Leeds United official opens up on dig at Liverpool over 'catastrophic' abandoned plans

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A European Super League would have been the end of competitive matches between Leeds United and clubs like Liverpool and ‘catastrophic’ for the Whites, according to CEO Angus Kinnear.

Kinnear aired his views on the aborted 2021 ESL plans in Sky original documentary Super Greed: The Fight for Football after Leeds played a role in one of football’s biggest stories - both wittingly and unwittingly.

The documentary charts the story of the ESL, which proposed a breakaway involving some of Europe’s biggest and richest clubs including England’s self-proclaimed ‘big six’.

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A fierce backlash from supporters, the media, politicians and clubs excluded from the plans, like Leeds United, led to most of those involved pulling out and apologising for having considered the idea. One of the clubs who had to say sorry to their supporters was Liverpool who, by a quirk of the fixture list, arrived at Elland Road for a Premier League fixture with the country in uproar. Supporters from both clubs protested outside the stadium and Leeds themselves voiced their opposition with a banner and t-shirts bearing a clear message.

“Football is for the fans - earn it on the pitch,” was the slogan worn by the Leeds squad in the warm-up and an offering of the same t-shirts to the visiting players was met with an angry response. Kinnear told the documentary, however, that the rest of the Premier League felt aggrieved by the actions of the ‘big six’.

“It wasn’t until the Sunday that the message started to be circulated and the first message I received was from Karen Brady at West Ham saying she had heard something was afoot,” said Kinnear.

“There was a feeling of personal betrayal. These are people we work alongside day in, day out and we are ultimately shareholders of the Premier League. If it had been in any other business, it would have been an act of industrial espionage. It was creating a cartel. It was having negotiations in a clandestine fashion and that was something that the world of football found unpalatable.

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“I think people viewed this as an attack on the game, an attack on our supporters and an attack on their hopes and dreams. It struck at the very essence of why our game is special and why a football pyramid is special.”

SIMPLE GESTURE - Leeds United's Kalvin Phillips sporting the t-shirt the club aimed at Liverpool and the 'big six' over the European Super League plans. Pic: GettySIMPLE GESTURE - Leeds United's Kalvin Phillips sporting the t-shirt the club aimed at Liverpool and the 'big six' over the European Super League plans. Pic: Getty
SIMPLE GESTURE - Leeds United's Kalvin Phillips sporting the t-shirt the club aimed at Liverpool and the 'big six' over the European Super League plans. Pic: Getty

Leeds felt the ESL, for them, would have held disastrous consequences and wanted to make that point to the Reds and their fellow ‘big-six’ outfits.

“Our responsibility is bigger than football,” said Kinnear.

“We have the hopes and dreams of a whole city resting on our shoulders. It is about delivering something for the people of Leeds that gives them their sense of identity. The way I view the Super League is that it would have been catastrophic for Leeds United, particularly because we’d worked so hard to get ourselves back to having a seat at the top table of domestic football and that is why the Liverpool match was so relevant. In the Super League, Liverpool would have had to not worry about qualification for Europe, which is something that drives all of us.

"And it would have been compounded by the fact that the money that they made from that would have meant that they would have just been able to outgun us to such a significant degree that there would never probably be a competitive match between Liverpool and Leeds united again.”

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Kinnear believes the ESL, had it got off the ground, would have also dealt a blow to the hopes and aspirations of players at clubs like Leeds United. He said: “This is as much about players’ dreams as it is about fans’ dreams.

“Our captain, when he was playing in the Championship, Liam Cooper, was known as ‘League One Liam’ because nobody thought he was good enough to play in the Championship. A year and a half later, he’s captained a team who have won the Championship by 10 points and [was] playing in the top half of the Premier League. Their dreams are tied to this issue as much as anybody else’s. This actually struck at the heart of why they play the game.”

As Kinnear pointed out, Leeds came back from a goal down to level late on against Liverpool through Diego Llorente and deny the Reds a move up into the top four.

“To come back in the 87th minute with an equaliser and to stop Liverpool getting in the top four just demonstrated why we needed to protect what was special about that match,” he added.