Go Leicester. Obviously, we’ve been here before. Back in 2016, when Leicester were striving for the unlikeliest title win in history, suddenly they were everyone’s second team. Even folk across the water who still pronounced it Ly-cess-ter wanted them to win.
Yet what was true then is also true now. Leicester remain the elite’s nemesis. Leicester disturb their cosy cartel. Leicester will not be beneficiaries of the £310million bung to form a closed shop European super league. Go Leicester.
Leicester lack the resources of their bigger rivals but remain a nemesis to the elites
Manchester United’s owners (including Avram Glazer, left, and Joel Glazer, right) share Liverpool’s vision for the future of football and any rivalry is reserved for supporters only
Between the fans, yes. No doubt there are players, managers and coaches with history, too. But the clubs, the ownership, are thick as thieves. United and Liverpool are not rivals in terms of ambition or their vision for the future of football, they’re twins. So are Real Madrid and Barcelona, AC Milan and Juventus, the whole cabal that seeks to carve up European football for its own ends.
Leicester, that’s who they all hate, really. Leicester or anyone like them, who come in from the cold and succeed or stay there.
If the super league’s founders were genuinely interested in supremacy, then Leicester would undoubtedly be among the six English invitees, at the expense of Arsenal. Leicester are a better team than Arsenal and have been for years. They’ve won the league more recently than Arsenal and, let’s face it, have had equal success in the Champions League.
But Leicester aren’t in the club. Leicester aren’t part of the elite. Again, in this closest of title races, go Leicester.
It was last October when we were kidded that John W Henry and the Glazer family were beside themselves with worry about the fate of Accrington Stanley. They had this great plan to save clubs in the lower divisions and all it needed was to cede the elite all the power and most of the money, and for the other, smaller Premier League clubs to finance it.
Rick Parry, chairman of the EFL and a man with all the charm and sincerity of Matt Hancock minus the talent, claimed Henry and his Fenway Sports Group had the best interests of the English football pyramid at heart.
John W Henry, Liverpool owner, has a cosy relationship with those in charge at United
So how’s that working out, given that a breakaway European league could disrupt the finances of the domestic game, top to bottom, ruinously?
Television revenue for the other 14 Premier League clubs would fall, and with it the cachet of promotion, impacting on cash flow throughout the leagues. If it’s not as lucrative to get into the top division, then the second tier is worth less, too, and what trickles down is not wealth but ripples of impoverishment.
So what is it? Do Fenway care, or can the rest go hang? We always knew the answer to that, despite Parry’s misdirection. Just as we knew whose interests Andrea Agnelli, the chairman of Juventus, was protecting when he appeared to speak up for Roma at the Financial Times Business of Football Summit in London last March.
‘I have great respect for everything Atalanta are doing,’ he said, ‘but without international history and thanks to just one great season, they had direct access to the primary European club competition. Is that right or not?
‘Then I think of Roma, who contributed in recent years to maintaining Italy’s ranking. They had one bad season and are out, with all the consequent damage to them financially.
‘The point is how we balance the contribution to European football and the performance of a single year.’
No doubt Agnelli is delighted that Roma sit third and Juventus fourth in Serie A; or was his plan a little more self-serving, aimed at the day when Juventus have a bad season and need to keep some upstart from taking their place in Europe’s premier competition? Go Atalanta, in fifth.
EFL chairman Rick Parry claimed the big clubs had the interests of smaller sides at heart
The European super league concept is being hardest driven by Real Madrid, so no surprise that this coincides with Atletico Madrid sitting seven points and a game in hand clear of them domestically, on the back of a Champions League group stage that saw losses home and away to Shakhtar Donetsk.
Real Madrid still topped Group B, but a draw with Borussia Monchengladbach in the final game would have relegated them to third place, and the Europa League. A close call.
And elite clubs don’t like close calls. They want everything predictably in their favour. They want a no-relegation clause in their shiny new competition and a founders’ fee that guarantees extra money whether performances are good, bad or indifferent. They are shameful and shameless.
So, go Leicester. Go Shakhtar. Go Atalanta. Go anyone, in fact, who threatens this appalling elitism. And go any club bold enough to take them on and call a vote that would sink them with a show of hands.
Andrea Agnelli, Juventus president, is threatened by Serie A upstarts Atalanta
For the most entitled element of the proposed breakaway is that its clubs would still expect to compete in their domestic leagues. They would disenfranchise those like Leicester — who have already beaten Manchester City, Arsenal, Tottenham and Chelsea this season, and drawn with Manchester United — while continuing to challenge for the prizes that remained.
Yet in this brave new world, somebody will have to be Burnley, or Sheffield United — and we’ve already seen how calmly Chelsea’s ownership reacted to a spell in ninth place, let alone 19th.
And where do you think Arsenal would have resided in a European league, lately — or even Manchester United, given they still came third of four in their Champions League group, despite their most improved season in years.
The only way these elites could keep their demanding owners and fanbases happy would be if there were other prizes to win. The domestic league, a domestic cup.
So why indulge them? Members of a European super league should not be able to treat domestic football as a safety net. They should be expelled, just as FIFA and UEFA said players would be from international football.
In the meantime, though, all we can do is support whatever stands against them. And that’s Leicester. So go Leicester.
Arsenal would be included in a European super league in spite of recent fallow years
THAT’S RICH COMING FROM CITY
Pep Guardiola has called for a reduction in the number of teams in the Premier League, and the competitions below, to benefit English football. Coincidentally, this comes at a time when talk of a Champions League expansion would leave elite clubs needing to make room in the calendar.
We can presume, also, that Manchester City will not be volunteering to be among the clubs who take the fall — which is ironic considering that before the arrival of Sheik Mansour they were exactly the type a privileged few thought could be done without, when advancing plans for restructure.
