Andrea Agnelli: Juventus chief became football's No.1 enemy with European Super League gamble
He is the villain who knived UEFA in the back but failed to get the job done.
He is the Juventus president branded a “snake” by Aleksander Ceferin, of whom the UEFA president declared “his greediness is so strong that all the human values evaporate." And that’s despite Ceferin being Godfather to his daughter.
Andrea Agnelli turned off his phone and hid from calls by long-time confidantes this weekend as he worked on taking the Super League public.
Once the biggest bombshell seen in football for some time had been dropped, he resigned from his position as chairman of the European Club Association and as a member of UEFA’s executive committee.
Immediately, he was named as vice-chairman of the new European breakaway league and believed he was about to play a pivotal role in football’s future.
Instead, European football’s answer to Harvey Dent now needs to go crawling back.
Almost three years after betting over £400million that a 33-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo could turn Juventus into Champions League winners (he hasn’t), Agnelli gambled that history would look back on him as a pioneer and hoped that the widespread outrage at his conniving would be forgotten.
Instead, he has been made to look like a footballing Icarus - and that’s being kind.
“I wanted to talk to Agnelli, but I couldn’t get him on the phone,” admitted Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, Bayern Munich CEO, on Monday.
“I don’t know his motives, and I don’t want to criticise him without knowing them. Perhaps there is a reason that I do not know.”
The Bayern chief, who has usurped Agnelli at UEFA’s top table in the light of the last few days’ events, is being kind. He knows full well Agnelli’s motives: Greed.
Agnelli is the man who, in recent years, has pushed for the Champions League to be a closed shop.
The reason reforms were announced on Monday, with a couple of spots being held for large clubs who may have faltered domestically, is largely because of him.
Credit where it’s due, he made the inspired decision to make Antonio Conte manager over a decade ago, when Juve had seen Inter Milan win the Champions League under Jose Mourinho and were still finding their feet back in the Italian top flight after the Calciopoli scandal.
His first two appointments had been a bust. Conte was a masterstroke.
Since then, Juventus have dominated in Serie A, winning nine straight titles. After Conte’s ‘outwork everybody’ mantra left, Max Allegri’s smart man-management, allied to better players, took them forwards both domestically and in Europe, aided by smart signings courtesy of ex-transfer chief Beppe Marotta.
Twice they reached the Champions League final, only to be outclassed on either occasion by Barcelona and Real Madrid, but Allegri walked away after a fine five years in charge, his reputation stellar.
Unfortunately, Agnelli had been left with delusions of grandeur and an insatiable and unquenchable appetite to dominate the European landscape.
Three years ago Juve were one of the smartest buyers in Europe; but that ended with Marotta’s exit, forced out because, basically, Agnelli thought he could do it better.. Now they are just another fattened club spending over the odds more often than not, having to get creative with their accounts to not fall foul of Financial Fair Play.
And while they are spending more, those behind them have been catching up.
In the hours before his great deception was brought to widespread public knowledge on Sunday, Agnelli was hit with great irony; for the first time in two decades, his Bianconeri were beaten by Atalanta.
The Bergamo club are the very team who are the antithesis of what Agnelli wants inside Europe’s elite competitions.
The Super League claimed their move was about saving football. Florentino Perez pointed to the pandemic as a deciding factor.
Instead, it was about stopping competition, about stopping the likes of Gian Piero Gasperini’s swashbuckling side from being allowed to grow and challenge the almighty.
In March 2020, Agnelli, used his platform at the Financial Times Business of Football Summit to question whether a club like that from Bergamo deserved entry into Europe’s premier club competition.
“I have great respect for what Atalanta are doing, but without any international history, and with a great sporting performance, they had direct access to the Champions League,” said Agnelli.
“Then, think about Roma, who have contributed in recent years to maintaining Italy’s [UEFA coefficient] ranking, who had one bad season and are out, with all the consequences that brings on an economic level.
"We need to protect investments.”
It didn’t escape anyone’s attention that, while Juventus were at home for the latter stages in August, having been dumped out at the last 16 stage by Lyon, Atalanta came minutes from defeating Paris Saint-Germain in their quarter-final showdown.
Gasperini’s club are well coached and shrewdly run, within their financial limits.
Everything that Agnelli’s Juventus, now under Andrea Pirlo - pushed up to the first-team due to his name and little else - currently, are not.
On Wednesday, Agnelli was forced to admit the ESL could not go ahead, bizarrely blaming Brexit for the Premier League sides’ withdrawals, but remained unrepentant in his view that European football needs to change.
He also clearly still believes that he’s the right man to lead such a push - despite hindsight suggesting he was merely Florentino Perez’s puppet in the Real Madrid chairman’s masterplan.
“I’m not going to say how many clubs contacted me in just 24 hours asking if they could join,” said Agnelli declining to name them.
“Maybe they lied, but I was contacted by a number of teams asking what they could do to join.”
Maybe they lied? Who knows. Maybe after so much subterfuge he’s still lying now.
Agnelli is the scion of an Italian footballing dynasty. But Juventus fans have left him in no doubt of their unhappiness with his plotting, a banner at the Allianz Stadium on Wednesday night reading: “Our history must not be tarnished, bartered or commercialised. We are Juventus FC. No to the Super League... shame on you!”
And at what remains Europe’s top table he’s been branded a traitor, who now has no room to manoeuvre.
"He’s probably the biggest disappointment of all,” Ceferin said.
“I don’t want to be too personal, but the fact is I’ve never seen a person who would lie so many times, so persistently, that he did. It was unbelievable.”
Agnelli let his mask slip. And while Ceferin will welcome back the 12-club rebel alliance that he still needs, his former friend will be left firmly on the outside looking in.
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