The Super League saga Winners and Losers

Date published: Wednesday 21st April 2021 3:38 - Dave Tickner

Super League Winners and Losers

The Super League came and went quickly, leaving a pile of victors and a big old pile of losers…

 

Winners

The Fans
There are caveats and conditions and there must be an acknowledgement that if things just return to the status quo and the current energy dissipates then it won’t be much of a win, but right now this is absolutely huge for the largest group within our sport, and the one so frequently told they are the most important then treated like the least.

It wasn’t hard to foresee the Super League collapsing in on itself after such a half-arsed and rushed launch; but surely not even the most optimistic football fan among us could have anticipated that less than 48 hours after that late Sunday night press release the whole thing would lie in tatters with many of the very worst and most pernicious characters in the game wounded – perhaps in some cases fatally – by the disaster they created.

Two things were instantly and totally overcome in the collective supporter response to this crisis. First, the tribalism that exists between rival teams. And second, the variant form of that tribalism that makes supporters think they must back whatever their own club is doing out of misguided loyalty. The latter is something owners and chairmen count on to get away with all manner of atrocities.

While the Dirty Dozen must have expected fan backlash – they can’t possibly be that thick and detached from reality to expect anything else – they surely didn’t expect it to be so quick, visceral and united from right across the board. Fans of the Big Six in England have rarely before shouted as one so decisively as when facing down this shabby enterprise. Opposition to the Super League from those outside the gilded elite was a certainty, but the strength of opposition from within clearly surprised and spooked those running this scam.

It’s a powerful moment. On Sunday night, I hoped this could be stopped but feared it could not. Now I’m wondering what else can be achieved if the confidence, energy and momentum of the last couple of days can be harnessed and maintained. This has been a timely reminder in an age of so often deeply unpleasant tribal hatred that we are all football fans, and there is more that unites us than divides us. Like for instance laughing at Spurs.

 

Aleksandar Ceferin and UEFA
What a win for Ceferin and his upstanding organisation. For now we hold our nose and go into battle alongside the lesser of two evils because my enemy’s enemy is my friend. Yes, it’s galling to hear Ceferin talking like he and UEFA are the fans’ friend who only want what’s best for the little people who think this sport is all about them, but we can hold feet to the fire later (see above).

For now, let’s all just agree that even a flawed Champions League above the current domestic pyramids around the continent is far better than what the greedy 12 were envisaging. Even if the Super League really was nothing more than a bargaining chip to secure greater control over the Champions League, it has still failed. UEFA are strengthened, their chairman is strengthened and has cannily and effectively accepted the opportunity to for once paint his organisation as the good guys.

His welcoming back of Manchester City into the ‘European football family’ was a neat way of drawing out the other waverers, but also highlights a potential problem: the events of this week have left the 12 rebels bloodied and weakened but they, or some of them at least, will be back trying it on again some time soon. Welcoming them back with open arms and no punishments after holding a gun to UEFA’s head will do little to put them off another better planned and less shambolic attempt down the line.

 

Bayern Munich
There are others, of course. PSG, Dortmund, Sevilla. But Bayern are clearly the biggest club in Europe who held firm and said no. While City and Chelsea ignored their misgivings out of nebulous fears of being left behind, Bayern were rock-solid. History will look kindly on them, and it’s been another huge week for the whole concept of the 50+1 ownership model. Not sure giving that idea such a boost was quite what the 12 conspirators had in mind when they cooked up their wheeze.

 

The ‘Small 14’
Obviously. They face enough built-in disadvantages as it is. Now they, like the fans, must use this as an opportunity for real change. There must be a push for proper punishments for the breakaway six. They can’t just be allowed to swan back in and pretend nothing’s happened. Use this opportunity.

 

Everton
Just an excellent statement. One of the ‘biggest’ clubs outside the current established elite and a club whose history and reputation meant nobody could be surprised that they played it best of all. Well done, Toffees. Well done.

 

Gary Neville
The first to really speak out publicly thanks to being on commentary for Manchester United’s game against Burnley as rumours swirled on Sunday afternoon. Got angry in the first half and then just more and more furious from that moment on, via his impassioned monologue after the game and through to his definitive moment alongside Jamie Carragher on Monday Night Football.


