Why not all football supporters in the Middle East are European Super League’s ‘fans of the future’

Why not all football supporters in the Middle East are European Super League’s ‘fans of the future’
The announcement has sparked anger around the globe. (AFP)
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Updated 20 April 2021

Why not all football supporters in the Middle East are European Super League’s ‘fans of the future’

Why not all football supporters in the Middle East are European Super League’s ‘fans of the future’
  • Outrage in football over proposed breakaway competition is not confined to match-going fans in Europe. Supporters tell their side of the story

DUBAI: The Sword of Damocles came crashing down. The Doomsday Clock struck midnight. And Twitter went into meltdown.

However you like your trite football metaphors served, there was little doubt the news that a European Super League is set to become a reality after years of less than veiled threats immediately relegated the pandemic, mass shootings and train crashes to minor news items.

Twelve founding clubs, plus three others to join. Five measly spots for qualifiers. A closed shop with no relegation or promotion. End of UEFA Champions League as we know it. Lots and lots of money. A full house in the ‘football is dead’ bingo.

The backlash was expected, immediate. ‘We’ll kick you out of all our competitions,’ UEFA, FIFA and their member Football Associations threatened. ‘We don’t need you and we don’t care,’ was presumably the reaction from the Bond villain-like club owners in their lairs.

The move will bring the 12 revolting clubs - Premier League’s “Big Six”, the two Milan clubs, Juventus, Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid - in the region of $300 million for simply competing in the new competition. many believed it was a nuclear negotiating tactic with UEFA, while it’s been reported the owners are fully willing to wait out the bad PR and the anger of the supporters.

…Ah yes… the supporters, almost forgot about them.

The obvious conclusion to this development was that the owners of the world’s most iconic clubs don’t care about the fans that made their current play toys iconic in the first place.

Except that’s not quite accurate. They don’t care only about certain types of fans. So brazen is their contempt, they even gave them a name; “legacy fans.”

The truth is that, while so many fans voiced their fury on social media, Gary Neville brilliantly railed against the “joke” owners and Liverpool supporter groups demanded the removal of their banners from the Kop, millions are likely to shrug in apathy and fully embrace the new European Super League.

The European Super League is designed to cater for what its founders are calling “Fans of the future”.

This is where the waters get muddied. Exactly where is the line drawn between legacy fans and those of the future? Is it generational? Is it demographic?

There will be a temptation, as ever, to assume international audiences are the ones that will ensure the European Super League will always find an audience. For fans of the future some will read armchair fans. Purely in mathematical terms, that is true - match-going fans are a drop in the ocean compared to television audiences.

At the same time, it would be wrong to assume all - or even - most of the non-European supporters are so far removed that they will blindly welcome the idea.

Certainly, in the Middle East, and particularly in GCC countries, any attempt to neatly categorize fans will fail. However, it seems that everyone agrees that Super League, by taking on the US model of no relegation or promotion, will remove the element of jeopardy, of competitiveness from football.

Daniel Evans, a Dubai resident and life-long Tottenham supporter, feels let down by his club, who perhaps stand to gain more than other, recently more successful members of the cabal.

“I've supported the club for 27 years ever since the day my parents got in a fight and my mother bought me a Spurs shirt to annoy my Chelsea-supporting father,” he said.

“I've supported the club through the dire mid-table obscurity of the 90s and even a Champions League final. One trophy in 27 years of support never bothered me, the club meant more than winning. However, I will now be giving up my spot on the Spurs season ticket waiting list and don't intend to follow the club if the ESL goes ahead. I am not against the game needing to modernize and adapt but perhaps modernization like this just isn't for fans like me.”

“I know that football clubs are businesses who need to make profit to be able to compete but this should never be at the expense of fair competition,” Evans added.

“The ESL proposal, with its lack of relegation for founding clubs and hoarding of prize money, is completely anti-competition and allows the richest clubs in the games to solidify their positions, to the detriment of grass roots football.”

Tottenham’s legendary Double-winning captain Danny Blanchflower famously said: “The great fallacy is that the game is first and last about winning. It is nothing of the kind. The game is about glory, it is about doing things in style and with a flourish, about going out and beating the lot, not waiting for them to die of boredom.”

Never have those words felt more anachronistic than over the last two days.

