Boris Johnson met with Manchester United chief Ed Woodward in Downing Street days before European Super League launch

Exclusive: Labour demands minutes of meeting after PM denounced plan for breakaway competition

Miguel Delaney,Andrew Woodcock
Thursday 22 April 2021 21:59 BST
Boris Johnson and Ed Woodward met at Downing Street
Boris Johnson and Ed Woodward met at Downing Street (AFP/Getty)

Boris Johnson met with Ed Woodward, executive vice-chairman of Manchester United, in Downing Street days before the launch of the ill-fated European Super League, The Independent can reveal.

Mr Woodward – who announced his resignation after the planned breakaway competition collapsed amid fury from fans, politicians and football administrators – held a formal meeting with the No 10 chief of staff, Dan Rosenfield, on Wednesday last week.

Sources at Manchester United said that Mr Woodward’s talks with Mr Rosenfield were “around Covid restrictions and the return of fans to stadiums”.

Following the meeting, Mr Woodward was introduced to the prime minister, Manchester United sources confirmed.

A Downing Street spokesperson refused to comment on the breakfast meeting, but a senior source insisted there was “definitely no discussion of the Super League”.

The source said Mr Johnson was not in the meeting between Mr Rosenfield and Mr Woodward, but said they could not rule out that they may have met each other elsewhere in the building.

Jo Stevens, shadow secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport, said: “The prime minister and his ministers made very public and vocal condemnation of the European Super League. The public would therefore expect the same message to have been delivered in any private meetings.

“Downing Street should release the minutes in order to clear up any confusion and avoid accusations of hypocrisy.”

Four days after Mr Woodward’s visit, on 18 April, United shocked the world of football with the late-night announcement that, along with Manchester City, Arsenal, Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur, they planned to join a new tournament reserved for the elite of European football.

In a direct challenge to Uefa’s Champions League, the ESL would see the six English clubs and three each from Spain and Italy compete in a lucrative format from which founder members could not be relegated.

As fans, football authorities and ex-players erupted in anger over the proposal, Mr Johnson was quick to denounce the ESL in a tweet as “very damaging for football”, saying it would “strike at the heart of the domestic game”.

And he later blasted the club executives and financiers behind the scheme as a “cartel”, promising a “legislative bomb” to ensure that the plans did not go ahead.

The culture secretary, Oliver Dowden, brought forward a planned fan-driven review of football’s governance, which will look at proposals for German-style reforms to give supporters more say over their club’s future.

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