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Sat, May

Fenwick, Sancho condemn European Super League
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TERRY Fenwick, T&T men’s football team coach, and Brent Sancho, former national team defender, have both condemned the idea of a European Super League, which will see 12 of the top clubs in Europe involved in a breakaway league.

On Sunday, news broke that Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Tottenham (England), Inter Milan, Juventus, AC Milan (Italy), Atletico Madrid, Barcelona and Real Madrid (Spain) have agreed to participate in the event, which is planned to rival, or even replace, the UEFA Champions League.

“I’m listening to all of the opinions that have been thrown around,” said the English-born Fenwick, who played for Crystal Palace, Queens Park Rangers, Tottenham and Swindon Town between 1976 and 1995. “We’ve already got a good system of play, across the board, in world football. Developing a European Super League, I don’t see it making too much sense. It unhinges all of the top leagues in the world.”

The former England defender continued, “At the end of the day, every team in every country cherishes and relishes the games that are coming up and the rivalries that you’ve got in football in all the countries. This new rule, that would absolutely diminish (it).”

Sancho, who played professionally in T&T, the United States, England and Scotland, from 1998 to 2010, said, “My initial reaction is one of disgust. This is one of the things that has destroyed the game, is the pursuit of money. I’m not a fan of it because it seems like it’s driven by money.”

Do they think it’s a case of big fish eating the little fish?

Fenwick replied, “The Premier League were the first one to go worldwide with their TV rights. Wherever you are in the world today, you support a local team and you support a Manchester United or a Man City because of the Premier League. Having said that, British football provides 33 per cent of the worldwide flow of monies that are coming into FIFA because of the same television rights.

“This, I see, is to possibly undermine the Premier League and to take away the power that the Premier League has had over the last decade. It’s going to be interesting how this goes out.”

According to Sancho, “I’m very sure that the leaders of the top clubs of the world wouldn’t come out and make a statement like that unless they have every single legal aspect and opinion. They fully understand the ramifications that come with it. The mere fact that they came out with a statement means they mean business.”

The former Minister of Sport continued, “This is a reflection of what the game has become. It’s all about money, on both sides, from UEFA and FIFA side and from the Super League side. The main aspect of this is all about money. Both sides are going to try and flex their muscle because of the monetary impact.

“I didn’t see the same sort of bite-back by FIFA and UEFA when it comes to racism. They didn’t take such a strong stance. This is purely about business and money.”

Several Caribbean players (either born in the Caribbean or players eligible to play for Caribbean teams) are involved in leagues throughout Europe. How will this affect them, including Levi Garcia who is playing for Athens? Will they be keen to play in the Champions League if it becomes watered down?

Fenwick responded, “What you’re looking at here is they’re almost putting it out of reach for smaller regions of the world, like the Caribbean, for players who have got ambitions to play football at the highest level. We’ve only got to look at the development programmes in our own region and we see what the United States have done. Almost the entirety of the United States team are now playing in the top leagues in Europe. Canada (and) Mexico are doing the same.”

Fenwick, the former San Juan Jabloteh and Central FC coach, added,

“All the top Brazilians are playing in Europe because that’s where the money is. If they (have) a Super League, that puts away all the opportunities for so many more footballers. They’re trying to institute the elite players of the world in one league. The money, the TV rights, will now be angled towards that. What repercussions will that be for local, domestic leagues all over the world?”

Sancho pointed out, “Anything that would mean players making more money from the sport, I would certainly approve of, because many times the players become the bastard child of any decision made in boardrooms. From a Caribbean perspective, this will have some serious implications for the ones who are not at the top of the tree.

“Whether it be television or fans, it will now diminish the earning capacity of some of the lower-tier clubs, and even the survival of some of these clubs,” continued the interim TT Pro League chairman. “Playing against elite competition is what really gives the clubs the capacity to earn money and employ a Levi Garcia or Sheldon Bateau. For me, what is going to stop the top countries in the world from wanting to start their own leagues.

“Brazil, Argentina, France and Germany (for instance), if they (say) ‘if the clubs can do it, why can’t we do it’, and have a World Cup without T&T, Panama and Honduras. Where does this stop?”