Pep Guardiola wants the Premier League to be trimmed down, though the motives are dubious
AFTER 5-0 THRASHING, DO UNITED REALLY NEED DAYOT?
Top of the league and with a home draw in the last 16 of the FA Cup, Manchester United are still linked with RB Leipzig centre half Dayot Upamecano.
He can be bought for £38million through a release cause in the summer or, it is suggested, for £55m now. Yet Upamecano has already had an Old Trafford debut. It came with Leipzig in a Champions League tie last October and he was ordinary, left flat-footed by United’s nimble forwards in a 5-0 defeat.
At 22, there is time for improvement and it may just have been an off-night. All defenders have them. Virgil van Dijk was part of a Liverpool defence that conceded seven to Aston Villa the same month. Even so, Harry Maguire and Eric Bailly look increasingly solid for Manchester United of late.
Victor Lindelof and Luke Shaw in a central role provide cover. Is Upamecano the guaranteed upgrade United seek? Chelsea went big on young players from the Bundesliga last summer. It is fair to say there is often a period of adjustment.
Dayot Upamecano may not be the upgrade that Manchester United are looking for in defence
UEFA MUST END CHARADE AND GIVE EUROS TO ONE COUNTRY
This year’s European Championship should be held in one country. Actually, all tournaments should, but particularly this next one. What was always a rotten idea — to spread the competition across an entire continent, from Bilbao in the west to Baku in the east, a distance of 3,446 miles — has been rendered untenable by coronavirus.
Everyone knows it, including the organisers, but cannot say because that would leave UEFA open to compensation claims from host cities, some of whom have spent heavily improving infrastructure.
So on it goes, this charade, in which UEFA pretend to be considering options when we all know there is only one. Ticket sales in Baku, for instance, have been dismal, as they were for the Europa League final, held there in 2019. UEFA are in love with Azerbaijani wealth so keep dragging football six hours east, despite an absence of enthusiasm.
This summer, Baku is scheduled to get matches involving Wales (Cardiff is 3,030 miles away), Switzerland (Basle is 2,679 miles away) and Turkey (Istanbul is 1,415 miles away), plus a quarter-final involving, quite possibly, Holland (Amsterdam is 2,607 miles away). Yet, who wants to spend an unnecessary 12 hours on a plane in the current climate?
UEFA, however, are so frightened of being sued they maintain the pretence that a 12-destination tournament is viable. It never was, it certainly isn’t now, and the sooner they face up to it the better.
BERNSTEIN’S SLOW TO CATCH ON OVER NEED FOR REGULATOR
David Bernstein, the former Football Association chairman, is a strong advocate of an independent regulator. Asked about transparency and independence for regulatory hearings, he said: ‘This is an area that, in principle, should be overseen.
You would expect a regulator to look into these kinds of disputes, bring a very high level of independence to the process and ensure there were no decisions being taken by vested interests.’
So how did it work during Bernstein’s time in charge? Well, in 2011, of the 473 disciplinary cases brought by the FA, 471 achieved a guilty verdict, a conviction rate of 99.5 per cent. It probably helps when the prosecution appoints the judge.
David Bernstein, former chairman of the FA, is late to transparency as football’s way forward
The following year, John Terry retired from international football after Bernstein’s FA decided to pursue him for using racist language towards Anton Ferdinand, despite being found not guilty of this at Westminster Magistrates Court. Terry’s counsel cited FA regulations, paragraph 6.8.
‘Where the subject matter of a complaint or matter before the Regulatory Commission has been the subject of previous civil or criminal proceedings, the result of such proceedings and the facts and matters upon which such result is based shall be presumed to be correct and the facts presumed to be true unless it is shown, by clear and convincing evidence, that this is not the case.’ In other words, the verdict in court overrides FA procedures.
No matter. The rule was circumvented, and Terry was found guilty and banned for four matches. It is fair to say Bernstein is rather late to independence and transparency as football’s way forward.
MONEY, NOT STYLE, IS ISSUE WITH MICK
They hated Mick McCarthy at Ipswich. They don’t seem to care too much for him at Cardiff, either and he hasn’t taken charge of a game yet. Still, McCarthy is back in the Championship, which is more than can be said for Ipswich. He did a very creditable job at Portman Road, with one of the lowest budgets.
Yet the fans expected more. The football was dull, McCarthy was a dinosaur. Then he left. The following year the club were relegated, the first in the EFL to drop. Exciting times. McCarthy’s critics remained defiant. It was a small price to pay to be rid of his pragmatism. Except that was in 2019, and Ipswich have not returned. They are now ninth in League One and Paul Lambert, once the great entertainer and liberator, gets the McCarthy treatment instead.
Resources matter, and managers adapt accordingly. McCarthy will do the job Cardiff allow, which is exactly what he did at Ipswich.
Mick McCarthy has not exactly been welcomed with open arms by fans at Cardiff City
COMMON SENSE WINS THE DAY
Nathan Jones was talking balls at Stamford Bridge on Sunday. Specifically, the two that were on the pitch when Chelsea began the move for their first goal. Not when it finished. The second ball was long gone by the time Tammy Abraham scored and none of Jones’s men appeared distracted by it.
Despite this, Jones was furious and claimed referee David Coote was disrespectful when confronted about the matter after the game. Yet, for once, common sense won the day. The spare was not interfering with the progress of play, so Coote was right to let the game continue. This rule has been modified to prevent unscrupulous ball boys or coaches interrupting the play to break up an opponent’s rhythm.
Coincidentally, it was a favoured trick of a former Chelsea manager, Luiz Felipe Scolari, during his time in Brazil. Maybe Frank Lampard should have tried it.