Sport Premier League

Saturday 16 December 2017

John Giles: No room for Leicester in Big Five’s plans for football

Leicester City boss Claudio Ranieri Photo: PA
Leicester City boss Claudio Ranieri Photo: PA
John Giles

John Giles

I’ll bet a lot of money that everyone thought that the collapse by Leicester City’s title rivals was the most significant news item in the Premier League this week. It wasn’t.

It was a madcap midweek and a great one for Claudio Ranieri but the real action happened in a hotel in London when representatives from five big clubs – Manchester United and City, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool – met to talk about the future.

I don’t know whether like-minded people were doing something similar in other big cities across Europe or whether it was simply a coincidence that this meeting happened just after the election of Gianni Infantino to the hottest seat in world sport.

But I do know one thing. The elite clubs now believe they do not need FIFA or UEFA. They smell blood in the water and I believe they wanted to set down a marker.

It’s not like they haven’t done this before. UEFA and FIFA brought the world’s biggest clubs into line by increasing the pie and designing the Champions League, after one or two false starts, to generate even more cash for the richest.

They did so under the gun back in 2009 after the G16, the biggest clubs in the world, used the idea of a breakaway league as a lever.

The lads who count for a living have obviously watched football mushroom in popularity in America from the grassroots up and feel that the time is right to make a big push.

What better way than to deliver the biggest and best competition to their doorstep? No surprise that an American billionaire is in the middle of this.

Americans now own a good chunk of the Premier League and they will expand wherever they can and don’t understand or care about the consequences.

I can see their logic but I’m appalled by it.

It is deeply ironic that this should come at a time when Leicester are living the dream and rekindling what was a forlorn hope that a club could break into the elite and surprise everyone by winning the title.

Romance is in thin supply in our game and I think everyone has been boosted by Ranieri’s fairytale run.

All season there has been a growing militancy from fans who believe that their game is now owned by the highest bidder and that the people who built the clubs through generations of season tickets are just fodder.

Liverpool fans have had some success but the scale of the battle they face was revealed in some of the details which are now emerging about the meeting.

European Super-Leagues played on weekends, wild card entry to the Champions League and something called the International Champions League were all discussed.

An item which caught my eye was continuing interest in playing Premier League games or even Champions League fixtures in America.

Have they even spoken to UEFA about that? I doubt it – and even if they have, I suspect I know who is calling the shots now.

According to what I’ve read and heard, the clubs are reasonably happy with the status quo and that the pressure for change is coming from Spain and Italy.

Perhaps that is true but I don’t believe for one second that Ed Woodward or any of the men who act for Premier League owners would knock back any idea which will generate even more money.

And if that means that Manchester United end up leaving the Premier League to play in a European Super-League, don’t doubt that they would want to do it. It wouldn’t matter what the fans think.

They would have no room for Leicester in their new world, even though this is a club which has a long and rich tradition as one of England’s big regional teams.

Leicester will be involved in the Champions League next season but they weren’t invited to this supposedly hush hush meeting, reports of which hit the headlines within hours of it happening.

Neither were Spurs, who messed up in midweek but can get right back on track with a win in the weekend’s big derby game against Arsenal at White Hart Lane.

This is arrogance of the highest order. Leicester have always had stature in the game and a fantastic new stadium with a wealthy owner who seems to be behaving himself.

Spurs have faults, sure, but are never far away from top four status and I think they will achieve that easily this season, maybe even more.

For the whole balance of the game, clubs like Spurs and Leicester need to know that they can aspire to greater things.

They need to know that they are not shut out of the elite club but that’s exactly what the Big Five did this week.

They decided that their view was the important one and made it very clear that this was a united front.

The Premier League was formed on foundations rotten with greed and it looks like a small group within the ranks believe they have outgrown their roots and have decided to flex their muscles.

Herald Sport

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