“Our club stands for more than this,” Evans said. “It stands for passion, exciting football, maybe not recently under Jose, but at least he’s gone now. Also, the club has always done great work with local non-footballing outreach projects but I also liked to think we did a good job within our wider footballing community.”

“The club has supported grass roots football, we’ve brought great English players through our youth academy, and we’ve never been a club who just go out and buy a team. Joining the ESL violates that, we’re abandoning the football community to fend for themselves whilst we go out and get even richer.”

Others feel that the issue is far from black and white, and that the traditional powers have long been getting away with abusing the game for years.

UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin called the plan a "spit in the face of football lovers”, and Zaid Al-Qaimi, a Liverpool supporter who lives in Abu Dhabi, says he’s amazed more people aren’t seeing through the victim act. And while acknowledging that the owners’ intentions are clearly driven by money, he believes the European Super League is no worse than the plans for a revamped Champions League that Ceferin is pushing.

“UEFA and FIFA are the ones killing the game, and have been diluting their products for years,” he said. “The Euros used to be brilliant with 16 teams, and then they made it 24. The next World Cup is 48 teams. The next Champions League revamp will have a hundred extra low-quality games.”

“The FIFA Club World Club Cup will be even worse with more clubs from all over the world. Let’s not forget the Nations League UEFA bought in. The Super League is the first new competition in years that actually increases quality.”

“The owners are doing it for money, but so have been UEFA and FIFA with more and more games,” Al-Qaimi added. “Yes, they need to solve the merit issue. But this is better than a 32 game Champions’ League group stage that will have endless meaningless games.”

Mohamed Shamseer, a Chelsea fan from Kerala, says he is well aware how much money has contributed to his own club’s success, but feels that heritage and any notion of competition are being eroded.

“We shouldn't allow businessmen to play games with people's passion. They are out to seek total control,” he said. “I know money has been heavily involved in football, but with the arrival of European Super League, it’s going to be only about money. Sporting merit will go down the drain if the founders’ clubs can’t get relegated. It’s also against one of the basic principles of any sport as there won't be any open competition.”

While Shamseer, who has lived in Dubai for 11 years, has never had the chance to visit Stamford Bridge, he does not consider himself less of supporter than match-going fans. The idea that being geographically distant from the club means you care less for the well-being of football is unfounded for him.

“As much as I love my club, I love the Premier League as well,” he said. “Whatever we are today, our rivals helped us get there. The European Super League will eventually kill the Premier League. The Big Six teams [if they stay] will field their academy kids to focus more on the big fat Super League. There wouldn't be another Leicester fairytale nor there wouldn't be any European dream left for the smaller clubs as well. It will take the charm out of everything. In simple words, football wouldn't be the same.

Dubai resident Neil Mitchel, founding chair of Newcastle United Supporters Trust (NUST) is equally opposed to the European Super League plans, and would have been even had a much-speculated takeover turned his boyhood club into one of the richest in the world.

“As a lifelong Newcastle fan, a legacy fan as the new ESL would have us known, I have personally been through the highs and lows of supporting your team,” he said.

“I have been there through the Keegan ‘entertainers’ years. Seen us challenge for titles and get to finals only to suffer glorious defeats. I’ve seen us take on the best of Europe and win. Barcelona, Juventus, PSV and more have been taken down by my boys. I’ve also seen us relegated twice under the current ownership and the hard battle to regain our place in the top flight of England. In the game of football, it is simple. You are where you are based on sporting merit alone.”

Romance and competitiveness; without those two elements, football is just not the same.

“The league table does not lie. Each season is a level playing field,” Mitchel added. “Sporting merit is how the game should be settled. It should not be about how deep your pockets are. An ESL based on this is an insult to every fan who dreams. Every fan who longs to see their club rise on the basis of their effort alone. The ESL and their member clubs' collective greed will in my opinion be their undoing and its time the football family stood together and said enough is enough.”


La Liga fever pitch, Bayern on brink and French derby — what to watch in Europe

La Liga fever pitch, Bayern  on brink and French derby — what to watch in Europe
Updated 08 May 2021

La Liga fever pitch, Bayern on brink and French derby — what to watch in Europe

La Liga fever pitch, Bayern  on brink and French derby — what to watch in Europe
  • Protagonists Barcelona, Atletico seek momentum needed to go on and claim title

PARIS: Barcelona host Atletico Madrid while Real Madrid face Sevilla as La Liga’s title race enters the final straight; Bayern Munich can secure a ninth consecutive Bundesliga crown while Ligue 1 leaders Lille should expect no favors from northern rivals and European hopefuls Lens.

