Kevin Naiqama was "overcome with emotion" after his two tries led St Helens to a 12-10 win over Catalans Dragons at Old Trafford, their third straight Super League Grand Final success.

Saints' 2020 triumph had come in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic in front of empty stands, but they had their fans back to celebrate the three-peat.

It was a far less dramatic victory than that last-gasp defeat of Wigan Warriors, however, even if the game swung back and forth, bookended by Naiqama's tries.

His first effort came as he fought through two challenges on the try line to touch the ball down.

But Catalans were just two points behind at the break and made the most of Tommy Makinson's yellow card – the first in Grand Final history – as Mike McMeeken grounded the ball after Josh Drinkwater's kick hung in the air and eventually dropped his way.

A more precise kick at the other end provided the final twist, though, with Jonny Lomax's no-look effort bobbling into the arms of Naiqama. Lachlan Coote made no mistake with the decisive extras.

Catalans had clinched their Leaders' Shield against Saints in astonishing fashion last month, trailing by 18 points with four minutes to play at Magic Weekend and winning.

Yet there was no repeat of those St James' Park heroics, as Dragons failed to mount another attack in the closing minutes.

"I'm overcome with emotion," Naiqama told Sky Sports. "I love this team and I love this town."

Real Madrid president Florentino Perez has been accused by LaLiga chief Javier Tebas of "psychologically kidnapping" Barcelona in recent years.

Tebas has previously criticised Barcelona for supporting a proposed Super League, which failed to get off the ground as a backlash quickly led to the withdrawal of nine of the 12 founding members.

The 59-year-old also more recently hit out at Barca and Madrid for rejecting a €2.7billion arrangement with CVC Capital Partners, a deal that he argued would have allowed the Catalan giants to keep hold of Lionel Messi.

In the latest exchange between two of the most powerful men in Spanish football, Tebas has now claimed Perez swayed Barcelona counterpart Joan Laporta's decision to not accept the offer on the table.

"I have the feeling that at Barca there's a 'psychological kidnapping' regarding Florentino, like an inferiority complex," Tebas told Sport. 

"Florentino is a very intelligent guy and Jose Angel Sanchez, his director general, is the most empathetic man in European football. 

"All that glamour and know-how, up against someone (Laporta) who's been outside the world of football for more than 10 years.

"Barca were in favour of the CVC deal right until Real Madrid said no... In the last 72 hours everything changed. I think it was very much connected to the Super League and the strategy that Real Madrid are following."

Years of financial mismanagement caught up with Barcelona last month when they were unable to offer a new contract to Messi due to LaLiga's financial restrictions.

However, Tebas has reiterated that Barca could well have kept hold of Messi – who has since joined Paris Saint-Germain as a free agent – had they signed up to the CVC investment.

"Yes, it could have been avoided," he said. "I spoke about it with Laporta personally... I think next season with the figures Barca put out, we'll see if Messi could really have stayed or not.

"It wasn't a financial decision. I know that for sure. If Laporta shook hands with Messi, it was because for a month he had accepted the CVC offer. 

"He was in favour for a month. That's why he said things were going well. He even called me twice to speed up the CVC operation, because Messi was getting nervous."

Losing six-time Ballon d'Or winner Messi to Ligue 1 giants PSG is a major blow for LaLiga, even more so than the previous high-profile exits of other big name players and coaches in the view of Tebas.

"Just like when Cristiano Ronaldo, Pep Guardiola or Jose Mourinho left. We knew that one day this would happen," he said.

"We have had the great luck of having the two best footballers in the world in the two best teams in the world and from LaLiga we have been able to take advantage of this to put ourselves on the world front line. 

"Perhaps Messi's departure has been a bit more painful, because personally I consider him the best in history, and he didn't deserve to leave like that, not only for Barça but for LaLiga as well."

UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin would not mind if Juventus, Real Madrid and Barcelona quit the Champions League after the trio "tried to kill football".

Juve, Madrid and Barca were three of 12 clubs announced as founding members of the Super League in April, along with Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham, Milan, Inter and Atletico Madrid.

However, the contentious project failed to get off the ground as a backlash quickly led to the withdrawal of all six English teams involved, followed by Atleti, Milan and Inter.