Asked if he thinks the Super League will become a reality, Fenwick replied, “We all recognise the politics that is played out in big business. Football today is big business, so anything can happen. I’m just hoping that there (are) enough big people in the game that have got the game at heart and recognise that world football will take a hefty knock on the chin if this (is) to go forward.”

RELATED NEWS

Man United, Liverpool among clubs in $6 billion European Super League talks - sources
By Mark Ogden
Senior Writer, ESPN FC


Fifteen of Europe's biggest clubs are in talks to launch a European Super League, planned to start in time for the 2023-24 season, with a $6 billion (£4.3 billion) fund backing the project, sources have told ESPN.

If the initiative is successful, it would threaten the existence of the Champions League -- football's biggest club competition -- with UEFA due to announce on Monday a new 36-team format for the tournament designed to stave off attempts by the game's top clubs to break away.

As reported by UK newspaper The Times, English top-flight clubs Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham are among 11 European teams to have signed up to the Super League plan.

ESPN has been told by a person familiar with the blueprint that the proposed framework involves a total of 20 teams, with 15 permanent members who cannot be relegated.

A further five teams will be rotated in and out of the competition, based on performance, but the permanent members will include six Premier League clubs, three from La Liga, three from Italy's Serie A, two from the Bundesliga and one from France's Ligue 1.

Sources have told ESPN that New York-based investment bank JP Morgan will underwrite the project, with $6 billion distributed as loans to the teams.

Under pressure from the European Club Association, UEFA has drawn up plans to reshape the Champions League format, with the new-look competition due to be unveiled Monday, ahead of UEFA's executive committee summit in Switzerland this week.

UEFA criticised the plans in a statement and said: "UEFA, the English Football Association and the Premier League, the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) and LaLiga, and the Italian Football Federation (FIGC) and Lega Serie A have learned that a few English, Spanish and Italian clubs may be planning to announce their creation of a closed, so-called Super League.

"If this were to happen, we wish to reiterate that we - UEFA, the English FA, RFEF, FIGC, the Premier League, LaLiga, Lega Serie A, but also FIFA and all our member associations - will remain united in our efforts to stop this cynical project, a project that is founded on the self-interest of a few clubs at a time when society needs solidarity more than ever.

"We will consider all measures available to us, at all levels, both judicial and sporting in order to prevent this happening. Football is based on open competitions and sporting merit; it cannot be any other way.

"As previously announced by FIFA and the six Federations, the clubs concerned will be banned from playing in any other competition at domestic, European or world level, and their players could be denied the opportunity to represent their national teams.

"We thank those clubs in other countries, especially the French and German clubs, who have refused to sign up to this. We call on all lovers of football, supporters and politicians, to join us in fighting against such a project if it were to be announced. This persistent self-interest of a few has been going on for too long. Enough is enough."

Planned to come into force in 2024, the remodelled Champions League would involve 36 teams playing 10 group games rather than six. The biggest clubs would also receive an increased share of prize money.

Sources told ESPN that UEFA plan to press ahead with their announcement Monday, and that any breakaway league remains a distant prospect, with national associations UEFA and FIFA both needing to sanction the proposal.

Meanwhile, the European Clubs' Association issued a statement in which it reiterated commitment to working with UEFA on competition reform, adding that a "closed super league model ... would be strongly opposed."

Serie A called an emergency board meeting on Sunday to discuss a newspaper report saying broadcaster DAZN is involved in new plans for the breakaway league, a source told Reuters.

The meeting was called by league president Paolo Dal Pino, and Italian newspaper Corriere dello Sport reported that DAZN, which is owned by billionaire Len Blavatnik's Access Industries, has been working on the formation of the league for some time.

The report claims the meeting is being attended remotely, with the three Serie A clubs who could potentially be part of the new project: Juventus, Inter Milan and AC Milan.

FIFA has earlier said that players who feature in any breakaway European Super League would be banned from playing in FIFA competitions, including the World Cup.

It caps a tumultuous week for Serie A after seven clubs submitted a written request for Dal Pino to resign over issues that include his management of plans to sell a stake in the league's media business.

