Ferguson waves off admission
Manchester United and Arsenal yesterday confirmed one of soccer's worst-kept secrets when they made their first public admission to being involved in talks to form a breakaway European Super League. The Dutch champions Ajax also admitted being party to the discussions.
However, the United manager Alex Ferguson dismissed the concept as possibly being "10 years away", which supports a growing view that the exploratory interest shown in the £2 billion project by Europe's elite clubs is little more than a strategy to put pressure on UEFA to concede favourable changes to the make-up of the current Champions' League.
It is understood that the powerbrokers behind the Super League are struggling to gain even a tentative commitment from the clubs they have approached.
Yesterday Ferguson described the Super League as "a shot across the bows of the people who run European football. It is maybe being suggested by people who feel they are not getting enough of the TV money".
And the statements issued by United and Arsenal, almost identical in content, hinted at a similar motive as the clubs stressed their commitment to the current set-up.
"Manchester United (or Arsenal) confirms that it is involved in discussions concerning the formation of proposed new European competitions.
"We would, however, stress that we are totally committed to the FA Premiership and other domestic competitions and are very mindful of our responsibilities to the governing bodies.
"There is no question of Manchester United (Arsenal) committing to a new competition until all appropriate consultations have taken place.
"Football is a developing industry and we have a duty to examine any serious proposal that we feel might be beneficial to Manchester United (Arsenal), its fans, shareholders and football generally."
Obviously United and Arsenal are intent on keeping future options open. They are reportedly holding discussions with the European Commission on September 7th to see what powers Fifa and UEFA hold to impose sanctions if they were to break away.
But Ferguson believes the actual league is a long way off. "Talk of the Super League is all hypothetical," he said. "It's all talk, it could be years away. People have been talking about such things for 50 years or so, but that doesn't mean they will happen.
"You have the Champions' League at the moment that is extensive and it's only going to get bigger next year. I don't think you will see a Super League at the moment. I feel it is a long way away."
However, even the shadow of a breakaway league could force UEFA to concede the changes in prize distribution and competition format which the big clubs want in their ever-growing thirst for cash.
And according to Franz Beckenbauer, UEFA does have a scheme for a European League. "UEFA has a plan for a super league in its drawer. Open it up," said the Bayern Munich president.
His view was shared by another German source, the Borussia Dortmund manager Michael Meier. "According to our information, UEFA has a clear plan for a European League," he said.
Ajax announced they had taken part but remained "fully committed" to the Dutch championship and other national competitions. Ajax claimed soccer had a duty "to examine any serious proposal that we feel might be beneficial to the club, the fans, shareholders and football generally."
UEFA was unwilling to comment yesterday.