All 12 founding Super League members quit the European Club Association (ECA) before the competition collapsed, but nine of the rebel clubs have since been welcomed back.

Madrid and financially stricken LaLiga rivals Barca retain a commitment to the ill-fated collaboration, as do Serie A giants Juve, yet each of those teams will compete in the Champions League when the group stage begins next week.

Taking aim at the presidents of the three breakaway clubs, Andrea Agnelli, Florentino Perez and Joan Laporta, Ceferin told Der Spiegel: "These three clubs simply have incompetent leaders. Those guys have tried to kill football.

"I would not mind if those teams left. It is very funny that they want to create a new competition and at the same time they want to play in the Champions League this season."

Speaking in April, Super League president Perez argued the competition would be the saviour of football as clubs struggled to adjust to the financial problems brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.

Just four months on, though, Madrid tabled three offers for Kylian Mbappe, who is into the final year of his Paris Saint-Germain contract, with the third of the rejected bids reportedly worth up to €200million.

"He is criticising UEFA and saying that the club can only survive with a Super League, then he tries to sign Mbappe," Ceferin said of Perez.

Nine of the rebel clubs that signed up for the doomed Super League project have been welcomed back into the European Club Association (ECA).

Six Premier League teams – Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea, Tottenham and Arsenal – are back in the independent body that oversees the European club game, along with LaLiga champions Atletico Madrid and Serie A rivals Milan and Inter.

That amounts to three quarters of the initial breakaway dozen, with the financially stricken Barcelona retaining a commitment to the ill-fated collaboration along with Real Madrid and Juventus.

All 12 founding Super League clubs quit the ECA in April before the quick collapse of the new competition amid supporter protests and opposition from governing bodies.

"Following the receipt by ECA of specific requests asking the ECA Board to consider the withdrawal of their previous resignation requests of April 2021, the ECA Executive Board has agreed that the following clubs will retain their ECA ordinary membership for the current 2019-23 ECA membership cycle: AC Milan, Arsenal FC, Chelsea FC, Club Atletico de Madrid, FC Internazionale Milano, Liverpool FC, Manchester City FC, Manchester United FC and Tottenham Hotspur FC," an ECA statement read.

"In its decision, and after an exhaustive process of re-engagement by the clubs and re-assessment by ECA over recent months, the ECA Executive Board took into consideration the clubs’ acknowledgement that the so-called European Super League project was not in the interests of the wider football community and their publicly communicated decisions to abandon said ESL project completely.

"The ECA Board also acknowledged the clubs’ stated willingness to engage actively with ECA in its collective mission to develop European club football – in the open and transparent interests of all, not the few."

The nine teams re-admitted to the ECA, which is now chaired by Paris Saint-Germain chairman Nasser Al-Khelaifi, previously reached a financial settlement with UEFA, amounting to a combined payment of €15million and five per cent of revenues from one season of European competitions.

Additionally the clubs agreed to be fined €100m if they attempt to play in any future unauthorised competition.

Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer insisted his team will not be impacted by protests against the club's owners and the European Super League ahead of a defining week at Old Trafford.

Solskjaer's Red Devils were held to a 0-0 draw by rivals Leeds United in Premier League action at Elland Road on Sunday.

The pre-match build-up had been centred on the Super League controversy, which has fuelled an already negative view on Manchester United's owners – the Glazer family.

The breakaway competition, which sought to establish a closed-shop competition featuring 12 of the continent's elite clubs – including United – collapsed 48 hours after its launch, in the face of widespread opposition.

United fans have continued to protest against the Glazer family, with a plane trailing a banner – "2bn stolen – Glazers out' – flying over Elland Road prior to kick-off on Sunday.

As United look ahead to Thursday's opening leg of their Europa League semi-final against Roma, followed by a showdown against bitter rivals Liverpool on Sunday, Solskjaer was asked if the protests would distract the players for the remainder of the season.

"I'm really happy with the boys' focus. They have such a determination to finish the season strong," Solskjaer told reporters as United sit second in the Premier League, 10 points behind leaders Manchester City and 13 points clear of sixth-placed Liverpool.