The plans to expand the Champions League are also likely to meet opposition from supporters; ESPN reported last week that fans' groups have already registered their anger over UEFA's proposed changes.

On Sunday, a statement from the Premier League condemned the breakaway plans.

It read: "The Premier League condemns any proposal that attacks the principles of open competition and sporting merit which are at the heart of the domestic and European football pyramid.

Fans of any club in England and across Europe can currently dream that their team may climb to the top and play against the best. We believe that the concept of a European Super League would destroy this dream.

"The Premier League is proud to run a competitive and compelling football competition that has made it the most widely watched league in the world. Our success has enabled us to make an unrivalled financial contribution to the domestic football pyramid.

"A European Super League will undermine the appeal of the whole game, and have a deeply damaging impact on the immediate and future prospects of the Premier League and its member clubs, and all those in football who rely on our funding and solidarity to prosper.

"We will work with fans, The FA, EFL, PFA and LMA, as well as other stakeholders, at home and abroad, to defend the integrity and future prospects of English football in the best interests of the game."

RELATED NEWS

UEFA and leagues vow to fight breakaway European Super League: What this means
By Gabriele Marcotti
Senior Writer, ESPN FC


On Sunday, the European game was rocked by revelations that a number of leading clubs -- anywhere from 12 to 15 -- had either signed an agreement or expressed interest in joining a breakaway league that would effectively be a direct competitor for the UEFA Champions League. Among them are Manchester United, Real Madrid, Liverpool, Juventus and Barcelona.

It's not the first time such rumours have emerged, but the timing is what makes this situation different.

On Monday, UEFA are expected to approve changes to the Champions League that will include an expanded format, more games and tweaks to the revenue distribution. These changes were agreed only on Friday after protracted negotiations with Europe's leading clubs and the European Club Association (ECA). (They also voted to approve it, sources told ESPN.) All of this would now be overshadowed -- and rendered potentially meaningless -- if Europe's biggest clubs renege on that agreement and are really ready to walk out as early as 2022, as some have reported.

The implications, though, go far beyond this. UEFA isn't merely a competition organizer; it's a confederation whose job is to redistribute revenue and develop the game across the continent. The Champions League is its biggest cash cow, and a severely weakened competition would have a serious impact on the sport throughout Europe, which is part of the reason one UEFA executive told ESPN they were prepared to "fight until the end."

Q: Haven't we been here before? Didn't you write back in October about how we were ripe for this sort of change?

A: I did, but it appeared that the genie went back in the bottle during the ECA's negotiations with UEFA over the expanded Champions League. The ECA wanted more teams and more games (to generate more revenue); they also wanted more governance and oversight over how the Champions League is run commercially, and they wanted changes to the revenue distribution. It took a long time -- originally, UEFA were hoping to announce this reformatting last month -- and it was a tough negotiation, but at the eleventh hour late on Friday, the ECA hammered out a deal with UEFA. So you can imagine that when UEFA found out the potential breakaway on Sunday, they weren't best pleased ... especially since ECA president Andrea Agnelli also happens to be the Juventus president. And Juventus are reportedly one of the signatories to this deal.

Q: How would the new Super League work, anyway?

A: Details are still sketchy -- there are different versions of this floating around, and all of it subject to negotiations. But for it to work, you'd imagine up to 20 teams playing each other regularly, most likely with a league format followed by playoffs. But more than the format, what matters here is that the clubs would not be playing in the UEFA Champions League and would, instead, share the revenue among themselves. That's a huge departure from the basic model of European team competitions, in any sport, which is obviously different from the models used in American sports.

Q: How so?

A: Take the NBA as an example. There are 30 teams, and each owner is effectively a shareholder in the league. They split the revenues among themselves and put in salary caps and luxury taxes to stay profitable. They don't need to ask USA Basketball or FIBA (basketball's equivalent of FIFA) for permission when they want to do things.

But in European football, clubs play in national leagues that are sanctioned by national federations. In England, the Football Association sanctions the Premier League, and UEFA is a governing body of which the FA is a member that organises competitions for clubs. The bulk of the revenue generated goes back to the clubs, but the rest gets redistributed among national federations, smaller clubs and for grassroots development.

