Carlo Ancelotti thought ESL was a ‘joke’ but hopes common ground can be found
Everton manager Carlo Ancelotti first thought the European Super League announcement could have been a joke, but hopes the fall-out might lead to long-lasting reform of elite club competitions.
Merseyside rivals Liverpool were among six Premier League clubs to collectively announce on Sunday night they had signed an agreement to form a new competition with leading sides from Italy and Spain.
However, the response from supporters and the wider footballing world was almost completely negative to the extent that, by Tuesday evening, the Reds – as well as Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham – withdrew from the process.
AC Milan, Inter Milan and Atletico Madrid have also pulled out, leaving just Real Madrid, Barcelona and Juventus of the original 12 clubs involved in the breakaway competition.
Ancelotti has extensive experience of life at European football’s biggest clubs, having managed the likes of Juve, Paris St Germain, Bayern Munich and Chelsea, as well as guiding both Milan (twice) and Real to Champions League success.
And the 61-year-old Italian believes common ground can be found to help move European football’s top club competition forward.
“My immediate reaction was they are joking, ‘Is it a joke?’,” he said.
“They wanted to build a competition without sporting merit. This is not acceptable because in our culture, we were brought up to have sporting merit. They were wrong – full stop.
“I think that the Super League as they proposed it is impossible, but a new way of Champions League I think (can be achieved).
“I think in 2024 there will be a new format for the Champions League and on there I think that they can talk and find the best solution to have this competition more and more exciting and competitive.
“Every one of us wants the Champions League to be more competitive. It gets exciting from March. It could be exciting from September.
“The new format will be better, it will be more exciting from the beginning, but I think that the 12 clubs were not happy about that. If they were happy, they could accept this.”
Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta revealed he received a personal apology from the club’s owners as he saw supporters send the “strongest message” in the history of football to bring to an end plans for a Super League.
“They (the owners) have the maximum responsibility to run the football club and what they said was: ‘apologies for disturbing the team, we did it without the capacity to communicate in a different way earlier and pass on my message to the players’ – that is all you can ask for,” the Gunners boss said.
“I found out just a little bit before the news was leaked. And then everything was completely out of control and the world reacted in a really unified manner.
“There was not really time to think about it, reflect and evaluate or anything because by the time that was out, a big tsunami already came onto it and basically killed it.
“Vinai (Venkatesham, chief executive) spoke to me and explained a little bit what was happening. He was very clear and transparent with me. I understand the reasons why we could not know. We were not involved in the decision.”
Arteta spoke freely and at length about the issues of the previous week and believes the speedy backtracking from Premier League clubs served only to show how important the sport is to fans.
“I think this has given big lessons and it shows the importance of football in the world,” said the Spaniard.
“And it shows that the soul of this sport belongs to the fans – and that’s it. During this pandemic, for a year, we have been trying to sustain this industry with no fans in the stadium.
“But, when the fans have to come out and talk, they’ve done it really loud and clear, and they sent probably the strongest message that has ever been sent in the football world.
“And every club, leaving their interests apart, has done the right thing – which is, they are the ones (the fans), we have to listen to them, we put it aside and in 24 hours we kill the project.
“So that is a massive statement for the history of football.”
Barcelona have defended their decision to join the doomed project, insisting it would have been a “historical error” to reject the opportunity.
The club said in a statement on their website on Thursday: “There is a need for structural reforms to guarantee the financial sustainability and feasibility of world football.
“In this context, the FC Barcelona board of directors accepted, as a matter of immediate urgency, the offer to form part, as the founding member, of the Super League. The decision was made in the conviction that it would have been a historical error to turn down the opportunity to be part of this project as one of its founding members.
“In whatever case, FC Barcelona, as a club that always has been and always shall be owned by each and every one of its members, expressly reserved the right to submit such an important decision to the final approval of its competent social bodies following careful and very necessary study of the proposal.
“Given the public reaction that the aforementioned project has generated in many and various spheres, there is no question that FC Barcelona appreciates that a much more in-depth analysis is required into the reasons that have caused this reaction.”
Barca, along with Spanish rivals Real, remain attached to the ailing project despite the majority of the founder clubs withdrawing.
LaLiga president Javier Tebas said: “These plans have dissolved like a lump of sugar.
“If it (the Super League) was good for football, as (Real Madrid president) Florentino Perez has said, they wouldn’t have done it behind our backs.”
Tebas, though, resisted calls for retribution.
“Everyone wants to cut people’s heads off. We have to have a procedure and we have to see how it looks in the end,” he said.
“These clubs have been sanctioned by their own fans.”
Manchester City midfielder Ilkay Gundogan, meanwhile, criticised the reforms made to the Champions League earlier this week, branding the new-look competition as the “lesser of two evils” in comparison to the Super League.
The new format, which is set to start in 2024, will see teams compete in one 36-team league – instead of the current system where 32 sides are split into eight pools of four – and guarantee each club 10 matches on a seeded basis, four more than exists now.
Gundogan said on Twitter: “With all the Super League stuff going on… can we please also speak about the new Champions League format? More and more and more games, is no one thinking about us players?
“The new UCL format is just the lesser of the two evils in comparison to the Super League…”