From Solskjaer to the Super League: 10 of Gary Neville’s most passionate rants


Watching him get angrier and angrier as he went from calling for points deductions to relegations and the stripping of titles from the six clubs who had personally let him down was genuinely thrilling to watch. There was no guarantee that Sky would even discuss it on their live match coverage until Neville started to do so with such passion and force and eloquence; he quickly became of vital agenda-setting importance. There was always going to be fan backlash, but Neville’s call to arms no doubt played its part in the scale and feeling and, we’ll go this far, the outcome. Neville speaking out in such unequivocal terms may also have emboldened and encouraged those others within the game who have subsequently done so. Really is hard to overstate Neville’s significance in the powerful, laser-focused fury of the overall response to this power grab.

Oh, and the fact Neville has made a lot of money out of football really doesn’t have any bearing or impact on what he was saying or his right to say it. This is “We should improve society somewhat” meme territory.

 

Patrick Bamford
Used his platform to eloquently and sensitively highlight the clear, correct and obvious potential for the fan energy that had been deployed so decisively against the Super League to now be used against other issues. Did so without it ever coming across as preachy, or divisive, or with even a hint of whataboutery. We now want to see an odd-couple reality series where Marcus Rashford and Patrick Bamford travel around the UK just quietly and politely solving all the country’s problems like absolute bloody heroes. It’s been a week of mortifying embarrassment for football, but it has come with reminders that there are plenty of good people in it. Leeds’ ‘EARN IT’ T-shirts were also 10 on 10.

 

James Milner
“I don’t like it and I hope it doesn’t happen.” Leave it to a Yorkshireman to deliver the blunt and honest truth of it all. As an aside, we remain as ever in awe of Milner’s rugby player neck.

 

Jordan Henderson
Premier League football’s shop steward and we are kind of in love with him.

 

The EFL
Let’s just say the EFL haven’t always been there when their clubs needed them, but their statement on Wednesday morning was pitched just right. First celebrating the obvious good news of the victory against the Super League and acknowledging that while that was only a first step it was an entirely necessary one for any good to follow.

They drew attention to the importance of the pyramid, and a structure that allows everyone to dream. But most importantly they stressed the need for this to be a line in the sand, and of the vital importance of the current momentum being maintained.

“The EFL hopes the same enthusiasm can be immediately directed to achieve appropriate and much needed change to the distribution of wealth in our domestic leagues, and we will work with all parties to push for this reform.”

Make it so.

 

Wolves

 

Losers

The Dirty Dozen
All 12 clubs are tarnished and weakened by their involvement in this pitiful little ruse. They should all be embarrassed not only by the naked avarice of their barely concealed intentions, but also by their utter cartoonish incompetence. So many of the clubs appear to have just been swept along in this by nothing more than dreams of unimaginable riches and fear of missing out.

There are clearly leaders and followers among the 12, and none should be let off the hook. The risks they have all taken and the damage they have done to the clubs they purport to love and cherish must not be easily forgiven and never forgotten.

Honestly, what were they thinking? Even ignoring the inherent evil and destruction contained in this plan, why did they make such a gigantic bollocks of launching it? A rushed, half-baked press release at nearly midnight on a Sunday does not suggest an organisation absolutely on top of its strategy. The numbers involved appeared to be plucked straight from Florentino Perez’s arse or scrawled on the back of John W Henry’s fag packet.

There appears to have been no meaningful attempt at any kind of PR strategy. No attempt to win hearts and minds. No attempt to explain and evangelise. No positive write-ups from friendly journalists. Just a press release raising at least as many questions as it answered, then nothing from anyone involved apart from a disastrous Spanish TV interview from Perez. Not one person actually involved in the decision-making from any one of the six English clubs involved said anything from the announcement until the whole thing fell apart. Incompetent and cowardly. In every possible way: what on earth were you thinking?

 

Florentino Perez
Put his head above the parapet as the one member of the gang willing to at least attempt to explain and justify what was going on. Which was quite brave of him. Stupid, but brave.

Maybe quite literal radio silence was a better strategy than Disingenuous Opinion Hour With Florentino Perez. Maybe it would have just been better to leave it.

Above all else, Perez – like his fellow mucker Andrea Agnelli – really needs to stop just imagining what Young People like to do. Stop moulding them into one homogenous group. And – really, really, really important this – stop then deciding what you need to do to make the game more fun and accessible for that homogenous group that, by sheer happy coincidence, happens to be ‘Come up with scheme that makes me lots of money’.

Just make ticket prices more affordable and actually engage with young fans directly, you weird old narcissist.

 

Ed Woodward
The announcement of his departure from Manchester United at the end of the year made no mention at all of the Super League, which means it must all just be a massive coincidence.

