MONTREUX – Seeking a weak link in the unity of 12 rebel clubs in the Super League, UEFA on Tuesday targeted owners in England who signed up to the project that threatens to tear apart soccer's traditional structure including the Champions League.
UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin made a direct appeal to “owners of some English clubs” to change their minds out of respect for soccer fans.
Ceferin both cajoled and criticized the six-club group — including American billionaires, Abu Dhabi royalty and a Russian oligarch — less than 48 hours after the Super League was launched in alliance with three clubs from each of Italy and Spain.
“Gentlemen, you made a huge mistake,” Ceferin said in a speech to European soccer leaders at the UEFA annual meeting. “Some will say it is greed, others (will say) disdain arrogance, flippancy or complete ignorance of England’s football culture. It does not matter.
“What does matter is that there is still time to change your mind. Everyone makes mistakes,” said Ceferin, who did not specify which clubs he thought might be flipped.
The American owners of Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool seem most committed to bringing a closed league structure to European soccer. The Glazer family, Stan Kroenke and Fenway Sports Group own major league franchises including, respectively, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Los Angeles Rams and Boston Red Sox.
The other owners are Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan at Manchester City, Roman Abramovich at Chelsea and English currency trader Joe Lewis at Tottenham.
Ceferin urged the six club ownerships to turn back out of respect for fans in England, aiming another barb at what he earlier called “a few selfish people.”
“Come to your senses," he said. "Not out of love for football because I imagine some of you don’t have much of that.”
Ceferin also lavished praise on UEFA executive committee colleague Nasser al-Khelaifi, the president of French champion Paris Saint-Germain. PSG has so far resisted offers to be one of the 15 founding Super League members. Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund have also stayed out.
“Nasser, thank you from the bottom of my heart. You showed that you are a great man," Ceferin told the Qatari official before also citing Bayern chief executive Karl-Heinz Rummenigge.
Al-Khelaifi also heads Doha-based broadcaster beIN Sports Group which is a major UEFA customer, currently holding Champions League rights in the Middle East, North Africa, Turkey, Malaysia and Singapore.
“I'm hear to stand with the people who love football,” Al-Khelaifi told reporters upon leaving the meeting which confirmed his seat on UEFA's top committee through 2024.
The UEFA president also spoke about an email he received from a Tottenham fan he identified only as Trevor expressing disappointment with his club's conduct.
“If you read the email you would be close to crying,” Ceferin said of the English fan who he gave two tickets to the 2019 Champions League final, which Tottenham lost to Liverpool, after writing to his law firm in Slovenia.
Ceferin said fans and governments support UEFA in resisting the proposed 20-team Super League, which is being underwritten by American bank JP Morgan Chase. The clubs have not said when their planned breakaway would kick off.
“We cannot lose this match,” said Ceferin, who said Monday he wanted Super League clubs and their players banned from all UEFA competitions “as soon as possible.”
It is unclear if UEFA’s legal statutes and Champions League rules will allow that before Real Madrid, Chelsea and Man City play in the semifinals next week. Man United and Arsenal also play next week in the Europa League semifinals.
The other Super League teams are Barcelona, Atlético Madrid, AC Milan, Inter Milan and Juventus.
“We hear day and night about owners, owners, owners. What or whom do they own?” Ceferin said, suggesting soccer was part of society and everyone's heritage.
Earlier Tuesday in a speech that seemed also to blame the club owners and absolve players, FIFA president Gianni Infantino said he can only “strongly disapprove” of the Super League.
“If some elect to go their own way, then they must live with the consequences of their choice,” Infantino said. “They are responsible for their choice.”
UEFA could try to ban players at Super League teams representing national teams at the European Championships in June.
However, a blanket ban is less likely as it would affect South America's Copa America in June, including Barcelona star Lionel Messi playing for Argentina, and FIFA-run qualifying games worldwide for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
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