Irate football fans have turned on “snake” American club owners who they say are killing the sport with plans to radically shake up the structure of the game.
This week, six English Premier League teams — Liverpool, Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur — said they were joining forces with Spanish powerhouses Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid and Italian trio Juventus, Inter Milan and AC Milan to launch a closed-off “Super League”.
Watch Every Match of The 2020/21 A-League Season Live & On-Demand on Kayo. New to Kayo? Try 14-Days Free Now >
Currently, European teams have to qualify each year for the prestigious Champions League through their domestic leagues, but the Super League would lock in 15 places every season for the elite clubs.
The massive shake-up has been partly engineered by the American owners of Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United, who also run franchises in closed US leagues — a model they are trying to replicate in Europe. AC Milan in Italy is also owned by Americans.
Owners of these clubs have made no secret of the fact that they wanted to see football adopt a more American approach.
Liverpool’s principal owner John W Henry, of Fenway Sports Group, has been speaking about it for years.
During a press conference two years ago, he drew a comparison with America when he talked about having “closed leagues”.
Part of the beauty of football for many fans is the thrill of promotion and relegation — the moving of teams between different divisions depending on their performances — but Henry said that uncertainty made it hard to share the cash generated by the league around more evenly.
“It’s much more difficult to ask independent clubs to subsidise their competitors beyond a certain point when you have relegation and especially the way media is rapidly changing and being consumed today,” Henry argued.
His comments were seen as a step towards the Americanisation of English football which many believe Henry and the American Glazer family, who own Manchester United, have long been aiming for since they took over their respective clubs.
Americans singled out as fans react with fury
Those plans have now come much closer to reality and it’s clear many fans and pundits of the game are not pleased — with a lot of anger being directed at Americans like Henry.
In a fiery opinion piece, the Daily Mail’s Martin Samuel singled out American owners as he tore the Super League apart.
“A plastic competition, watched by plastic fans, of plastic clubs. These might as well be new clubs, in a new league, and newly moulded, in plastic,” he wrote.
“A league that no-one else can get into; a league that you can’t get out of no matter how useless you are. The end of meritocracy. That’s plastic.
“A plastic closed shop that only the shallowest glory hunters would find distracting. That’s why the venture capitalist owners of Arsenal, Manchester United and Liverpool so love it.”
UEFA president Alexander Ceferin blasted Super League organisers as “snakes” and the 12 clubs involved as “the dirty dozen”, while fans also registered their disgust with American owners on social media.
“It’s crazy how American owners are actually destroying football,” tweeted one fan.
“Don’t let the owners forcing through the Super League hide behind their club’s name,” tweeted another. “It’s not Liverpool and Manchester United you’re angry at. It’s Fenway Sports Group. John Henry. Joel Glazer. (Chelsea owner Roman) Abramovich. (Tottenham chairman Daniel) Levy. (Arsenal owner Stan) Kroenke. (Manchester City owner Sheikh) Mansour. And the rest. Confront their cowardice.”
“This man is a criminal,” wrote another fan alongside a picture of Henry. “Football has been ruined. I think I speak on behalf of all Liverpool fans and football fans when I say this has been the worst day in Football history. John Henry and FSG are a f***ing disgrace.”
Another fan accused Henry and his company, the Fenway Sports Group, of “(stabbing Liverpool coach) Jurgen Klopp in the back.”
Liverpool supporters see red
Liverpool fans in particular are furious with the role their club has taken in the radical shake-up.
Their supporters’ groups responsible for decorating Anfield’s famous Kop during lockdown said they will remove their banners and flags this week in protest.
Spion Kop 1906 announced on Twitter: “We feel we can no longer give our support to a club which puts financial greed above integrity of the game.”
The Liverpool team and their staff were reportedly abused as they travelled to Leeds for a Premier League game this morning.
Klopp and Liverpool captain James Milner both told reporters after the 1-1 draw against Leeds United they didn’t support their own club’s plans to join a Super League.
“The team has nothing to do with it,” Klopp said, after James Milner spoke out against the proposal and confirmed: “I don’t like it and I don’t want it to happen.”
Klopp said he would not walk away from his job, despite the latest rupture caused by Liverpool’s owners.
He said he was aggrieved by Leeds players wearing T-shirts in the warm-up that stated: “Football is for the fans. Earn it.”
He also criticised ex-Man United star Gary Neville, the Sky pundit, for bringing Liverpool’s famous anthem “You’ll Never Walk Alone” into his condemnation of the project and believes personal criticism of Liverpool’s football staff is unfair.
“The team has nothing to do with it and I have not really anything to do with it but people treat us like we do. Leeds supporters came here today before the game and were shouting at us,” he said.
“In the city when we had a walk this afternoon people were shouting at us. We are employees of the club. I am responsible for a lot of things and when I am involved in things I take the criticism easily, but we are not involved in this.
“It is a tough one at the moment when you hear all your pundits talking about it. This club is bigger than all of us. We should not forget this. This club was built in difficult times and went through difficult times.”
Klopp hit out at Samuel for his scathing piece and Neville, who blasted the proposed plan as an “absolute scandal”.
“When people like Martin Samuel say they should condemn us to hell, that is not right,” he said.
“Gary Neville has not the right to talk about our anthem. Our owners made a decision but that is one part of the club. The whole club is bigger than any of us.
“They should calm it down a bit. We are human beings. The Leeds supporters did not know we had nothing to do with it. They were shouting at us like I said: ‘Let’s go to the Super League!’ You are dealing with human beings here.”