KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTS: For Aleksander Ceferin, the 53-year-old Slovene who heads European football, the torment erupting over the weekend was not merely sporting and corporate: it was personal.
Ceferin and his advisers at continental governing body UEFA, had discussed expanding the Champions League for the best part of the last 18 months with a range of stakeholders including, above all, the clubs.
But when Ceferin was negotiating with Italian Andrea Agnelli he thought he was doing business with not only a personal friend – Ceferin is godfather to Agnelli’s daughter – but a man representing all the interests, as president, of the 246-strong European Club Association.
As Ceferin discovered, to his shock at the weekend, Agnelli used everything learned in those discussions to help mastermind the breakaway Super League which has thrown European football back on its heels.
Agnelli was not the only man to deceive Ceferin. The president of UEFA also singled out Manchester United’e executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward in a coruscating attack on the men who led him up a footballing blind alley.
‘Strange people and liars’
Ceferin said: “I’ve seen many things in my life. I was a criminal lawyer for 24 years. I’ve met many many strange people and liars and bad people in football and also many great people that I trust. But I’ve never ever seen people like that.
“Andrea Agnelli is the biggest disappointment of all. I don’t want to be too personal but I’ve never seen a person who would lie so many times, so persistently, as he did. It’s ubelievable.
“On Saturday afternoon he said these were only rumours so don’t worry. He said he would call me in one hour and then he turned off the phone. The next day we had the announcement [of the Super League].
“He was the chair of an [ECA] organisation with 246 clubs who ran away from the organisation.
“Obviously greediness is so strong for some that all humanity evaporates but in UEFA we are different and we stay different. It’s good to learn who is who and all the world knows them now. They were all supporting our reforms on Friday afternoon – including Ivan Gazidis [Milan] and Pedro Lopez Jimenez [Real Madrid].
“Ed Woodward [Manchester United] called me last Thursday saying he was very satisfied with the reforms, that he fully supports the reforms and the only thing he would like to speak is about financial fair play.
“Obviously he had already signed something else.”
The breakaway clubs had pointed up the financial impact of the Covid-19 pandemic as propelling them into pressing ahead with a Super League which would generate $3.5bn just for a start.
Ceferin dismissed that excuse.
He said: “The Super league has been boiling for years, long before Covid. We had even got an interesting proposal on the table that our general secretary discussed with Agnelli and he said: ‘No, let’s wait to discuss this next week’. That’s this week.
“This is not about help and Covid, it’s about greediness and selfishness and narcissism.”
Ceferin was keen to emphasise the difference between the narrow interests of the Super League and the societal mission of UEFA.
He said: “I want to emphasise what many fans don’t know: UEFA distributes 90pc of all the revenues back to the game, not to the professionals only. We finance youth, grassroots, women’s football – we have a children’s foundation that has a great charity project.
“Whoever thinks Super League is about money and UEFA is about money as well is not right: the Super League is about money but UEFA is about developing football. It’s about financing what should be financed so that our football, our culture, survives.
“Some people don’t understand that.
“For some people the only thing that exists is their pockets . . . They don’t care about anyone else, they don’t care about the game. They change clubs like we change our shirts. Some owners don’t look at the numbers of goals but the numbers in the accounts.
“The way they acted was terribly wrong. We all know that. Anything with not much of an IQ knows that.
“I can’t understand how can you see all your fans protesting and you don’t care. You’re not poor and yet you want more and more and more. Whoever respects their fans will step out immediately.”