Raul Sanllehi confirmed that Arsenal were involved in talks over forming a European Super League back in 2018 despite denials being issued but that it wouldn’t be happening anytime soon.

“There is nothing secret,” Sanllehi said (via the Daily Mail’s carefully selected quotes). “We need to make sure Arsenal is in the driving seat of anything that may happen.

“It won’t happen in the short to medium term.”

Daily Mail 17 November 2018
Daily Mail 17 November 2018

In the Telegraph, meanwhile, he added,  “We have an incredible jewel that is Arsenal and we need to make sure Arsenal is always in any driving seat of anything that may happen.”

Daily Telegraph 17 November 2018
Daily Telegraph 17 November 2018

But the Daily Star are the paper that reported the majority of his quotes, giving a far better view of what Raul Sanllehi really meant:

“Do I think it will happen? Not in the short term because we have an agreement with UEFA right now,” he said in quotes the other two papers don’t even hint at. 

“But I don’t know what the future will bring because the future writes itself. We are very proud to be in the Premier League and we want to be in the Champions League.

“I don’t envision in the short term or medium term any radical change. There’s ways to twist the truth to make it sound like something strange. Basically, the European Club Association (ECA) had to look to all the options for the future.

“One of them, of course, could have been the possibility of a European Super League.

“We had a working team that participated.

“I was at Barcelona at that time.

“It was a conversation we didn’t hide from anybody. We explored that option.

“The outcome was the best possible because we got into a new deal with UEFA.”

Leaks at the time that detailed talks between top clubs about forming a breakaway European Super League were splashed all over the back pages for about five minutes before they were replaced by another story.

A few clubs moved to deny there were any such European Super League talks going on, but I said at the time that those denials were not to be taken seriously, as Sanllehi’s latest statement shows.

Now, the move is on. The clubs are resigning from the ECA and dates are being announced for it all to get underway.

In James Montague’s excellent book, ‘The Billionaires Club‘, he spoke about European Super League proposals. He talked about moves being made to protect the ‘legacy’ clubs – the ones named in football leaks documents about a breakaway league.

Looking back over the book given those revelations in 2018, coupled with what happened in the 12 months prior, it was hard not to see it all moving into place.

The worrying thing for Arsenal fans is the first example Montague goes to – that of Stan Kroenke and how Arsenal’s sole owner would love nothing more than to be able to move Arsenal, the same way he can move his American sports franchises.

“In 20 years,” Montague writes, “why couldn’t Arsenal move to another city, or even another country to play its games?” He then quotes Neil de Mause, co-author of Field Schemes: How the Great Stadium Swindle Turns Public Money into Private Profit, as saying “Kroenke would love to be able to take advantage of European cities and threaten to move somewhere else.”

LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 27: Stan Kroenke makes an appearance ahead of the game between the Los Angeles Rams and the Minnesota Vikings at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on September 27, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA – SEPTEMBER 27: Stan Kroenke makes an appearance ahead of the game between the Los Angeles Rams and the Minnesota Vikings at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on September 27, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

I already looked at that issue more here in relation to Stan Kroenke, but it’s a stinking model of holding cities to ransom to gain tax breaks, incentives, and funding to build stadiums while the owners keep all of the profits despite their use of public money.

“The huge advantage in England is that you do not have the tradition of cities bidding against each other. If you go up to a mayor in the US and say ‘We want to talk about you giving us a load of money to move our team here,” they will say, ‘Sure, that is our business. Our job as mayors is to lure business here and win elections.'”

Six clubs in the Premier league are currently owned fully or partially by Americans.

Charlie Stillitiano, who helped found the International Champions Cup that takes place in pre-season across the globe, added, “forming a European Super League is being discussed by leading clubs across the continent. When they came up with the Champions League, the idea wasn’t to have PSV and Genk playing in the knockout stage…there are several different groups among Europe’s top clubs that want a fairer share from the Champions League. When you see the teams we have in the ICC, you’re going to want to go and see us.”

Arsenal v Paris Saint Germain - International Champions Cup 2018
SINGAPORE – JULY 28: Mesut Ozil of Arsenal walks back to the dressing room after warm up ahead of the International Champions Cup match between Arsenal and Paris Saint Germain at the National Stadium on July 28, 2018 in Singapore. (Photo by Suhaimi Abdullah/Getty Images for ICC)

The Chinese are also trying to get involved, suggesting a competition to ‘usurp’ the Champions League. There are currently three Premier League clubs with Chinese owners or part-owners.

“Even more intriguing,” writes Montague, “was a proposal by the Dalian Wanda property group, owned by China’s richest man, Wang Jianlin, part-owner of Atletico Madrid, to usurp the UEFA Champions League with a brand-new competition with an expanded format that would see more big-name teams playing each other, and fewer teams from smaller nations appearing.

“The idea received a lukewarm welcome, but it is now out there, a pincer movement from China and the US that could change European football forever – assuming, that is, the investment is sustained.

Wang Jianlin, chairman of Wanda Group, speaks at a ceremony in Beijing on February 10, 2015. China's Wanda Group has agreed to buy Infront -- the Swiss sports marketing group headed by Sepp Blatter's nephew and which holds some broadcasting rights to the World Cup -- for 1.05 billion euros (1.2 billion USD), the two firms said on February 10. AFP PHOTO / Greg BAKER (Photo credit should read GREG BAKER/AFP/Getty Images)
Wang Jianlin, chairman of Wanda Group, speaks at a ceremony in Beijing on February 10, 2015. China’s Wanda Group has agreed to buy Infront — the Swiss sports marketing group headed by Sepp Blatter’s nephew and which holds some broadcasting rights to the World Cup — for 1.05 billion euros (1.2 billion USD), the two firms said on February 10. AFP PHOTO / Greg BAKER

“Both the American and Chinese owners are eager to join forces to push for a European Super League, where their investments in football clubs will be protected from the uncertainty of promotion and relegation.

“The uncertainty of merit is the enemy of profit. It was the threat of such a breakaway that saw UEFA announce proposed changes to the Champions League format in 2018. Now, the top four nations would be guaranteed four places each, cutting the number of champions from smaller countries who were already struggling to compete because of the huge inequalities between leagues.”

Stan Kroenke now has full control of Arsenal and, while it seems unlikely that a Premier League club would ever leave its home city, it’s not like it hasn’t happened before with Wimbledon’s move to MK Dons. The situation might have been somewhat different than that at the top of the tree but the brutal truth is the same – they moved because of money.

With Arsenal dropping out of the Champions League and not able to immediately return, the idea of a legacy place was bound to be appealing. Arsenal have a reputation of being a ‘proper’ club, but they have always been agitators behind the scenes. They were in from the very beginning when the Premier League was conceived, some might even suggest David Dein booked the table for the first date. Where there is a bigger slice of the pie to be grabbed, Arsenal’s hand will be one of the first to reach out.

As it stands in the Premier League we now have a top six and only four guaranteed places for the top table of European football.

The ICC is perhaps an extreme version of where we are heading but I said in 2018 I didn’t think it was a stretch to think that the next generation of football fans could be watching their side play a competitive ‘home’ game 5,000 miles away with a middle-of-the-night kick-off, like we saw at Wembley with the NFL game between the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Philadelphia Eagles. Jacksonville, some 4,259 miles from Florida, were at ‘home’.

Stadiums can only fit in a finite amount of people and football is truly global now.

Where there is demand, there is money to be made.

And when there’s money to be made, nothing else ever matters.

This post was first published on 17 November 2018 and has been updated to reflect recent developments