Real Madrid president Florentino Perez and Juventus counterpart Andrea Agnelli were the biggest losers of the short-lived European Super League (ESL) fiasco which risks tarnishing the image of two of the most influential men in world football.
Almost thirty years may separate 74-year-old Spaniard Perez, and Italian Agnelli, 45, but the pair are united by the same driving ambition to make their respective clubs global brands, always generating money through TV rights and supporters throughout the world.
Their vision was embodied in the stillborn Super League project, of which they were two of the principal instigators. Agnelli, scion of one of Italy’s most powerful and richest families, has been at the helm of Juventus since 2010, during which time they have won nine-consecutive Serie A titles but finished runners-up twice in the Champions League.
“Football is no longer a game but an industrial sector and it needs stability,” argued Agnelli in Italian newspaper La Repubblica yesterday. For Perez, recently re-elected unopposed as president of Spanish champions Real Madrid and named chairman of the new ESL, his driving ambition was also fundamentally financial.
“Football has to keep changing and adapting to the times. Football is losing its appeal. Something must be done,” he said of the bid by 12 powerful clubs — six from England, and three each from Spain and Italy — to form a league offering guaranteed spots to its founder members and billions of dollars in payments.
Both bore the brunt of criticism as the Super League project unravelled after just two days amid a backlash from furious fans. “He’s selfish and an egotist. He thinks only of Real Madrid. In Villarreal, we don’t need Florentino to come and save us,” fumed Villarreal president Fernando Roig on Spanish radio. “To say that this project will save football is a joke,” added former Real Madrid president Ramon Calderon.
UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin lashed out at a “disgraceful self-serving proposal from a select few clubs purely fuelled by greed”. The Slovenian singled Agnelli “as the biggest disappointment of all” for working with UEFA on the new enlarged Champions League at the same time as the Super League project.
“I’ve never seen a person that would lie so many times, so persistently as he did. It’s unbelievable,” said Ceferin of the former president of the Association of European Clubs (ECA). Agnelli resigned from both the ECA and UEFA in the wake of the announcement of the Super League with a resulting loss of influence in European football.
In Italy too, Agnelli has alienated the leaders of other clubs. Torino president Urbano Cairo accused Agnelli of sabotaging negotiations he was leading with investment funds to involve them in the management of TV rights.
These discussions have stalled, according to some sources because these funds demanded, in exchange for their investment of 1.7bn euros ($2bn), that clubs do not participate in a closed league project that would have devalued the championship. “It’s bad faith, unfair competition,” fumed Cairo.
Paradoxically the Super League fiasco could cost both Real Madrid and Juventus dearly. Shares in Juventus plunged by more than 13% yesterday, having reached their highest level since September on the announcement of the project.
But while noting the virtual impossibility of the project following the withdrawal of most of the teams, Juventus insisted yesterday that it wanted to continue looking for solutions to increase their “value”. They added that they were “convinced of the soundness of the project’s sport, commercial and legal premises”.
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