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Small but powerful European elite putting their needs first

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'Remarkably, the likes of Ed Woodward, the Manchester United executive vice-chairman (pictured), and Liverpool’s Fenway Sports ownership are listening to European rivals who have turned their own leagues into one-club or two-club dictatorships.' Photo: PA

'Remarkably, the likes of Ed Woodward, the Manchester United executive vice-chairman (pictured), and Liverpool’s Fenway Sports ownership are listening to European rivals who have turned their own leagues into one-club or two-club dictatorships.' Photo: PA

'Remarkably, the likes of Ed Woodward, the Manchester United executive vice-chairman (pictured), and Liverpool’s Fenway Sports ownership are listening to European rivals who have turned their own leagues into one-club or two-club dictatorships.' Photo: PA

Every time the beast peers out at us, in another working document, or the leaked meeting of two mediocre men who happen to have control of a famous football club, one asks the question: how many people on the planet genuinely want a European super league?

Not a percentage, or the kind of delusional survey that football clubs like to estimate global fan bases, but quite simply: how many people? Could they all be accommodated, for instance, in the Old Trafford directors' box?

Those various club chief executives and assorted financiers, Andrea Agnelli, Florentino Perez, Florentino Perez's PA, Florentino Perez's driver, Florentino Perez's tennis partner, Gazprom. In no time at all it becomes hard to fill the seats. The idea of a European league has no popular groundswell of support or loyal base. Among the paying club fans - either match-going or, as we find ourselves now, television subscriber - it is almost universally rejected.

Football fans want the rivalries and familiarity of their domestic competitions, promotion and relegation, and then the stardust of an elite European competition, with qualification via league position, as the midweek amuse-bouche. Not a relentless serving of Bayern Munich against Benfica from here to eternity.

Yet with the latest disclosure of more plans for a lucrative European league, all but closed off to those not considered historically glamorous enough, here it is again. This great, scaly leviathan which Real Madrid and Juventus and others consider inevitable and in which Manchester United and Liverpool, we are told, are taking an indecent interest. The super league only a relatively tiny group of men in suits want. If we were to put it to the people could a super league muster 200 votes? Would it even get its deposit back?

That it is backed by such a small minority is an inequality as severe as any of those proposed in the latest documents that lay out the destruction of 65 years of meritocratic European competition, and pose a grave threat to domestic league football. A small group of men whose clubs have, in the case of Perez and Agnelli, sucked dry the resources of their own leagues and are now scanning the football galaxy for a new donor planet to ravage.

Remarkably, the likes of Ed Woodward, the Manchester United executive vice-chairman, and Liverpool's Fenway Sports ownership are listening to European rivals who have turned their own leagues into one-club or two-club dictatorships. There will be a cost.

There is no limitless broadcast revenue and, however much faith is placed in the likes of Netflix or Apple TV entering the market, a closed European league would deprive domestic leagues of broadcast revenue.

Most of all, it would affect the earning power of the Premier League, as broadcasters who have paid premium prices will be forced to redirect resources towards the auction for European league rights. The advantage that the Premier League has over European rivals would be wiped out and the biggest English clubs would have been complicit in it.

The clues were in Project Big Picture (PBP) - supposedly a plan to distribute more of the Premier League's wealth around the lower leagues. At first glance it was an act of generosity but, as the details for a European league emerge, one can see what the biggest clubs were conceding.

That is to say, ultimately a much-reduced Premier League broadcast deal, and, thus, for everyone else a share of much less. For those 14 Premier League clubs not invited to the new super league, it would be their income that would have taken the greatest proportionate hit under PBP.

Liverpool 0 Burnley 1. This was the result of the week, a game so much more compelling and widely discussed than, for instance, Liverpool 0 Manchester United 0. If the American ownerships of the two famous clubs did not realise the significance of Thursday's result, then they are already two steps behind Isiah Whitlock Jnr, the US actor, most notably of The Wire, whose Twitter comment on it was testament to the enduring reach of English football. It was like Mary Berry offering a scorching hot-take on the Baltimore Orioles.

The Premier League is built on its potential for jeopardy, and while Covid-19 has introduced that on some scale to all European leagues, these are the games that are truly its brand. The likes of Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal have more supporters than others, and those supporters like to see their teams win as they have done for the most part, over the last three decades.

But what really sends shock waves through the game and its audience, what refreshes interest and establishes the great plot lines, is the competitiveness that leads to nights like Thursday. Lose that and you lose the Premier League.

As for the Champions League and its precursor, European club competitions were established as a dream open to everyone. Bayern Munich did not compete in the European Cup until 1969, 14 years after its inception. Paris St-Germain played in it for just five seasons in their first 41 years.

Manchester City played in it once between 1955 and 2011. Barcelona waited 37 years to win it. Under the new proposals all these clubs would be permanent members of a super league, and the chances of a club like Feyenoord or Nottingham Forest or Steaua Bucharest ever winning it again would feel absurd.

This is what they want - this small group of powerful men who are barely willing to give their opinions in public. It is their dream at the cost of everyone else and everything else.

©Telegraph Media Group Ltd (2021)

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Telegraph Media Group Limited [2021]


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