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Ed Woodward has promised Manchester United will never revive European Super League (ESL) plans where being part of the elite would be guaranteed, as manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer compared the feeling of Champions League qualification to that of winning a trophy.
Supporters will stage an anti-Glazer family protest at Old Trafford on Sunday when United can secure a top-four finish and dent the hopes of Liverpool. Both clubs wanted to be part of the ESL breakaway where relegation would automatically not be a part of the competition every year for the founding teams.
Woodward, the current executive vice-chairman who will step down as part of the fallout of the debacle, met angry supporters at a fans’ forum on Friday morning where he personally apologised for trying to take the club into a competition where the top-four fight would be meaningless.
Furious supporters told Woodward and club officials they trampled over the club’s history with their application to join the ESL, with fears the American family owners still want to be part of an elite tournament where the biggest clubs cannot be relegated.
“I can assure you that we have learned our lesson from the events of the past week and we do not seek any revival of the Super League plans,” said Woodward.
“I would like to add my personal apology to this forum,” he said. “I know that you will feel angry and let down by the lack of consultation and by the way the proposal failed to recognise the vital principle of open competition. Proper discussion would have helped us avoid the mistake we made.
“While there would have been a substantial increase in solidarity payments from the leading clubs to the rest of the pyramid across Europe, we fully accept that there were fundamental elements which were badly misjudged.”
Solskjaer has suggested that he is opposed to those plans by claiming the fans should always be listened to, and reinforced that belief by talking up the prospect of sealing their place in Europe's top competition this weekend.
“Football has turned this way. One, you fight to win the Premier League, that's the bread and butter, the dream, that's what everyone wants but there's almost like another trophy - second, third and fourth - because the Champions League is such a massive tournament to be in,” said Solskjaer.
“You play against the best, there are loads of financial gains by being there. Last season when we were so far behind, our aim was to get into the top four. Sometimes top four isn't even secure. Arsenal and Chelsea can still win respective tournaments and not be top four so we've just got to make sure we are doing our job and getting into the Champions League ourselves.”
During the fans’ forum, a representative from the Manchester United Supporters Trust (MUST) read out a letter to Woodward, and demanded independent representation on the board. The letter was addressed to the club’s senior management and owners, the Glazers, and began: “We are disgusted, embarrassed and angry at the owner’s actions in relation to the planning, formation and announcement of the European Super League.
“Once again this clearly demonstrates that the club’s owners are only interested in maximising their own profits and do not care about or respect the views of Manchester United fans.
“The complete lack of engagement with fans, our players and manager is a gross mishandling of club affairs and one which we cannot forgive. It was an attack on fans and on clubs across the whole of football and we have simply had enough.”
Solskjaer has added that it is important that fans are heard in the aftermath of the botched ESL plot.
“It's important that the fans' views are listened to and we communicate better,” he said. “My job is to focus on the football side and that we have the best possible team. As I've said before I've been backed, I've had great support from the club and the owners and I'm sure I will get the backing again to go one step further.
“But I'm so happy all the clubs have agreed that this shouldn't be the way of moving forward. Then again, when the protests are on, it's important they go in a good fashion and that we keep it peaceful.”