Manchester United’s outgoing executive vice chairman Ed Woodward has become embroiled in a political scandal over the last 24 hours following reports that he met with Prime Minister Boris Johnson to seek reassurances that the government would back the European Super League.
The ESL, a closed-shop league of the world’s best sides, fell apart within 72 hours of being announced after Manchester City and Chelsea crumbled under public pressure and pulled out.
Some of that pressure came from Downing Street, with Johnson condemning the proposals immediately they came to light. The PM said ‘It’s not in the interests of football… How can it be right to have a situation in which you create a kind of cartel? … What we want to do first of all is back the FA, back the Premier League and hope that we can thwart this proposal before it goes very much further.’
However, over this weekend a story emerged that Woodward had visited 10 Downing Street and met with Dan Rosenfield, the No10 chief of staff, who gave him assurances that there would be no opposition to the plans.
This has sparked a political row, with shadow Culture Secretary Jo Stevens saying ‘Yet again, Johnson’s integrity and honesty are in question …The public has a right to know what exactly was promised to Manchester United by both officials and the prime minister.
‘If Johnson gave the European Super League his backing and then publicly turned on the plan then the British people deserve a full, clear and immediate explanation and apology.’
Sources claim that Ed Woodward, the chief executive of Manchester United, was invited to No 10 ten days ago and given the impression that Boris Johnson supported the controversial new European Super League https://t.co/at6N5dvZ2C
— The Sunday Times (@thesundaytimes) April 25, 2021
So what exactly happened?
According to The Sunday Times’ Caroline Wheeler, sources say that Woodward did indeed meet Rosenfield, who did give him his assurance that it would be safe to go ahead. Unfortunately for Ed, though, the Number 10 man failed to communicate this to the Prime Minister.
‘It is alleged this was done without consulting PM … Woodward went back to people planning SL + effectively said the PM’s chief of staff had given project the green light,’ Wheeler tweeted.
‘Positive noises from Downing Street were understood to have been communicated to those behind the ESL on the Saturday, and was apparently important in the final decision to launch. This has been denied by Ed Woodward.’
THREAD on Downing Street involvement in European Super League, from multiple sources.
Man Utd boss Ed Woodward met Dan Rosenfield, No10 chief of staff, on Wed of last week. Rosenfield also MU fan. No10 claim meeting was to discuss safe return of fans and Covid certification…/1
— caroline wheeler (@cazjwheeler) April 25, 2021
Poor Ed. He clearly thought he’d dotted all his i’s and crossed all his t’s. Millions had been paid to lawyers to reassure the plotters that there could be no legal challenge against their proposals. Downing Street had given him their assurance that they would not stand in their way. Woodward must have been thinking, ‘what could possibly go wrong?’
The revelations also make a mockery – as if anyone believed them anyway – of last week’s reports from usually reliable sources such as The Athletic claiming that Woodward was opposed to the whole Super League concept and ‘was not supportive of the scheme, he was obliged to go along with his employers.’ It was Woodward who was at Downing Street, nobody else. It was Woodward who assured UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin that he fully supported the new Champions League, just a day before the ESL was announced, leading the UEFA man to brand him a ‘snake’. It was Woodward whom a Premier League director described as ‘the ringleader of all aggressive acts’. It was Woodward’s old firm, JP Morgan, that was financing the whole ESL project.
Far from being an unwilling participant, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that Woodward was the central figure in the whole fiasco, sitting on his big leather chair like a Bond villain plotting the downfall of English football.