ESL: Ceferin warns of sanctions, lauds fans and slams ‘liars’

By Andrew Warshaw

April 26 – UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin is keeping up the pressure on the 12 clubs who sought to set up the European Super League as English fans maintained their opposition to the aborted project.

Supporters of Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur – half of the so-called Dirty Dozen tore into their respective owners at the weekend as the backlash showed no sign of receding.

As they did so, Ceferin made it clear that the breakaway renegades will not be allowed to get off scot-free.

“Everyone has to take consequences for what they did and we cannot pretend nothing happened,” he told the Mail on Sunday newspaper.

“You cannot do something like that and just say: ‘I’ve been punished because everybody hates me.’ They don’t have problems because of anyone else but themselves. It’s not OK what they did and we will see in next few days what we have to do.”

Ceferin implied the six non-English sides would not suffer the harshest penalties. Atletico Madrid and the two Milan clubs withdrew later than their English counterparts while Juventus, Real Madrid and Barcelona dug their heels in.

“For me it’s a clear difference between the English clubs and the other six. They pulled out first, they admitted they made a mistake. You have to have some greatness to say: ‘I was wrong.’

“For me there are three groups of this 12 – the English Six, who went out first, then the other three [Atletico Madrid, AC Milan, Inter] after them and then the ones who feel that Earth is flat and they think the Super League still exists [Barcelona, Real Madrid and Juventus]. And there is a big difference between those. But everyone will be held responsible. In what way, we will see.

“I don’t want to say disciplinary process but it has to be clear that everyone has to be held responsible in a different way. Is it disciplinary? Is it the decision of the executive committee? We will see. It’s too early to say.”

Ceferin praised the unprecedented outpouring of fan power that was instrumental in scuppering the ESL.

“Look, honestly speaking I was completely impressed by the reaction of the fans, the whole football community and not just the football community but I would say society. I never seen this,” he said.

“UEFA did its part, the clubs that stood with us did their part. And of course the UK government. But by far the biggest part was done by fans.”

As the fallout continues, UEFA seem likely to look again at its new Champions League format but there is little doubt Ceferin feels betrayed, not least by Juventus president Andrea Agnelli, one of the prime architects of the Super League yet who for months insisted the European Clubs Association, which he headed until stepping down last week, was working with UEFA, not against it.

Ceferin is godfather to Agnelli’s daughter but has publicly described him as a liar and has no regrets.

He said he got wind of Agnelli’s alleged duplicity as he was driving from his home in Slovenia to UEFA headquarters in Nyon, preparing to officially announce the changes to the Champions League which he thought had the backing of the biggest clubs.

“It was very stressful. I felt like I had been put into a washing machine. On Saturday, I went to Switzerland from my home country, eight-hour drive. I had everything ready to speak about the reforms and everything in my speech.

“They were preparing stuff they didn’t tell me, the guy [Agnelli] was lying to me saying: “It’s not true, it’s not true…”

Ceferin said the widespread outrage over the ESL proved a significant point.

“This joint effort showed that not everything is for sale, that you cannot come with billions and say: ‘I don’t care about tradition, history the things that you love, because I have enough money I will buy all.’ No way! It doesn’t go through.”

Ceferin has pledged to re-engage with the reformed ECA, now headed by Paris Saint-Germain’s Nasser Al-Khelaifi, but has re-iterated that he will not tolerate any more breakaway nonsense from the likes of Real Madrid and Barcelona who still believe the project has legs.

“It’s crystal clear that the clubs will have to decide if they are Super League or they are a European club,” Ceferin said in a separate interview with The Associated Press.

“If they say we are a Super League, then they don’t play Champions League, of course .”

Although the concept collapsed within 48 hours, Ceferin couldn’t disguise the hurt caused by the ESL announcement which threatened to undermine UEFA’s own landmark declaration of Champions League reforms.

“The worst day was Saturday, because then I realised that it was a pure betrayal, that some people lied to us for years.”

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