Football authorities will consider their next moves in the fight against the proposed European Super League on Tuesday as the 12 clubs signed up press ahead with the plans.
Tensions escalated on Monday night as fans gathered outside Elland Road to voice their anger during the build-up to Liverpool’s 1-1 draw at Leeds – a match in which the Reds’ Champions League qualification hopes were dented but which would in future be a dead rubber if the ‘closed-shop’ plans go ahead.
As shirts were burned outside the stadium, inside Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp walked a tight rope as he reiterated his own belief that a Super League is a bad idea while insisting neither he nor his players had been consulted by the club’s owners.
“I have no issues with the Champions League, I like the competitive factor of football,” Klopp said.
Leeds were happy to stir things up, with players warming up in t-shirts bearing the Champions League logo and the slogan “Earn It”, and the storm caused by Sunday’s bombshell announcement is forecast to continue for some time to come.
Liverpool and the rest of England’s ‘Big Six’ signed up to the venture – Manchester United, Manchester City, Tottenham, Arsenal and Chelsea – will be excluded from an emergency Premier League meeting on Tuesday to discuss a response to proposals which threaten the league’s competitive balance.
Further afield, eyes and ears will be on FIFA president Gianni Infantino, who is due to address the UEFA Congress where the launch of a revamped Champions League has been completely undermined.
The world governing body issued a statement late on Sunday which said FIFA “disapproved” of the Super League plans, but UEFA – whose president Aleksander Ceferin has threatened to ban the breakaway clubs from European competition “as soon as possible” – will want to hear much stronger backing on Tuesday.
Ceferin certainly did not hold back himself, calling Juventus chairman Andrea Agnelli – one of the architects of the new league who quit as chairman of the European Clubs Association to oversee its introduction – a “liar” and the clubs involved “snakes”.
Prince William, president of the Football Association, voiced his concern over a plan which would see the breakaway clubs reap the benefits of a lucrative new competition without the threat of relegation. He said the proposal risked “damage” to the “game we love”.
Former England captain David Beckham also issued a warning. He said on Instagram: “We need football to be for everyone. We need football to be fair and we need competitions based on merit. Unless we protect these values the game we love is in danger.”
The political response was forceful too. Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden told the House of Commons the Government stood ready to do “whatever it takes” to prevent the clubs from breaking away if the football authorities were unable to do so themselves.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson will host a round table with representatives from football governing bodies as well as fans’ representatives on Tuesday to discuss the proposed breakaway competition.
UEFA is taking legal advice on the sanctions it might be able to impose, from expelling clubs to banning players from international competition including Euro 2020, though this may prove to be a negotiating tactic as the two camps size each other up.
“I didn’t say they’re not allowed to come (and talk), that they are banned from European football forever or something like that,” Ceferin said.
“It’s nothing personal here, maybe with Agnelli it’s a bit personal because I know him more.
“But for the rest I don’t want them to come begging us to take them back – I just want them to respect us.”
However, in an interview with Spanish TV, Super League chairman Florentino Perez was vehement that expulsion from the Champions League would not happen.
“It will not happen, the law protects us,” he told El Chiringuito. “We will not get into legal issues. It is impossible.”
In his first public comments since the league was announced, Mr Perez said the Super League would help the sport “evolve” in the wake of the pandemic.
He added: “When you don’t have income beyond television, the way to make it profitable is to make more attractive matches. That’s how we started working.
“We came to the conclusion that by doing a Super League during the week, instead of the Champions, we would be able to mitigate the lost income (from the pandemic).”
When shown a montage of critical comments from the likes of Gary Neville, Klopp and Johnson, Perez added: “All those people, they don’t know the truth. They have said it is a league for the rich and it’s not true. It’s a league to save football.”