super league fiasco

"It's hard to pick a winner, Gary."


Law firms acting for the clubs who ran towards, and then away from, the abortive Super League are being understandably coy about their involvement in the debacle.

The plan involved 12 football clubs from England, Spain and Italy forming a breakaway competition, but although - and perhaps because - the financial basis was worked out in secret, the PR aspect went untended. It meant the enterprise landed like Cantona's boot to the stunned face of fandom when it was unveiled on Sunday evening.

After an angry backlash and accusations of greed run rampant, Manchester City and Chelsea withdrew within hours, followed by Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester United and Tottenham on Tuesday, and Atletico Madrid and Inter Milan on Wednesday.

As its architects accepted the dream was on life support, Uefa president Aleksander Ceferin called Andrea Agnelli, the Juventus chairman, a "snake and a liar" for his role in the clandestine plot. Billionaire Agnelli replied, accurately, "I don't think our industry is a particularly sincere, trustworthy or reliable one in general".


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Although law firms are usually delighted to be able to tout fashionable clients, on this occasion very few were willing to voice support for their team. 

Cleary Gottlieb was understood to be acting for Juve, but the firm declined to comment. As did Freshfields and Allen & Overy, which between them were reported to have been acting for all six British clubs. Baker McKenzie, at least, showed some guts and confirmed that its Spanish office had acted for Barcelona.

With the plan to help a struggling cabal of super-rich clubs now in tatters, the fallout may create a new Super League of suing.

Firms acting for non-Super League clubs could see new work if their clients make claims against the dirty dozen, if punitive measures are imposed on all clubs to prevent another coup attempt.

The firms acting for Super League clubs may also get new instructions to deal with any attempts by the Premier League or Uefa to punish them, with pundits calling for points to be docked, fines to be levied, and multi-year Champions League bans to be imposed.

There are also suggestions that the breakaway Spanish Super League clubs may take action against their UK companions who broke away a second time, for breaches of the 23-year contracts which club owners are understood to have signed. 

Graham Shear, partner and co-leader of the disputes practice at BCLP, which is acting for lenders into the European Leagues and especially the English Premier League and LaLiga, told RollOnFriday, "We now know that soccer club loyalties can be set aside if the stakes are emotional enough".

But, he said, "European football fans have been united as with one voice they shouted 'no, non, never' to the prospect of their beloved clubs becoming a franchise holding member of the European Super League. The demise of the European Super League took little more than 50 hours after it was revealed to the world. It was like the A-list cast of the latest blockbuster dressed up for the opening only for the audience to walk out in disgust as the opening titles rolled. Some very, very smart people misread the room and left empty handed and rather red faced”.

Shear explained that the media focus on the owners of the six English clubs, especially the three American owners, "was predictable in light of the ESL seeking to deploy a US style franchise system". 

"But we now understand that paradoxically the ESL plan was actually originated by the President of Real Madrid, a Spanish club owned collectively by the fans of the club”. 

Shear said the impact of the pandemic on the balance sheets of Europe's professional football clubs in Europe reflected the impact on business generally, and that, consequently, the clubs now needed to replenish their working capital with debt or equity. 

"I believe the prospect of a 23 year low cost loan of €300m was enough to cloud judgement", he said. "Perhaps it was 'group think' or just naivety about the strength of public opinion, either way the working capital challenge remains”. Super League 0 Fans 1, for now.

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Comments

Anonymous 23 April 21 09:44

It's clear who were NOT acting for those clubs... the 'sports lawyers / firms' posting / blogging relentlessly on LinkedIn about it! 

Anon 23 April 21 10:38

TBH, I wouldn't hide from it. It is still advising on top end legal work for the biggest clubs in the world. They asked for advice and they received it.

Anon 23 April 21 11:09

You can hardly blame a law firm from providing advice to a client on a lawful enterprise ! 
 

 

Anon 23 April 21 11:50

Is the cancel culture now so extreme such that if a client wants to take legal advice on a perfectly lawful commercial venture which doesn’t meet approval from certain people, the firm is vilified for providing advice?  If we are going to take this approach, who decides what it and what isn’t ethical in terms of client activity?  Are companies that make weapons parts, or tobacco, or alcohol, or sugar, or who use animal testing, or which had some link to slave owners 400 years ago all to be denied the right to legal advice because some people don’t like what they do or did?  

Maragonna 23 April 21 12:00

There’s no implication firms will or should be cancelled for acting for the clubs - in fact bakers is complimented in this piece  - it’s just funny that the rest are staying quiet. 

Anon 23 April 21 12:21

The tone of the article and the suggestion that the firms should be coy is the point.  If none of this was relevant then there wouldn’t be the need for an article. 

Anonymous 23 April 21 13:03

Chill out, rof wanted to run a story on the super league so they hung it on the (true) fact that everyone involved is running away from it. It’s not like the other law mags haven’t been analysing who acted for who as well...hottest story of the week innit

Nottelling 23 April 21 13:53

When I was a trainee the firm had a fantasy football league. A round-robin email came through asking who would like to participate.

I (jocularly) replied all suggesting a Joey Barton sweepstake cup whereby we all place a £1 stake on our choice of premier league or championship division footballer stating who we thought would be the first to be convicted of a crime that season.

A terse response came that we acted for Mr Barton and such jocularity was not welcomed.

 

Anon 23 April 21 14:04

The reason they’re running away (other then BM) is surely because of the point made above?  And it’s part of a wider cancel culture these days. 

Agnelli 23 April 21 19:03

Fair play. 

Billionaire Agnelli replied, accurately, "I don't think our industry is a particularly sincere, trustworthy or reliable one in general".

Wagz 25 April 21 08:13

Totally fair to laugh at these firms for getting involved in such a shit show.  It was obviously a bad idea in its current structure and they didn’t improve the structure or keep their clients away from it. 

Anonymous 26 April 21 09:20

Fans who attend the Barclays Premier League matches at the Ethihad Stadium to watch their team wearing Puma-sponsored shirts - are shocked at this naked commercialisation of the beautiful game.

comp lawyer 26 April 21 12:46

Well... as to early comments about this bein a lawfull enterprise, i think you may want to give the Competition Act a carefull reading. It is far from obvious that this is entirely without its legal snags from an antitrust perspective

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