Here’s some of the standout action in Europe this weekend:

Barcelona vs.Atletico Madrid, Saturday 1415 GMT

Atletico may have the two-point cushion at the top in Spain, but Diego Simeone’s side have been limping towards the finish line in their bid to break up the Barcelona-Real Madrid duopoly.

Atletico’s lead was spared only by a missed penalty at the end of a 1-0 win over Elche, coming days after Barcelona missed a chance to dislodge them following a shock home loss to Granada.

While it might not be a winner-takes-all clash like the 2014 showdown at Camp Nou on the final day of the season, when a 1-1 draw handed Atletico the trophy, victory could give either club the momentum needed to go on and claim the title.

Real Madrid vs. Sevilla, Sunday 1900 GMT

Madrid’s shortcomings were laid bare in a subdued Champions League semifinal defeat at Chelsea, signaling the end for an ageing team clearly in need of rejuvenation.

Images of Eden Hazard joking with former teammates have, predictably, irked Madrid fans. An anonymous display at Stamford Bridge was simply another forgettable chapter in the Belgian’s miserable spell with the Spanish giants.

All is not lost though for Zinedine Zidane’s old guard, as the reigning Spanish champions could still retain their domestic crown. But they have the toughest run-in, starting with the visit of a Sevilla side desperate to keep their flickering title hopes alive.

Bayern Munich vs. Borussia Moenchengladbach, Saturday 1630 GMT

Julian Nagelsmann will take over at Bayern next season, but the job isn’t quite finished yet for outgoing coach Hansi Flick in Bavaria.

The summer promises to be one of sweeping changes for Bayern, with Jerome Boateng and David Alaba both out of contract in the summer and long-serving midfielder Javi Martinez departing the Allianz Arena as well.

Before then, however, Bayern will look to seal a ninth successive German title with victory at home to Borussia Moenchengladbach.

They could even be crowned before kicking off if RB Leipzig lose at Borussia Dortmund, in a dress rehearsal for the German Cup final on May 13.

Lens vs. Lille, Friday 1900 GMT

Lille are three wins from a first French title since 2011, and fourth overall. Of their three remaining games, the clash against neighboring Lens appears the most testing.

“It’s much important than just a regular derby for us. Lens have ambitions but so do we. We must not put pressure on ourselves, and take the three games left one after another,” said Lille’s Turkish striker Burak Yilmaz, hardened by the experience of numerous Istanbul derbies.

Lens are out for revenge after a 4-0 humbling in the reverse fixture as they try to stay ahead of the contenders for the final European place.

“We can’t say our goals have been met because we want to reach higher,” said Gael Kakuta, Lens’ top scorer with 11 goals this term. “And if we can rob Lille of the title, that would be good too!”

Juventus vs. AC Milan, Sunday 1845 GMT

Juventus, with their nine-year reign ended, and AC Milan, whose title pursuit fizzled out following a considerable downturn in 2021, find themselves fighting to secure a place in the Champions League.

Both clubs are level on 69 points with second-placed Atalanta, with Napoli on 67 and Lazio, who have a game in hand, on 64 going into the last four rounds.

Former Milan and Juventus coach Fabio Capello believes a loss for either side in Turin would see them miss out on Europe’s top club competition.

“I think the psychological repercussions of a defeat would be very heavy,” he told Corriere della Sera.


Hamilton tops second practice in Spanish Grand Prix

Hamilton tops  second practice in  Spanish Grand Prix
Updated 08 May 2021

Hamilton tops second practice in Spanish Grand Prix

Hamilton tops  second practice in  Spanish Grand Prix
  • Hamilton will be aiming for his 100th career pole on Saturday

MONTMELO, Spain: Lewis Hamilton looked poised to continue his dominance of the Spanish Grand Prix after clocking the fastest time during the second practice session on Friday.

