The Government & The Super League: More Questions Than Answers
At every single level of the aftermath of the European Super League, people have already started lying so furiously that the only reasonable position for those of us looking in from the outside to take is to disbelieve everybody. Florentino Perez has been positively Trump-esque in his embrace of ‘alternative facts’, while there are already serious questions being asked over the government’s role in all of this the week before last and their response to all of this at the start of last week.
Perez’s lies are pretty easy to deconstruct. Having jumped in to the deep end far too quickly, he’s already been reduced to spouting an ever increasing amount of misdirection and outright lies, perhaps the most notable of which was his claim that there were “no more than forty” protestors outside Stamford Bridge ahead of Chelsea’s Premier League match against Brighton last Wednesday night, and that those forty were “paid actors.” It will come as no surprise whatsover to learn that there is nothing to support these allegations.
Indeed, coupled with Barcelona’s pathetically bullish statement on the matter, it is clear that a sense of denial has set in at these clubs that is so all-encompassing that they resemble nothing so much as Homer and Bart Simpson chasing a suckling pig up the street, shouting, “It’s just a little soggy, it’s still good.” Yesterday, Perez was maintaining the delusion that “I don’t need to explain what a binding contract is, but effectively the clubs cannot leave.” In that case, the galaxy-brained Senor Perez may wish to also consider that contracts can be considered unenforceable, should the terms be considered to be overly onerous, and that we already know – just as you might think he should – that Manchester City’s lawyers alone are amongst the most voracious in the business. It’s dead, Florentino. Let it go.
Meanwhile, back in England, questions now urgently need to be asked about the government’s intervention into all of this at the start of last week, following revelations over the weekend over what may or may not have happened between government representatives and senior executive from Greedy Six clubs in the days leading up to the announcement of the launch of the league eight days ago. Readers may well remember that, more or less as soon as it became clear that there was a rapidly swelling roar of rage against these proposals, the government was quick to realise which way this particular bandwagon was heading.
The prime minister described the clubs as a “cartel”, and promised to drop a “legislative bomb” in order to prevent the league from happening, while Oliver Dowden, the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, confirmed that he was examining the feasibility of introducing “50+1” ownership for football clubs in this country. Already, though, there’s a problem, here. From the very outset, there’s always an obvious risk when governments start to get involved in the politics, finances and admininstration of football. The temptation to hitch a ride on a bandwagon is a weakness that afflicts politicians of all political shades, and it is a weakness for which Boris Johnson is particularly infamous.
With his use of such language – which in and of itself guarantees little more than favourable headlines for him in a laregly supine news media – Johnson (who, so far as anyone is aware, knows little about football and likely cares considerably less) has hitched his flag to something that he almost certainly doesn’t understand and which would result in considerable pushback from the sort of plutocrats that he would presumably normall consider, for so long as they’re useful to him, to be his natural political bedfellows. He’s right to say that the Super League would have been a “cartel”. Whether he understood was he was saying by that, still less whether he meant it any any meaningful sense, is probably a different question, though.
All of this leads us to reports in the media yesterday that Johnson may have been taking a wholly inconsistent position over all of this. It was claimed that, contrary to being the freedom fighters for ordinary people that they were claiming to be at the start of last week, the govermnent was actually rather more supportive of the Super League plans than had previously been admitted to, in public.
It was reported over the weekend that Johnson’s Chief of Staff, Dan Rosenfield, met with Manchester United’s soon-to-be-ex-executive-vice-chairman Ed Woodward last Wednesday and signalled that the government would be onboard with United’s ploy, should they choose to push ahead with it, and that Rosenfield also subsequently instructed Oliver Dowden and the DCMS that they should ‘tighten their messaging’ on the subject. It has been suggested that, on the basis of this apparent green light, Woodward returned to the other plotters and confirmed that this.
Both 10 Downing Street and the DCMS have denied these rumours, with the suggestion being that no such conversation was held last week, with the meeting solely being about the safe readmission of fans to matches and Covid certification. And it is clear that political factions within the Conservative Party – or at least its satellite arms in the media – would have plenty of good reason to seek to discredit what the prime minister said less than a week ago.
That said, though, it isn’t much of a stretch to believe that this particular prime minister would say one thing to one group of people and something completely different to another. That has, after all, been pretty much the modus operandum for most of his political career, and the likelihood that his personality is pretty much a hostage to his id is largely taken as a given, these days. So, who are we to believe, as these rats in a sack start fighting it out in front of us? The only reasonable answer is probably ‘none of them’. Once again, though we’re left with the dispiriting thought that we’re all ultimately little more than bystanders as the latest round of Tory backstabbing begins in earnest.
It still doesn’t seem unreasonable to continue to accept that the DCMS is serious about bringing forward its fan-led review of the governance of the game. Last Thursday, they published their terms of reference for said review, and it’s not a discouraging list. But if something smelt off about the prime minister’s interjection last week (his apparent disappointment at the failure of the Saudi-led takeover of Newcastle United has been widely reported, for example), then we deserve to know what his involvement in the days leading up to Greedy Dozen’s annoucement was or wasn’t. And for once in his goddam life, we could do with knowing clearly, unambiguously, and honestly. That this actually happening seems so unlikely speaks volumes about the absolute state of political discourse in this country in the 21st century.
Meanwhile, the Greedy Six themselves didn’t do a great deal to confirm their eliteness to a sniggering public over the weekend. Arsenal lost at home thanks to an own goal by their goalkeeper. Liverpool missed as many chances as Newcastle United have all season, then lost their lead to a goal scored in the fifth minute of injury-time. Manchester United couldn’t find a way past Leeds United. Spurs looked wretched against Manchester City in the League Cup final. Chelsea squeezed past West Ham United. Between them, they managed three goals, this weekend.
None of this, however, prevented talk of a takeover bid that will come later this week for Arsenal, from Spotify founder and CEO Daniel Ek, because apparently we live in a world in which the answer to American billionaires trying to fuck our game over is apparently inviting more American billionaires to join the party. This may all turn out to be bluster, regardless. Ek can likely afford the £2bn at which Arsenal are currently valued, but Stan Kroenke has no obligation to sell and there is little indication that he will. This all coming together at this time, of course, will likely ensure that The Emirate Stadium will be back in its normal state of attrition, once fans return to grounds properly, unless Kroenke should happen to decide that this isn’t really worth the effort and decides to cash out.
But then, why should we believe any of these people about anything that they say? We all know what the Greedy Twelve did, and we all know that they’d have shoved it through without consultation had the reaction not been as massive as it was. Why should we believe that Chelsea, Manchester City or Spurs were bumped into this by their own FOMO? Why should we believe the reported contrition of JP Morgan, who underwrote the whole thing, when they underwrote something very similar in 1998? Why should we believe that Ed Woodward about anything, when last week it was being claimed that he got “one day’s notice of [the] Super League launch”?
This doesn’t end with the clubs either, of course. Why should anybody believe that the latest American billionaire to start making soothing noises about how everything will be better for one of these clubs when he’s in charge, when it was American billionaires who’d bought English football clubs who got us into this latest mess in the first place? Why should we believe anybody within the current iterations of the game’s governing bodies? After all, it’s only taken a few days for Project Big Picture to rise, zombie-like from the grave, at the suggestion of the chairman of the EFL? The obvious answer is to believe none of them, to keep pushing as hard as we can for the reforms that the game in this country desperately needs, and to keep the pressure on the government to deliver this review and these reforms, whether they want to or not.