"Of course, the European disappointment of the last game of last season [against Sevilla in the Europa League], that still sticks in their minds and hearts.

"We're very, very focused to do well against Roma [UEL semi-final] and, of course, we've got Liverpool in between so we're not worried about [the protests] at all."

United are unbeaten in their last 24 Premier League away games (W15 D9), with only Arsenal between April 2003 and September 2004 (27) having a longer such run in English top-flight history.

"It's a really good achievement, no matter if there's fans or no fans," Solskjaer said. "With the 24 game [streak] without defeat, I think the players have prepared well for these games. We travel, the work by the coaches for every game is really, really good and planned down to a tee.

"I've got to say, we hope it continues because we've got a lot of big games coming up. We want to take as many points as possible."

United are on track to finish second this season, with the Red Devils eight points clear of Leicester City – who have a match in hand.

However, United's wait for Premier League glory is set to continue, having not hoisted the trophy aloft since 2012-13.

"We've taken baby steps in the way we play, in the way we train, in the fitness," added Solskjaer. "The coaches, the work that has been done on the training ground has been planned. We have been able to put down layer by layer by layer, as I said, and now we feel confident going into every game, trusting our way of playing.

"That's a big thing for us, knowing that whoever we play against, we have our own way of dealing with the opponent. Of course, there's little tweaks here and there but with an addition or two, we'll keep on strengthening this squad and keep on training hard.

"I've not seen many teams, in the second half, dominate as much as we did against Leeds. They're so fit, strong, they steam roller teams but we almost did that to them in the second half."

United have drawn seven league games nil-nil this season – only in 1980-81 (eight) have they been involved in more goalless draws in a single league campaign. The Red Devils have the most goalless draws of any side in the Premier League this term.

"Compared to last season, we've won a few more tight games," said Solskjaer. "We've won many games towards the end of the game, I think our fitness has been really good. Second half, we looked strong, like athletes. I really liked what I saw out there. We dominated, played in their half, kept them away from our goal, or even from our half really.

"So really happy with that but today we just didn't have the moments, we didn't take them when we had them. A draw is disappointing because we wanted to put pressure on Manchester City, but unfortunately we couldn't score."

Florentino Perez remains adamant the European Super League must go ahead as "football is severely damaged", with the Real Madrid president suggesting the possibility of the top-four teams from each country featuring in the breakaway competition.

Plans for a Super League to rival UEFA's Champions League were announced on Sunday, with 12 founding members – Madrid, Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester City, Arsenal, Tottenham, Juventus, Inter and Milan.

But after widespread criticism from UEFA, FIFA, clubs, governments, fans and pundits, all six Premier League clubs pulled out, while Atletico, Inter, Milan and Juve followed suit.

Perez – who had been appointed as chairman of the competition – has continued to stress the need for the Super League and he flagged the idea of moving away from an exclusive group of clubs.

"These things get manipulated," Perez told Diario AS, with the full interview to be published on Saturday. "It is not a plan which excludes club and nor is it designed to go against other leagues.

"The Super League project is the best possible solution, and it has been created to help football get out of the crisis. Football is severely damaged because its economy has been ruined and it has to adapt to the new era we are living in. The Super League does not go against domestic competitions and its objective is to ensure that more money is available for all sections of football. The concept is to generate more interest for the games. Nor do I think that the changes which UEFA have made are a real solution to the problem because what has been proposed isn't even an improvement on the current model.

"Also, we cannot wait until 2024. But in any case, we must have done something badly. We are going to try to turn this around and develop more ideas. Maybe the solution is for the top four teams in every league to play. I don't know, but something needs to be done because today's youth, those between 14 and 24 years of age, are abandoning football because they see it as being boring compared to the other forms of entertainment which they prefer.

"There are four billion football fans all over the world and half of them are fans of the clubs in the Super League. Football is the only global sport."

Perez added: "Lets look at the data: a recent report by KPMG - in the first three months of the pandemic alone last season, the 12 clubs in the Super League reported losses of 650 million euros.

"By the end of this season, with the pandemic still ongoing, the losses will be between 2,000 and 2,500 million euros. Girondins [Bordeaux] have recently gone into administration. Either we do something soon or many more clubs will go under."