That’s desperately unfortunate for Woodward, because people are always going to make the link between them even though his departure – which won’t actually take place for another eight months – happened to be announced at the only time available which was just after Chelsea and Manchester City had pulled out of the Super League idea he’d been helping to drive and just before his own club followed suit, along with the other English teams involved to leave the whole enterprise in flames. What utterly rotten luck for poor Ed.

 

Andrea Agnelli
“I remain convinced of the beauty of that project. But admittedly, I don’t think that the project is now still up and running.”

There is at least a sort of childlike honesty to some of Agnelli’s pronouncements. Like when he just flat out said it wasn’t fair that Atalanta could get in the Champions League just by qualifying for it.

Most of his co-conspirators make more attempt to mask and conceal their true motives, and you do sort of have to admire the way Agnelli doesn’t.

That said: what a prick, honestly.

Possibly the man to suffer the most individual damage from the whole sorry thing, having started the weekend as lord and master of all he surveyed at Juve and big cheese of the European Club Association – a group that represents 232 football clubs.

He is now no longer ECA chairman having deceived UEFA over his apparent support of their Champions League reforms (he’s not that refreshingly honest) and clinging on to power at Juventus.

A man already doomed to be remembered among the most self-serving administrators in football’s long and tiring history of them, he now also appears likely to go down as something of an incompetent. Which will probably bother him rather more.

Off you pop.

 

Chelsea and Manchester City
The two English clubs clearly least convinced by the plan and the first two to back out. They get some credit for being the first to abandon ship, but only in the same way you might give credit to a house guest who cleans your sheets after shitting the spare bed.

How they must regret not trusting their instincts. They didn’t need this. They didn’t want it. They followed the others out of pure FOMO and it has cost them dearly. They may not be quite as tarnished as the other English clubs or Juventus or Real Madrid, but they were still a part of this. They don’t escape censure and shouldn’t escape further punishment. The comic failure of an attempted coup cannot and must not just mean a return to the status quo.

 

Manchester United and Liverpool
The two clubs most damaged by it all. The two clubs whose standing has fallen furthest. The two clubs whose whole ethos of being different and special has been exploded by the greed and avarice of owners who never for a single second stopped to think or care about the fans. John W Henry’s video message to Liverpool supporters on Wednesday morning was ludicrous, his insistence that nothing was ever going to go ahead without the support of fans who were not consulted or considered at all before Sunday’s rushed announcement an utter insult to the intelligence of all who saw it.

Liverpool and Manchester United fans should be utterly, righteously furious about this week and frankly shouldn’t stop being utterly, righteously furious about it until the Glazers and FSG have been run out of town. They must not forgive and forget, because nobody else will. These were the clubs, from the English end at least, driving this plan. Quite simply they cannot be trusted while the current ownership structures remain in place.

 

Tottenham and Daniel Levy
And yet somehow the biggest punchline still manages to be Tottenham. Not the worst team in the Super League. Not the ‘brains’ behind it. Neither key drivers nor unwilling followers. But definitely the Spursiest of all those involved.

That Daniel Levy managed to find time to sack Jose Mourinho in between signing up to and then leaving the Super League is really quite spectacular. It’s still less than a week since they were getting mugged off on Twitter by a paint-hawking dog, and it’s four days until a cup final that will define their entire season. We might be in the midst of a sustained 10-day spell of Spursiness so powerful that it could rip a hole clean through time and space and open a world to a whole new parallel dimension. Maybe in that dimension Spurs sometimes even win the odd trophy? It’s science, bitch.

Back in our own dimension, Levy seemed the most aggrieved of all the English owners and chairman about having to pull out. Maybe that’s just because he couldn’t believe his luck that the bigger boys had involved him and that in a couple of years’ time they might not. Maybe it’s because he genuinely believed in the plan. His own statement in Spurs’ press release had more than a hint of ‘This would’ve been great, but you have ruined it’.

And now he must lick his wounds and concentrate on yet another crucial managerial appointment. Levy knows better than anyone the possible costs (in every way) of getting it wrong again.

 

Arsenal
Somewhere between all the other English clubs sit Arsenal. Fittingly for a club that currently just sort of exists, their role in all this is harder to pin down. Not the drivers like Liverpool or United. Not quite the reluctant FOMOers of City or Chelsea, yet also not quite the desperate and eager and thrilled-just-to-be-here small fry of Tottenham either.

But, like the others, they are badly wounded. A black mark sits next to their name, and in many ways it’s a particularly painful one for a club and fanbase that have long prided themselves on having got to the top of the game in The Right Way.

 

Jose Mourinho
Lost his fourth and surely last Premier League job and people barely even noticed.

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