commercial partners. The Russian Football Federation was scathing in its opposition to the ESL.
    Abramovich is said to have been indifferent to the Super League idea until Buck and other board members spelt out the “train leaving the station” scenario, at which point he went along with the chairman’s judgement. Over the next 48 hours, watching from afar and seeing the growing hostility to the ESL, he became convinced it was a bad idea.
    The decision was said to have been taken “by the owner and the board” — not by Abramovich unilaterally or by the board independently of the owner. And whether that was a conference call among all the board members, or whether views were funnelled to and from Abramovich via directors Eugene Tenenbaum and Marina Granovskaia, Chelsea’s position became clear.
    There was talk from both clubs about how — more than Arsenal, Liverpool, United and Tottenham — Chelsea and City have owners who recognise their clubs’ importance to their communities. In the eyes of their owners, those clubs are not mere businesses. But they are not regarded as mere football clubs either. It is more complicated than that.

    By late afternoon on Tuesday, there were hundreds of Chelsea fans on Fulham Road, joining a loud, angry demonstration against the ESL. By early evening, hundreds had become thousands and there was a sit-down protest outside Stamford Bridge, holding up the team buses before a Premier League match against Brighton & Hove Albion.
    There were repeated chants of “Fuck the Super League” and several memorable banners, one of which famously said, “We want our cold nights in Stoke”.
    Perhaps the most striking image came when former Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech, now the club’s technical and performance adviser, arrived on foot and tried to appease the protestors. As well as pleading with them to let the buses through, Cech asked the supporters to “give us time” to sort the situation out.

    Cech left to chants of “We want our Chelsea back” and “Petr, sort it out”. And within 20 minutes or so, at 6.45pm, the BBC’s Dan Roan said — in the first unequivocal report on the matter — that Chelsea were now preparing documentation to withdraw from the ESL.

    The news spread like wildfire and, among the fans gathered on Fulham Road, it was celebrated with euphoria to rival Kai Havertz’s goal against City in the Champions League final five weeks later. Twenty minutes later came unofficial confirmation that City were pulling out too. A statement to that effect soon followed. Less than 48 hours after its launch, the ESL was falling apart.
    As tempting as it might be simply to piece together the video footage with the statements and draw a neat timeline — fans protest, club legend listens, club reacts, fans celebrate — it wasn’t quite like that. Chelsea, like City, had been working on their withdrawal for several hours before that.
    But nobody at either club downplays the significance of the various protests, including the banners that were hung outside City’s Etihad Stadium the previous evening.
    One source points out that the pressure applied by the government — whether diplomatically or felt on a more local level by those in charge of the day-to-day running of the clubs — simply would not have happened had there not been such a loud, angry and widespread backlash from public and media alike.
    As for which was first to pull the emergency cord, we might just have to call it a draw. Both clubs boarded the train with certain misgivings, both were troubled by the chaotic launch on the Sunday evening, both were rapidly losing faith in the project by the Monday evening and both were actively seeking a way out by the Tuesday lunchtime at the latest.
    It was Chelsea whose withdrawal was reported first and City who were first to issue a statement confirming their withdrawal — and were lauded by Ceferin for doing so.
    The party line from one of those clubs is that they were immensely relieved when the whole thing collapsed six months ago and that they hope never to hear of it again. But we wait with some trepidation to see if (or more likely when) the ESL project will be revived and whether, at that point, Chelsea and City will remain firmly opposed to the idea.
    Few people would be naive enough to think those clubs’ positions will be dictated by what the fans think.
    Whatever the reasoning, though, it comes to something when the two clubs find themselves competing not just for trophies but for the honour of being first to withdraw from the project.
    All that can be said for certain is that when it comes to that particular title then, as the famous Chelsea anthem has it, blue is the colour.
    As for the next line — “football is the game” — it would be nice to think that was what dictated the two clubs’ change of heart. But too often these days it feels like it is just part of a much bigger game.
     

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