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Oliver Dowden Threatens Transfer Block And Promises To Do "Whatever It Takes" To Stop English Clubs Joining European Super League

4 min read

The government has warned the six English football clubs which plan to join a controversial new league that it "will put everything on the table" to stop the project going ahead — including a potential ban on signing players from abroad.

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden on Monday said the government would "do whatever it takes to protect our national game" and would "not stand by and watch football cravenly stripped of the things that make millions across the country love it."

He hinted that the government could effectively put a ban on the six clubs signing players from abroad by refusing to approve work permit applications.  

"We are examining every option, from governance reform, to competition law, to the mechanisms that allow football to take place, like work permits and policing arrangements and taxation," Dowden told MPs. 

The minister said he was immediately launching a "root and branch" review into British football, which wasn't originally planned to take place until later in the year.

The review will be led by Conservative MP Tracey Crouch, Dowden told the House of Commons, and will look at issues like finances and the merits of an independent regulator. 

British football was rocked to its core on Sunday evening when it was announced that six Premier League clubs — Liverpool, Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur — planned to join a new competition called the European Super League (ESL).

Twelve of Europe's biggest clubs, including the six from England, have signed up to the league with three more expected to join. Games are set to take place midweek but there will be no promotion or relegation. 

For the clubs involved, the competition would effectively replace the UEFA Champions League, which is currently Europe's premier club football competition.

The news prompted widespread outrage and condemnation, with the clubs involved accused of putting money-making over fans and the health of the British sport.

A clip of Sky Sports pundit and former Manchester United player Gary Neville saying he was "disgusted" by the news and accusing the clubs of "pure greed" went viral.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson condemnded the move during a visit to Gloucestershire earlier today.

"I don't think that it is good news for fans, I don't think it's good news for football in this country," he told reporters.

Dowden said he was "appalled" by the move and added that it had gone ahead "without any consultation with football authorities or government and without any dialogue whatsoever with their own fans."

He continued: "It was was a tone deaf proposal but the owners of those clubs won't be able to ignore the near universal roar of outrage from all parts of the footballing community over the last 24 hours... these owners should remember that they're only temporary custodians of their clubs and they forget fans at their peril".

The proposed new league is "based on wealth and brand recognition rather than upon merit," Dowden said, adding: "We will not stand by and watch football cravenly stripped of the things that make millions across the country love it."Shadow minister for culture and sport, Jo Stevens, said years of government failure to reform football in the UK left a "vacuum" for organisers of the European Super League to exploit.

"11 wasted years when a small piece of government time could have been found to bring primary legislation forward to this House to sort this out," she said in response to Dowden's statement.

"Instead of which, it's been all punditry and no progress on the pitch.

"In that time, clubs and their fans have suffered disasters". 

She said the government "should explore every option it has at its disposal" including a "super tax" on the football clubs involved and examining whether the plan breaches competition laws.

Stevens earlier today said that Labour would support the government if it decided to take urgent action to stop Manchester United, Liverpool and the four other clubs going ahead with their plan.

"We want the government to do whatever it takes to stop this proposal happening," she told PoliticsHome.

"They are in power. They are in control of parliamentary business time".

She urged the government to act as soon as possible and said that ministers could table legislation as soon as this week.

"The government just needs to get on with it, because until they do something, nothing is going to change, and the billionaires and hedge fund owners who are essentially running elite football in this country can just continue doing what they want," she said.

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