Q: And the breakaway clubs have a problem with this?

A: There's no question that the "breakaway clubs" generate a disproportionate amount of the revenue. After all, more people (and sponsors) will pay to see Barcelona vs. Manchester United than Dinamo Zagreb vs. Club Brugge. They argue they should be entitled to a bigger piece of the pie (and have been arguing this for years, progressively getting more and more). But some also question why revenues that they generate should be redistributed to smaller clubs and FAs. And they say it's about votes and keeping the gravy train going, which to some degree is true. There are more small federations than big ones, and some of the smaller ones would struggle to survive without UEFA funding.

A number of the breakaway clubs also feel that if they ran the competition themselves, they could be more agile and innovative in generating more revenue, perhaps by playing on weekends or taking it on the road to Asia or North America. After all, these are global brands.

I guess it comes down to whether you view a football club primarily as a business to be grown and whose revenues ought to be maximized, or whether you see yourself as part of a greater whole, with a duty of solidarity to others. As I see it, the former is somewhat short-sighted. After all, the next great Real Madrid or Manchester United star could come from Moldova or Northern Ireland, but if there's no functioning FA there because grassroots funding has been pulled, well ...

Q: So what happens Monday?

A: UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin basically has two options. The vote on the Champions League reform is on the agenda. He can cave in and remove it from the agenda. This would kick the can down the road, and probably lead to more negotiations with the big clubs -- this time, presumably, without the ECA, since we saw how far it got them last time -- and perhaps more concessions in their favour, maybe a greater share of revenue or direct control over the competition or guaranteed places or whatever.

Or he can stand tall and call their bluff. Approve the Champions League format, call them out by name. They issued a joint statement with the English, Spanish and Italian Football Associations as well as the Premier League, Italy's Serie A and La Liga in Spain saying they will "remain united" in their efforts to stop "a cynical project" that is "founded on the self-interest of a few clubs." And they reminded everyone that clubs joining a breakaway league would be banned from playing both international competitions, like the World Cup, and domestic leagues as well.

Q: Wow, that's extreme. So if, say, Manchester United broke away, they couldn't play in the Premier League, FA Cup or League Cup?

A: In theory, yes. They have the power to do that, though it would likely end up in court. There's a legal case to be made that if you're a governing body and a competition organiser (which FIFA, UEFA and the FAs are), you can't exclude somebody from participating. So that part remains to be seen. But I think their best strategy, if they want to stop it, is to wait it out ...

Q: What do you mean?

A: For a start, even though 2022 has been mooted for the inaugural "breakaway season," I don't see how they can make it happen. Even if they're somehow not kicked out of their domestic leagues, there are a bunch of legal and regulatory hurdles that clubs need to jump through.

At clubs like Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern and Borussia Dortmund (the two German clubs haven't signed on to this, but a breakaway without them is hard to imagine) they would be subject to member votes. They're rumoured to have big financial backing and a global deal in place with a broadcaster (not ESPN), but would that be enough to offset potential losses in the short term?

More broadly, I just don't know that the appetite is there from fans closest to the clubs -- the people who go week in, week out.

Q: But isn't the game global?

A: It is, but the reality is that clubs generate more revenue from the creatures of habit who trudge down to the stadium every week than they do from equally passionate fans halfway around the world. In Germany and England especially, there is bound to be a backlash.

Right now, stadiums are closed, but fans will be back before the end of the season at, say, Old Trafford. The Glazers aren't exactly popular there; imagine if their own supporters let them know just what they think of the idea. Optics matter. Unless the breakaway owners can convince them that this is about something other than personal greed, it's going to be very rough for them.

I'll leave you with this quote released today from Sir Alex Ferguson, somebody whose Manchester United credentials are unimpeachable: "Talk of a super league is a move away from 70 years of European club football. Both as a player for a provincial team in Dunfermline in the 1960s and as a manager at Aberdeen winning the European Cup Winners Cup."

"For a small provincial club in Scotland it was like climbing Mount Everest. Everton are spending £500m to build a new stadium with the ambition to play in the Champions League. Fans all over love the competition as it is."