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Fines of less than £4 million each for the six English rebels who plotted to join the European Super League were on Wednesday night branded a “joke” by Premier League rivals.
Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal also accepted a suspended £25 million fine and a 30-point deduction if they join another breakaway.However, while an initial payment of £22 million will be welcomed by the grass-roots causes who receive it, the punishment was deemed insufficient by other clubs, campaigners, politicians and fans.
Malcolm Clarke, chairman of the Football Supporters’ Association, told The Daily Telegraph a fine amounting to less than £4 million each was “neither here nor there” for billionaire owners. “We would have wished it to have been more,” he added. “It’s not enough for the greedy six.”
Two top-half Premier League rivals also privately admitted they were disappointed by the fine. “It’s a joke, but it wasn’t unexpected,” said one club executive. Most of the 14 clubs outside the so-called “Big Six” quickly accepted the settlement, with administrators believing the sums involved would be even less if taken to an external regulator.
The six English rebels had announced themselves as founder members of the competition on April 18, but had withdrawn within 48 hours amid fan protests and opposition from the Premier League, Uefa, Fifa and even the British Government.
For those clubs, the fine and apology issued via the league on Wednesday was intended to draw a line under the fiasco domestically. “They have wholeheartedly apologised to their fans, fellow clubs, the Premier League and the FA,” the Premier League said in a statement. Executives involved admit that their participation was a mistake and pledge never to join an unsanctioned competition again. If a club outside the rebel six joins a future breakaway, they will also be subject to a 30-point deduction.
Clarke, former Manchester United defender Gary Neville and Andy Burnham, the mayor of Manchester, said the fine was a timely reminder for the need for improved regulation within the game.
Tracey Crouch, the former sports minister who is leading a fan-led review triggered by the furore, is due to file back her initial findings next month. On Monday night, she heard evidence from the EFL Championship.
With that review in mind as details of the Super League fine emerged, Burnham, a former Culture Secretary, tweeted: “Thanks to the Premier League and the Big Six for making the case for the independent regulation of football abundantly clear.”
Neville, who is spearheading calls for the independent regulator, added that the fine was “an absolute embarrassment”.
The league confirmed in a statement that the six rebels had “acknowledged once again that their actions were a mistake, and have reconfirmed their commitment to the Premier League and the future of the English game”.
Instead of a disciplinary process, the clubs and league agreed on a compensation process which has seen them arrive at appropriate damages payments for their decision to join the breakaway, that lasted two days - between April 18 and April 20 – before collapsing.
“As a gesture of goodwill, the clubs have collectively agreed to make a contribution of £22million which will go towards the good of the game, including new investment in support for fans, grass-roots football and community programmes,” the league added.
Reflecting on the punishment, Julian Knight, chairman of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee, said the saga had been “without a shadow of a doubt, the most catastrophic public relations disaster in British sporting history”.
“These supposedly masters of the football universe have been shown to have been frankly a bunch of clowns,” he told Telegraph Sport. “I think the £22million fine is obviously there in order to benefit grass roots. There’s been a long time that we’ve said that there is enough trickle down in the game.
However, I think that this is not an ideal way that some of that trickle down happens. We’d rather that the football review leads to a greater amount of money flowing from the top of the game to the lower leagues, and also to grass roots.”
Nine of the 12 rebel clubs, including the six from England, have already reached agreement with Uefa on the fines – around £7million each. All nine have contributed to a combined payment of €15million [£13million] towards what Uefa called a “gesture of goodwill” to benefit children, youth and grass-roots football.
In addition it has fined them five per cent of their annual Uefa prize revenue.
There are still three clubs – Real Madrid, Barcelona and Juventus – who remain in defiance of Uefa but on Wednesday the appeals body temporarily suspended disciplinary proceedings after receiving a court order. Action will be resumed but the suspension means the three outstanding rebels are now set to figure in next season’s Champions League.
