Deceit, treachery, leaks and betrayal laid bare in the Apple TV+ series

There’s a scene in the wickedly funny spy series Slow Horses in which the head of MI5’s Regent’s Park headquarters Diana Taverner discusses with her slippery agent James “Spider” Webb working on an operation with operatives at Slough House, run by Jackson Lamb.

“Are you sure we want Lamb in on this?” Spider asks.

“You should’ve thought about that about that before you started pouching his staff,” Taverner replies.

“Can we trust him?”

“Of course not. But then I don’t trust you. And you definitely shouldn’t trust me.”

This fictitious backstabbing and double-crossing in the British secret service is eerily similar to the real-life world of football at the top level, laid bare in a new documentary, Super League: The War for Footballwhich launches on Friday on Apple TV+ (incidentally the same streaming platform as Slow Horses).

The documentary’s creators have interviewed many of the main protagonists involved in four of the most dramatic days in football’s history.

On the one side is Aleksander Ceferin, the Uefa president who stood on the precipice of being the president who lost control of football or the hero who successfully fought it off. He’s alongside Javier Tebas, the president of La Liga.

On the other side are the key rebels: the presidents of Real Madrid, Barcelona and Juventus, who drove the Super League plans and make clear that they intend to fight on.

Over four hours and four episodes, their contempt for one another is clear, but the fact that this is merely the reality of what goes on when the egos clash at the top of the game is even clearer.

The greatest betrayal of it all was Andrea Agnelli’s of Ceferin. Agnelli, born into one of the wealthiest families in Italy, resigned as president of Juventus last November with the club under investigation for alleged false accounting and market manipulation. But prior to that he was involved in one of football’s greatest acts of deceit.

It’s clear how much it hurt the Uefa president, who became such close friends with the Italian that he was named godfather of Agnelli’s daughter. The pair had worked closely to reshape the Champions League, only for Agnelli to plot against him.

The documentary tells the story in excruciating detail. Ceferin was at a service station during an eight-hour drive from Ljubljana, Slovenia, to Switzerland for Uefa Congress when he was told on the phone that the Super League was happening.

He called Agnelli, who insisted it wasn’t true, and they agreed to publish a press release stating so. The communications team at UEFA drafted a release. Only then Agnelli stopped answering his phone about him. Ceferin eventually reached him via Agnelli’s wife, and Agnelli said he would make changes to the release before sending it back to him.

Then Agnelli turned off his phone. “I realized it was a betrayal,” Ceferin says.

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Betrayal, disloyalty, leaks, power plays drip through the documentary. “I never trust anyone in football,” Tebas says.

In the week before the Super League plans were revealed, Tebas had lunch with Joan Laporta, Barcelona’s president.

Laporta tried to convince him to back the Super League project, but Tebas, a firecracker of a man, refused, and phoned Ceferin straight afterwards, telling him: “These are inside guys trying to destroy us from within! It’s a coup d’état!” But Ceferin believed and trusted Agnelli until the very end. As did others.

Agnelli had been chairman of the European Club Association – the body representing football’s biggest clubs – at the time. While the rumors bubbled, Charlie Marshall, ECA chief executive, hastily called a video meeting of all members to discuss it. They knew the ones who didn’t show up on the call – including the “Big Six” Premier League clubs – were in.

“People that you worked with and people you had trust in, there is a clear and present betrayal that comes through,” Marshall says.

When the Super League published a press release in the middle of the night – “like vampires,” Ceferin says – and it became official, all hell broke loose.

Ceferin describes it as “the worst moment of my life. It was complete chaos for 48 hours.”

Uefa quickly won the support of Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain, the two leading clubs in Germany and France who the Super League were desperate to poach. “There was distrust all over the place,” Bayern Munich’s director of legal affairs, Michael Gerlinger, says.

The slippery role of Fifa president Gianni Infantino is also alluded to. Infantino eventually backed Uefa in a speech at Uefa Congress that helped bring the Super League down.

After UK prime minister Boris Johnson threatened to change the country’s laws to kick the Big Six out of English football, English fans rose up in angry protest at football grounds around the country.

Chelsea and Manchester City pulled out first followed by Spurs, Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United. (Representatives from the Big Six clubs are conspicuously absent from the documentary.)

But it’s alleged Infantino was previously plotting with the Super League rebels to help get his expanded Fifa Club World Cup idea off the ground. “The clubs asked for an exchange of support,” Tebas claims. “’You support us with the Super League, and we will play in your Club World Cup.’ Killing the Champions League. And we all knew that Infantino wanted to kill Ceferin, politically speaking.”

It’s exhausting trying to keep up with which back is being stabbed at any one time.

Super League: The War for Football is available to watch on Apple TV+ from Friday 13 January

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