Formula One leader Hamilton had a flying lap of 1 minute, 18.170 seconds. Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas was .139 seconds behind Hamilton after the Finn set the fastest time in the first practice session. Red Bull driver Max Verstappen, seen as the main challenger to Hamilton’s reign as world champion, finished only ninth fastest at .615 off the pace. Verstappen missed some time on the track while his team worked on the car, and his last lap was cut short when he damaged the right tip of his front wing.

Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc had the third-best time, followed by Alpine pair Esteban Ocon and Fernando Alonso, who is back in Spain for his first race since 2018.

Only eight points separate Hamilton from Verstappen at the top of the standings after they finished 1-2 in the first three races.

Hamilton won the season-opener in Bahrain and last week’s race in Portugal. Verstappen won the season’s second race in Italy.

On Saturday, Hamilton will be aiming for his 100th career pole.

On Sunday, he will be looking to equal Michael Schumacher’s six wins in Montmelo.


Zverev beats Nadal in straight sets at Madrid Open

Zverev beats Nadal in straight sets at Madrid Open
Updated 08 May 2021

Zverev beats Nadal in straight sets at Madrid Open

Zverev beats Nadal in straight sets at Madrid Open
  • Zverev will next face Dominic Thiem in a rematch of the 2018 final
  • Thiem, who lost to Zverev in straight sets three years ago, defeated John Isner 3-6, 6-3, 6-4

MADRID: Rafael Nadal’s bid to reach a 75th semifinal at a Masters event ended Friday with a 6-4, 6-4 loss to Alexander Zverev.

The sixth-ranked German beat Nadal for the first time on clay and for the third time in a row overall. Zverev broke Nadal’s serve twice in the first set and once in the second. His previous two wins over Nadal were on indoor hard courts.

Zverev will next face Dominic Thiem in a rematch of the 2018 final. Thiem, who lost to Zverev in straight sets in the Spanish capital three years ago, defeated John Isner 3-6, 6-3, 6-4.

Nadal, who is preparing to play for a 14th title at the French Open, had been improving after a slow start to his clay season. He lost to Andrey Rublev in the Monte Carlo quarterfinals before beating Tsitsipas in the Barcelona Open final.

Nadal played well in his first two matches in Madrid, comfortably defeating youngsters Carlos Alcaraz and Alexei Popyrin in straight sets.

In the early match, Thiem capitalized on two of his four chances to break Isner’s serve, and that was all he really needed.

Thiem broke the tall American on his first chance in the second set and then once more in the third to reach the semifinals in Madrid for the fourth straight time.

“He is one of the best servers in history, especially here in the altitude. His serve is bouncing so high and it’s so difficult to return,” Thiem said. “I really stayed focused, with a good fighting spirit. Against guys like him, a few points decide and that’s when I saved the break points in the beginning of the second set.”

Thiem saved four break points in the fifth game of the second set, then broke Isner’s serve in the next game to take the match to a third set. The Austrian squandered another break chance in the first game of the deciding set but capitalized again at 4-4. He then served out the match.

Isner served more than 100 aces in his four matches in the Spanish capital, where the high altitude adds speed to the balls and makes the clay courts faster.


Anti-Olympics campaign gains traction online in Japan

Anti-Olympics campaign gains traction online in Japan
Updated 07 May 2021

Anti-Olympics campaign gains traction online in Japan

Anti-Olympics campaign gains traction online in Japan
  • Opinion polls in Japan have found a majority of the public is opposed to the Games, which are due to open on July 23

TOKYO: An online petition calling for the Tokyo Olympics to be canceled has garnered almost 200,000 signatures in the past few days, as public concerns mount over holding the Games in a pandemic.
With less than three months to go before the start of the summer Olympics, already postponed for a year due to the coronavirus, questions still remain over how Tokyo can hold the global event and keep volunteers, athletes, officials and the Japanese public safe from COVID-19.
In two days since its launch, an online campaign https://www.change.org/p/cancel-the-tokyo-olympics-to-protect-our-lives-stoptokyoolympic called “Stop Tokyo Olympics” has gathered more than 187,000 signatures, nearing its 200,000 goal and underscoring public concerns over holding the massive sporting event in Japan’s capital.
Battling a fourth wave of the pandemic and struggling with a sluggish vaccination campaign, the Japanese government is seeking to extend states of emergency in Tokyo and three other areas until the end of May, the economy minister said on Friday.
Opinion polls in Japan have found a majority of the public is opposed to the Games, which are due to open on July 23.
“We strongly call for the prevention of spread of coronavirus and protection of lives and livelihood by using available resources to stop the Olympics,” Kenji Utsunomiya, the online petition organizer, wrote on his website. Utsunomiya is a lawyer who has run several times for Tokyo governor.
But, organizers have repeatedly said the Games will go ahead, unveiling detailed Covid-19 protocols for athletes and officials.
Pfizer Inc. and its German partner BioNTech SE said on Thursday they had agreed to donate their vaccine to help inoculate those participating in the Games.


