By Peter Hall
LONDON, England, April 22 (Reuters) - The spectacular collapse of the proposed European Super League may feel like a victory for supporters who protested against the plans across the continent and outside English Premier League grounds but the top clubs are already plotting their next move.
Back in 2019 a much-maligned proposal to overhaul the Champions League club competition into a 32-team division nearly saw the light of day and then came plans for big changes to the structure and finances of English football last year.
'Project Big Picture' was a plan put forward by Liverpool and Manchester United to increase funding for the 72 English Football League (EFL) teams but also included special voting rights for the biggest sides in the top flight.
That project to restructure the English game and the Champions League reform plan were rejected after being widely criticised for favouring the big clubs, with Sunday's Super League announcement taking that a step further.
"The Super League is just one way forward," breakaway founder and Juventus chairman Andrea Agnelli told Reuters on Wednesday of the plans involving 12 of Europe's top football clubs which included Manchester United and Real Madrid.
Paris St-Germain and Bayern Munich did not take part.
"I think what was planned in 2019 was another way forward. If they (European soccer's governing body UEFA) would have stuck by their plan they presented rather than chickening out, we probably would not have had this conversation today.
"I still believe that the Super League project would have brought that stability. Football, it's an economic industry. And we must take that into account."
The Super League argued it would boost revenue for top clubs and allow them to distribute more money to the rest of the game.
However, the sport’s governing bodies, other teams and fan organisations countered that it would increase the power and wealth of the elite clubs and the partially closed structure of the league went against European football's long-standing model.
The elite clubs clearly want more money, power and influence. With huge global fan bases, commercial appeal and sizeable brands, their attempt to launch a breakaway showed they view the rest of their domestic rivals as inferior.
The power, they believed, was in their hands.
But just because the big clubs feel entitled to more does not mean they will get it, as the last extraordinary few days has shown.
The saviours of the game fighting the ordinary fan's corner this time -- UEFA -- are not often viewed as the good guys.
Last week, 17 fan groups from 14 clubs across Europe wrote an open letter accusing the European governing body of facilitating a "blatant power grab" over reforms to the Champions League from the 2024/25 season.
It got lost in the Super League furore, but UEFA's plan to revamp its elite competition, despite the fan group discontent, was approved by its executive committee.
However, UEFA's stance against the Super League turned the continent's ruling soccer body from villain to hero, as they proved they are not to be messed with.
Even before the Super League was officially announced, UEFA moved quickly to denounce the plans as a "cynical project founded on the self-interest of a few clubs at a time when society needs solidarity more than ever."
Then, the morning after the plans were announced, UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin came out with an impassioned speech, labelling the league as a "spit in the face" of fans, promising bans for clubs and players taking part in the breakaway project from international competition.
Ceferin's willingness to speak his mind helped him assume a position of power. The Slovenian was elected as the champion of smaller countries but had to always compromise with the threats from the big clubs - now he may be less inclined to do that.
Soccer's world governing body FIFA backed UEFA and even though a Spanish court said in a preliminary ruling that they should not prevent clubs from taking part in the Super League, the governing bodies remained undeterred.
The Premier League, often blamed for the big English clubs gaining more revenue through broadcasting deals, also took a surprising new role as the voice of the people.
"When all this passes, let's see what happens. These clubs are going to lose millions and cannot do that, apart from those in England," Real Madrid president Florentino Perez told Spanish radio program El Larguero on Wednesday. L1N2ME330
"Some league presidents and the president of UEFA were incredibly aggressive. I've never seen anything like it. It was orchestrated."
Working together, the joint statements from the game's various governing bodies appealed to their foot soldiers - the fans - whose protests did not go unnoticed.
Three times big changes to the game have been proposed, and three times they have fallen flat. The big clubs will come again, showing they do not need anyone's backing to push ahead with their vision for the future of football.
But, up against determined resistance from organisations who have plenty of influence, despite what the top clubs may think, another breakaway league proposal, or something similar, must be better thought out and able to withstand opposition.
(Reporting by Peter Hall; Editing by Ken Ferris)
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