These, surely, were the big Super League nights they dreamt of? The drama, the comebacks, the passion – the entire world transfixed like never before. The sheiks and the oligarchs and the hyper-capitalists must be devastated they didn’t sort out all the broadcast rights agreements with the rolling new channels in time. They won’t have earned a penny from any of this. It is the greatest irony of all – The Greatest Sh*tshow on Earth all went out on free-to-air.
Even now, debt-ridden Real Madrid’s absurdist president, Florentino Perez, is publicly fulminating about problems that don’t exist, his solutions to which would have had the entirely coincidental side effect of solving his club’s own, it seems.
He reckons 16-24-year-olds aren’t interested in football. Well, give them more of this. Give them more of these magic nights, gathered round the TV, staring in gape-jawed wonder at the mind-boggling scale of your own seismic crapness.
Who needs Ronaldo/Messi when you’ve got Perez/Woodward? What’s the point, really, in arguing about who is the most laughable? Just be thankful you were alive to enjoy them both, in their prime, accidentally setting fire to themselves in ways that previous masters of the art, like Theresa May for example, would have dared not even dream.
It is too soon even to attempt to grasp at the sheer scale of clusterf***wittery involved. There were months, if not years of planning, all of it shrouded in a level of secrecy that would put MI6 to shame. The grand new Super League, presented to the world at 11pm on a Sunday night, the contracts all signed by virtually all of the most powerful figures in European football. The deal done. The full-time whistle gone. The trophy presented.
And barely 48 hours later, they’re fighting each other over who can be the first to get out of it, to disown it, to say they had nothing to do with it and how very sorry they are.
The apologies, surely, have been the best bit. Manchester United have managed a short statement, headed, “We will not be participating in the Super League”. Their words on the departure of their chief executive, Ed Woodward, is a little longer but equally devoid of any kind of meaning.
It is his departure, of course, that is very much the dingleberry atop the whole glorious cake of turd. Before he announced he was off, while his little project was falling apart, there were still people prepared to speculate that this had all been a chimera, a negotiating tactic, a big move in some Great Game with the football authorities. When Woodward went, at least the truth could be known. That these men, with all this money and all that power, really were just this mesmerically useless.
Liverpool’s owner John Henry has set the gold standard thus far. For reasons that will never be known, he appears to have earned a certain amount of admiration in some quarters, for having the courage, apparently, to film a two-minute-long soliloquy that has been described as an apology to the fans of the football club he owns, and where one suspects he will never again be able to show his face.
Mr Henry, it turns out, wants to apologise for “the disruption” that he caused over the last 48 hours. He has apologised to the players, to the fans, to the manager Jurgen Klopp, for all the “disruption”. We must use the word “disruption” twice, alas, because the disruption is the only thing in his video that he ever actually apologises for.
Mr Henry, sir, it’s not really about the disruption. If you ever get round to stealing someone’s car and then they catch you, that anger in their eyes – it’s not because of the disruption you were planning on causing them. The irritating phonecalls and so on, the lift to work. They’re angry because they’re looking at a straightforward crook trying to make off with their property. And this feels very much the same to me.
Naturally, it’s hard to know where to start. Henry never completed his philosophy degree, having become too busy with the far more important work of inventing complex financial instruments for the futures markets, so he may never have got round to learning that it is epistemologically impossible to be sorry for the entirely foreseeable, totally inevitable and, above all it seems, self-evidently desired consequences of your actions.
A man who has an affair can be genuinely sorry for the hurt caused, because he can claim with a certain amount of honesty that he never wanted anybody to find out. Of course, the Super League never got far enough for us to know for sure, but it does seem safe to presume the intention was not for Liverpool, Barcelona and the rest to play one another in secret matches in hotel car parks, entirely for John Henry and the rest’s enjoyment?
Does it really have to be stated that the thing he is now sorry for is the precise thing he apparently wanted? Are we truly meant to believe he did not foresee the consequences?
He didn’t, for example, foresee that his manager and his players would be furious about it, not least when it would be up to them, not him, to face the TV cameras and the questions about it? He did not foresee this, yet he did, somehow, seemingly find within himself the wisdom to whisper not a word of any of it to them during the months and months and quite possibly years he planned out all of its intricate details?
It should be clearly understood that the non-apologies and the phoney apologies are every bit as cynical as the rest of it. Draw the flak, dampen down the outrage, regroup and try again. That this thin cabal of mercenaries tried their little coup, overreached themselves and were found utterly wanting, doesn’t change the fundamental politics of the situation. Their motives are the same. Their interests and the interests of their supporters are as fundamentally out of whack now as they were two days, two weeks and two years ago.
They’re not the first gang to launch a raid against an opponent more powerful than they imagined and have to turn around and run back home again. The crucial question will be whether the victors use this moment to press home their advantage.
There is almost no part of the world map that has not been redrawn at one time or another from the fallout of this precise scenario. Those who launch a coup and fail don’t tend to hold on to what they had at the start. And this, really, is their ultimate stupidity. That they don’t appear to have realised that their attempt to gobble up the whole footballing pasture even involved risking what they already had.
They really didn’t seem to think that all this might end with new laws on club ownership, new regulation on fair competition. And such things must happen now. The alternative is to pretend none of this ever happened, and return to the delusion that any of them can ever be trusted again.