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21 April 2021

The Super League is dead – but the challenge for Boris Johnson lives on

Calls for a more radical approach to how British football is run and regulated are not going to go away.

By Stephen Bush

All six English clubs and all three Italian clubs have abandoned plans to join a new European Super League, bringing the scheme to an abrupt halt. (Though Uefa’s plans to reinvent the Champions League to allow some clubs to participate in the tournament even if they don’t qualify means that some of the more destructive elements of the plan remain in place.) 

It means that what appeared to be a test of whether Boris Johnson’s new-model Conservatives really are willing to interfere in the workings of the market, as they sometimes like to say they are, has, for now taken care of itself. 

[see also: Why talking about football is a feminist issue]

The Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden did a good job of grabbing headlines with his pledge to do “whatever it takes” to stop the Super League, but there has been less focus on the fact that his list of possible interventions included plenty of measures that wouldn’t have stopped the league from happening and some which would not have come into play unless the scheme went ahead. (The threat of a windfall tax, for instance: if there is a windfall to tax, the government obviously hasn’t prevented the thing from happening in the first place!)

But the clamour for a change in ownership at England’s top clubs – particularly at Manchester United and Arsenal, whose owners were already on thin ice with their support base – means that the calls for a more radical approach to how British football is run and regulated are not going to go away. The test of the government’s willingness to match its words with actions – and the willingness of Conservative backbenchers to tolerate major detours from the party’s recent orthodoxies – has been delayed but not yet permanently avoided. 

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[see also: The furore over the proposed European Super League is about one question: who runs our lives?]