Man City eye Premier League title in Champions League final curtain raiser

Man City eye Premier League title in Champions League final curtain raiser
Updated 07 May 2021

Man City eye Premier League title in Champions League final curtain raiser

Man City eye Premier League title in Champions League final curtain raiser
  • City can wrap up a fifth Premier League title in 10 years with victory
  • Chelsea’s transformation under Thomas Tuchel has taken them to a third Champions League final

LONDON: Manchester City and Chelsea will play off for the biggest prize in European club football later this month, but there is plenty on the line for both clubs when they meet in a prelude to the Champions League final on Saturday.
City can wrap up a fifth Premier League title in 10 years with victory, cementing their place as the dominant force in English football over the past decade since money began flowing in from Abu Dhabi to build a dynasty on the field.
Chelsea’s transformation under Thomas Tuchel has taken them to a third Champions League final since their own transformational takeover when Roman Abramovich bought the Blues in 2003.
However, the Blues are still paying for a slow start to the season under Frank Lampard with their place in next season’s Champions League far from guaranteed.
Tuchel’s men are fourth in the Premier League, three points clear of surprise top-four challengers West Ham.
But should City seal the title in style and lay down a marker for Istanbul, Tottenham and Liverpool are also not out of the running for the top four.
Chelsea ended City’s quest for a quadruple of trophies when they last met just three weeks ago in the FA Cup semifinals
However, that 1-0 win at Wembley was against a shadow City side as Pep Guardiola prioritized progressing in the Champions League.
A key to both clubs’ success has been their strength in depth and both managers could make several changes this weekend after the exertions of seeing off Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid in midweek.
A trip to City is only the start of a tough run in for Chelsea, who also face Arsenal and third-placed Leicester in their final four league games of the campaign, with another meeting against Leicester in the FA Cup final in between.
Gareth Bale gave Tottenham a taste of what they have been missing with the Wales forward on the bench for most of the campaign under Jose Mourinho, prior to the Portuguese coach’s sacking, as he scored his first Premier League hat-trick in a 4-0 demolition of already-relegated Sheffield United last weekend.
Victory for Spurs in Saturday’s early game at Leeds would take Ryan Mason’s men to within two points of Chelsea.
Liverpool are seven points off fourth, but have a game in hand after their clash at Manchester United was called off due to fan protests last weekend.
Last season’s title winners host struggling Southampton at Anfield on Saturday needing a win to keep their chances of Champions League football next season alive.
West Ham have arguably the easiest run in of the top-four contenders, which begins with the visit of Everton to the London Stadium on Sunday.
“It would be an incredible achievement,” said David Moyes, who succeeded in just keeping the Hammers up last season. “We’re not far away from the Champions League positions. We’ve got to keep believing.”
The battle to beat the drop is far less competitive and could be decided this weekend if Fulham and West Brom fail to win.
West Brom boss Sam Allardyce admitted his side need a “magic miracle and some fairy dust” to avoid the drop as they are 10 points adrift of safety with just 12 left to play for.
Allardyce has never previously been relegated from the Premier League in spells with Bolton, Newcastle, Blackburn, West Ham, Crystal Palace, Sunderland and Everton, but the great escape has been beyond him at the Baggies.
West Brom’s fate could be sealed at Arsenal on Sunday, while Fulham host Burnley on Monday.

Fixtures (all times GMT):
Friday: Leicester v Newcastle (1900)
Saturday: Leeds v Tottenham (1130), Sheffield United v Crystal Palace (1400), Manchester City v Chelsea (1630), Liverpool v Southampton (1915)
Sunday: Wolves v Brighton (1100), Aston Villa v Manchester United (1305), West Ham v Everton (1530), Arsenal v West Brom (1800)
Monday: Fulham v Burnley (1900)