The Daily Telegraph - Sport

Day of humiliatio­n for the game’s wealthiest owners and most powerful clubs

Power-grab reform has been killed off for generation at least Premier League now facing whole new level of mistrust

- Analysis By Sam Wallace CHIEF FOOTBALL WRITER

It was on the Spanish chat show El Chiringuit­o late on Monday evening that the Real Madrid president, Florentino Perez, declared with some confidence that, along with his 11 European Super League co-conspirato­rs, he was about to “save football” and within 24 hours many would argue that he had done just that.

Some of the most powerful clubs in the European game, and some of its wealthiest owners had suffered the most astounding humiliatio­n in sporting history. The career of their most ambitious leader, Ed Woodward, the Manchester United executive vice-chairman, and chief architect of this, the game’s most divisive breakaway, was hastily curtailed. In Italy, doubt surrounded the future of the equally hawkish Andrea Agnelli, president of Juventus, and erstwhile chairman of the European Club Associatio­n whom he had abandoned on Sunday.

In west London, protesting Chelsea fans flocked to an empty Stamford Bridge and sat in Fulham Broadway to block the team bus entering for the fixture against Brighton. The club’s legendary former goalkeeper Petr Cech, now technical director, was compelled to break out of the Covid-secure bubble and negotiate from behind a line of police officers.

“Give us time!” he could be heard shouting in response to fans’ demands. But Roman Abramovich did not need time. From an undisclose­d location, on an undisclose­d phoneline, the Russian owner pulled the plug on Chelsea’s involvemen­t and very soon the European Super League would be no more.

First Chelsea went, then Manchester City and then Atletico Madrid. Then came news of Woodwith ward’s resignatio­n, announced to club staff at Old Trafford – a decision that he had made some time ago, according to sources.

In quick succession, Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester United and Liverpool all withdrew. The public relations experts instructed in five European countries who had so far bullishly stood by the plans were told to stand down. The league was dead.

In Spain, the country’s richest man, Perez, the old dictator of Real Madrid, had indeed made history. Perhaps he had even saved football. This had been a furious three-day reckoning. The people had spoken.

Project Big Picture, the proposal to radically change the voting rights and revenue distributi­on of the Premier League, lasted five days before it was killed at a Premier League shareholde­rs’ meeting in October. The lifespan of its equally disreputab­le sibling, the Super League, did not even make it past three days.

The power-grab reforms of the wealthiest clubs and their owners, emboldened by losses incurred in the pandemic, have been defeated for a generation and maybe even longer. The game is still imperfect, still riven by inequality, still loaded

debt and jacked up on inflated player wages. But the last five months have told us that some lines cannot be crossed.

An extraordin­ary day. At 11am, the Premier League shareholde­rs met for the first time with six of their number absent. There was a mood of insurrecti­on. In the meeting the 14 clubs discussed their next move. Even then they believed the sheer weight of public feeling would be too hard for the six rebel clubs to bear for long. They suspected that City and Chelsea would be the least enthusiast­ic. There was a quiet confidence that they had won the war already, the question now would be how to win the peace.

It was clear then, as it is now, that the six rebel clubs could not be allowed to come back into the fold without punishment for breaking Rule L9 that prohibits members from entering unsanction­ed competitio­ns. But the executives noted that punishment of players and managers would be unfair on individual­s who had played no part in the plotting. Any punishment would target specifical­ly those who had knowledge and complicity.

What is certain is that the wounds, already raw from Project Big Picture, will take a long time to heal. The most radical among the 14 would like the Premier League to have the kind of regulatory powers conferred on US leagues who can compel an owner to sell a franchise if they are determined to have taken action that contravene­s the values and integrity of the competitio­n.

What is certain is that this was a victory for the Premier League, for its 14-strong super majority, for the likes of Leicester City, Southampto­n and Crystal Palace.

At the Premier League office there was elation. Getting the 20202021 season completed in the teeth of the pandemic had been an exhausting, no-days-off exercise. Then this season, chief executive Richard Masters and his team had been hit by two huge betrayals from the major clubs. This morning, the world’s most popular sport league finds itself battered, divided, and with a whole new level of resentment and mistrust among some of its members. Yet, still intact.

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