FRIDAY’S BIG HEADLINES
Gundogan turns guns on Champions League reforms
What a week it has been, readers. To think that this time last Friday, no one knew the European Super League was about to erupt with a massive bang and disappear just as spectacularly too. A week in which football’s very foundations were rocked to their core; a week in which its institutions were under existential threat, but circled the wagons, slammed the Dirty Dozen as “snakes” and avoided annihilation.
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On the face of things nothing has changed, nothing has been transformed after the European Super League plotters were stopped in their tracks. But in fact something very important did change in the week to end all weeks in football. This was the week when football’s real stakeholders – the fans, and the players, not the mega-rich owners who leech off history and tradition to line their pockets – realised the true power they hold. This week, we all realised that football doesn’t have to be on an inexorable, doomed path to more greed and ever-more centralised power. Things can be different.
Can you hear the strains of La Marseillaise wafting through the air? Revolutionary fervour is gripping football. The elites have been given a kicking, John Henry has had to issue a public video apology wearing a suitably sombre gilet, and now it’s time to remake society and rewrite the constitution. The ESL is dead, decapitated like Louis XVI, but we don’t have to stop there. Why should we, when so many other elements of modern football are so imperfect?
UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin is the guy doing victory laps this week after holding off the insurrection which would have killed off his organisation – with some very entertaining slurs and revelations along the way, particularly regarding his daughter’s godfather (more on that later) – but guns are now being trained on his prize asset.
As Manchester City’s Ilkay Gundogan pointed out yesterday on Twitter, if we are really serious about fixing football for the fans, don’t we need to take a closer look at the changes to the Champions League that were ratified on Monday, while European football was going into collective meltdown?
And let’s examine what changes we are talking about here, changes which could now be pushed through by a triumphant Ceferin and UEFA, who have managed the previously unthinkable and emerged from this week cast as the plucky underdogs and the guardians of our great game.
The so-called Swiss model – presumably named because it is full of holes and stinks – is due to come in for the 2024-25 season and will mean that the group stages are replaced instead by a 36-team league in which each team will play at least 10 games against 10 different teams. At the end of this process, the top eight go through to the knock-outs and the teams placed eighth to 24th go into a play-off. The result is that the number of matches will increase in total from 125 to 225.
Although one key difference is that this won’t be a closed shop, with teams still qualifying via their domestic leagues, it is otherwise a Super League in all but name, designed to create more matches, generate more income, and pit the big European clubs against each other more regularly. This in itself was a solution to the naked, capitalistic greed of the European elite and it too will push football to breaking point. The Champions League is far from perfect at present but it does provide compelling drama and is pretty successful in its current form. Not everything has to be distorted in pursuit of ever greater revenues.
So Gundogan is absolutely right. This was the week football found its authentic voice, and so did some of its players. And that voice can’t now fade away. If the Super League is dead, the threat to football is not. Let the revolution continue.
Kroenkes standing firm
There are rumours that the outright fury that greeted the ESL has so shocked some owners that they are considering selling up. Not so the Kroenke family at Arsenal, publicly at least, as son Josh attended a fan forum yesterday and ruled that out fairly firmly. "I still believe we're fit to carry on in our positions as custodians of Arsenal," he said. "We were put in a very difficult position by forces outside of the club… we have no intention of selling."
However, Kroenke and CEO Vinai Venkatesham were forced into the humiliating position of apologising to fans, all 14 Premier League clubs who weren’t invited to the party, and manager Mikel Arteta.
"Obviously they have the maximum responsibility of running the football club and this is what they said," Arteta said of the Kroenkes’ mea culpa. "They apologised for disturbing the team, not having the capacity or ability to communicate in a different way earlier and explain the reasons why. They wanted me to pass on the message to the players. That’s all you can ask for. The way they’ve done it, I have to accept it completely."
'Good riddance' - Arsenal fans react to European Super League collapse
Leicester win, West Brom slip closer to drop
Back to sport – yes, actual sport! – and West Brom took a step towards relegation with a 3-0 defeat to Leicester City last night as Kelechi Iheanacho continued his fine run of goalscoring form.
Leicester are now third, with a four-point cushion keeping them snugly in the Champions League spots, while West Brom are looking dicey nine points from safety. Sporting integrity: all well and good until it’s your team being relegated.
IN OTHER NEWS
No words needed:
"Just a day earlier, in fact, Agnelli and his organisation had recommitted to a suite of reforms to the Champions League, European soccer’s crown jewel and its biggest moneymaker. Everything was set to be approved on Monday. Still, the drumbeat of rumours continued, and Ceferin felt he needed to be sure. So as he slid into the front seat of his Audi Q8 on Saturday to start the eight-hour drive from his home in Ljubljana to his office in Switzerland, he decided to get to the bottom of things. He placed a call to Agnelli. His friend did not pick up.
"Ceferin — the godfather to Agnelli’s youngest child — texted the Italian’s wife and asked if she might get the Juventus president to call him urgently. He was three hours into his journey when his cellphone rang. Breezily, Agnelli reassured Ceferin, again, that everything was fine.
"Ceferin suggested they issue a joint communiqué that would put the issue to rest. Agnelli agreed. Ceferin drafted a statement from the car and sent it to Agnelli. An hour later, Agnelli asked for time to send back an amended version. Hours passed. The men traded more calls. Eventually, the Italian told Ceferin he needed another 30 minutes.
"And then Agnelli turned off his phone."
You are not going to get a more definitive account of the 48 hours that shook football to its foundations; made it cry; and then made it laugh its arse off; than this by Tariq Panja and Rory Smith for the New York Times.
It’s the Arteta derby tonight as Arsenal host Everton at Emirates Stadium. It’s safe to expect some fairly lively protests beforehand.
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