Comment: Reset of sorts takes place after failed insurrection
By Sam Wallace
There has been no rebellion in the game like the failed insurrection of the European Super League, and none for which the demand for retribution was quite so strong – across fan groups, politics and all those in the football world momentarily left outside the doomed creation.
It presented the Premier League executive with yet another of its most delicate judgement calls: they had won the war – The Battle of the European Super League, April 18-20 – now could they win the peace? As ever it raises the question as to what the Premier League is – an entity that primarily exists to serve its shareholders, from Manchester United to Burnley. There had to be a punishment, but also other obligations had to be met. Broadcast contracts had to be fulfilled, 380 games played, the wheel turns and the show goes on.
There was a regulatory process open to the Premier League by which it could have charged the rebel six. Under its regulations the league’s appointed QC, Murray Rosen, would have selected a three-strong independent commission to judge the offence of the breakaway. There was no guarantee, however, of the length of time a commission would take nor the penalty it would deliver. The league needed certainty and an end date in sight. The punishment, as will be announced on Wednesday, is a combined £22 million fine up front for the six clubs and the threat of individual £25m fines and a whopping 30-point deduction if another breakaway was ever attempted.
The chief executive Richard Masters and chairman Gary Hoffman pushed for the six clubs to agree to the fines, full apologies and a block on any further breakaway – all of which could be delivered quickly. The prospect of individual club fines of little under £4m might dismay some fans, but a more lenient sentence further down the line could be even more damaging.
Instead, Masters and Hoffman will lead Wednesday’s end-of-season Premier League shareholders’ meeting in Harrogate with a line drawn under the whole shameful episode, an assurance that it will never happen again, locks in place to guarantee that and a new deal with domestic broadcasters. It is certainly an improvement on the Armageddon threatening European football over those two febrile days in April. It also allows the Premier League to focus on the government review of football lead by Tory MP Tracey Crouch and the threat of a politicised independent regulator.
The issue with exacting a more swinging punishment from the six rebel clubs – United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Tottenham and Arsenal – was the nature of their offence. It was a direct defiance of Uefa, the governing body for European football, but at no point was there a plan to withdraw from the Premier League. The six had certainly broken regulation L9, by joining an unsanctioned competition. So too did they soften up domestic football with Project Big Picture (PBP) in October that, in reducing the size of the league and redistributing its wealth, laid the groundwork for the Super League. Yet they never said they would leave the Premier League.
Even Uefa, with the very existence of the Champions League threatened by the Super League, settled on assurances that nine of the 12 rebels would apologise and back out, with fines totalling around £7m each. In both cases, the Premier League and Uefa, there has been acceptance that the big six must be punished but that more important are durable sanctions for the future that will prevent a repeat of the crime.
There is an understandable appetite for vengeance from supporters who have seen points deductions imposed on their own clubs. The reality was that the Premier League was never going to damage its own biggest names to the extent that the league itself was harmed in the long-term. The proverbial face may not have suffered the spite some felt it deserved, the nose remains in place. The fragile consensus of 20 different clubs, 20 different business plans holds.
What comes from it? The power of the big six, their long-unspoken threat of a breakaway, that ever-present spectre of plots within plots, disappears for a generation. A reset of sorts takes place. The 14 clubs have prevailed and the league itself, Masters and Hoffman, is empowered. The Football Association, which played a shrewd hand in bringing down the Super League, has its first chance in a generation to exert itself as a powerful regulator again, rather than just the ailing body that was pushed all the difficult issues.
Perhaps the Crouch review will recognise that the legacy of the Super League has been to give power back to independent governing bodies, or at the very least redress the balance. Over the last 30 years it has tipped so far in favour of the most powerful, wealthy clubs and by extension the men who have come to own them, that football has been due a rebalance. A reinvigorated Premier League and FA that can challenge the wealthy and maintain the solidarity payments with the rest of the game would be the best outcome that might realistically be achieved.