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer insists he was never a fan of the proposed European Super League and is glad fan pressure has ended Manchester United's involvement in the project.

The breakaway competition, which sought to establish a closed-shop competition featuring 12 of the continent's elite clubs, collapsed this week 48 hours after its launch, in the face of widespread opposition.

Solskjaer had been guarded when asked about the competition on Sunday, the news having only emerged as United were defeating Burnley 3-1 in the Premier League.

All six English clubs have since ended their involvement and Solskjaer joined the likes of Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola in stating his opposition to the project.

Solskjaer feels the concept of teams being guaranteed entry goes against what football and United stand for.

"First of all, I'm very happy the fans have voiced their opinion and that we've listened to them," Solskjaer said ahead of Sunday's trip to play rivals Leeds United.
 
"In a strange sort of way, it's brought the football pyramid and community together. I think that's important, and I'm very happy.

"I'm a supporter myself, and there'll be a day when I come back and watch Man United and I want to watch a Man United team with a fear of failure.

"I didn't like the concept anyway, it has to be on sporting merit, I want to earn the right to play in Europe.

"We know we've been pioneers and we've been in Europe for many, many years, with the Busby Babes, we want to be part of a successful European campaign again."

The Champions League winner continued: "One of my best nights was something we worked really hard towards.

"To get to that, that fear of failure, you can't be given it because your name is such and such, you have to earn the right to be there. 

"And I've always felt and believed in stepping out of your comfort zone, being afraid of failure. That spurs you on, living on the edge a little bit, and that wasn't part of this.

"For me, I'm very happy all of the clubs that have admitted their mistake.

"This was a bad idea and the way it came out as well - it has been a difficult year and then just when we're talking about getting fans back into the stadium, we get this.

"We were looking forward to getting fans back in the stadium the last two games of the season and then weren't able to look forward to it.

"But the fans - we have a banner at Old Trafford that 'football is nothing without fans' and we've felt that for a year. 

"The preparation for the Leeds game was a little bit different, but then again that's part of being in this industry and this club. 

"Man United is the biggest club in the world, we want to be part of European football. I am so happy all the owners have agreed it was a mistake.

"I have always had good working relationship with the club and the owners. We speak and they listen to my opinions."

In the aftermath of the club's withdrawal, United executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward announced he would step down from his post.

Co-chairman Joel Glazer, meanwhile, apologised to fans in an open letter – the family's first direct communication to supporters in 16 years.

Nevertheless, a fresh round of anger directed towards the American family has shown no sign of abating, with United great Gary Neville demanding they sell up.

A group of supporters gained access to the club's training ground to stage a protest on Thursday, with manager Solskjaer acting as a mediator.

The United boss was asked about Woodward and the Carrington protest.

Solskjaer added: "Football is emotions. I have had a very, very good working relationship with Ed but we have to move on without him.

"I will work as long as United want me here and hopefully we can end the season successfully. Ed would be part of that.

"I will always listen to the fans and I thought it was the right thing to do to listen to them and have a nice discussion with them. A peaceful discussion.

"It was a good 10 minutes and I was happy with that of course. We didn't shake hands, we gave a fist bump and then we parted. Football without the fans is nothing.

"We have to listen to them. We have all been voicing our opinions this week. That is part of my job to speak to them, showing them that we want to be a better team."

Prominent opponents of the Glazer family's ownership of Manchester United have issued a list of reform demands after the club's part in the ill-fated European Super League.

The breakaway competition, which sought to establish a closed-shop competition featuring 12 of Europe's elite clubs, collapsed this week 48 hours after its launch, in the face of widespread opposition.

United executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward announced he would step down from his post amid escalating and dramatic events on Tuesday and co-chairman Joel Glazer apologised to fans in an open letter – the family's first direct communication to supporters in 16 years.

Nevertheless, a fresh round of anger directed towards the American family has shown no sign of abating, with United great Gary Neville demanding they sell up and a group of supporters gaining access to the club's training ground to stage a protest on Thursday – manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer acting as a mediator.

Tapping into this and wider calls for fans to be granted a greater voice in the aftermath of the Super League fiasco, Lord Jim O'Neill and Paul Marshall – the architects of the Red Knights campaign that sought to unseat the Glazers in 2010 – have issued a letter calling for United's owners to reduce their stake in the club to a maximum of 49.9 per cent from the current 75 per cent, undertaken at a discount to the current trading price.

They also want United to scrap their dual-class share structure and introduce a single class of voting stock to "encourage a broader group of investors to consider ownership in the club in the future if they have the same voting rights as everyone else, especially you and your siblings".

The Bundesliga's 50+1 ownership model, which guards against commercial investors having a majority of voting rights, has been held up by some in England as something to aspire towards in any resulting reforms of football governance.

O'Neill and Marshall have requested the Glazers apply this principle on a new supervisory board, which would oversee changes in ticket prices and any future proposals to join a new league or competition.

"On Thursday of this week, you issued an open letter to Manchester United supporters in response to the outrage at the club's involvement in a proposed new European Super League," the letter read. "We note that it was the collapse of the idea that prompted your letter, rather than the wisdom of your decision to join. You admitted that 'we got it wrong' and went on to say 'we want to put things right'.

"In many ways, this episode is the culmination of your 16 years ownership of the club and is perhaps the strongest example of how you seem to have been persistently out of touch with the culture, spirit, indeed, very purpose of Manchester United."

They added: "In your letter, you talk about rebuilding trust with the supporters, which presumes there was trust in existence before the events of last week. As you know, others might question whether that trust was ever present. If your stated desire to rebuild trust is sincere, these proposals are the minimum steps you should choose to make."

Manchester City "lost sight of the historic values of the club" when they signed up to the doomed European Super League, according to chief executive Ferran Soriano.

City were one of 12 clubs to send shockwaves through football by being confirmed as founding members of the doomed breakaway on Sunday.

Widespread criticism from within football – including pointed remarks from City manager Pep Guardiola – and beyond prompted a rethink from those involved, with the Premier League leaders the first of the English top flight's 'big six' to formally confirm their U-turn amid a string of dramatic developments on Tuesday.

A one-paragraph, 25-word statement on the club website did little to placate fan anger, something Soriano has sought to address in an email to club members.

"I am sorry it has taken a little time, but the circumstances have been somewhat exceptional and it was important to me to contact you directly," Soriano wrote in a statement that began "Dear Supporter".

"As always, when we make choices and decisions, we do so with the best interests of the club in mind and we believed that being part of such an initiative could give us a voice that might be imperative to our future ability to succeed and grow."

At his news conference to preview Wednesday's Premier League match at Aston Villa, Guardiola criticised the closed-shop element of the planned Super League, remarking that a competition without the link between effort and success is "not sport" – something Soriano claimed he and his colleagues in the boardroom "failed to remind ourselves of".

"In making that choice we failed to remind ourselves of the unbreakable link between the passion of our fans and the right to have the opportunity to earn success," he continued.

"It is a truth that is fundamental to the DNA of Manchester City and the board deeply regrets taking a decision that lost sight of the historic values of the club. We made a mistake and we sincerely apologise to our fans for the disappointment, frustration and anguish caused by the last 72 hours.  

"I want to personally assure you that the owners, chairman, board and staff are completely committed to ensuring that the club continues to contribute meaningfully to the ongoing well-being of both the English and European football pyramids and their associated competitions. 

"We will embrace the opportunity to earn back the full trust of our stakeholders and the football family in general."

Manchester United executive chairman Ed Woodward announced his intention to step down at the end of 2021 as the Super League collapse unfolded.

Soriano has joined Liverpool owner John Henry, who posted a video message via his club's Twitter page, in addressing a mea culpa directly to supporters.

Joel Glazer, United's co-chair, signed a message to fans on their official website – the first direct communication with fans from the club's owning family since 2005.

Manchester City's involvement in the swiftly aborted European Super League means their ex-chairman David Bernstein does not think they deserve to win the Champions League this season.

Pep Guardiola's side continue their bid for elusive European glory when they face Paris Saint-Germain in a mouth-watering semi-final next week, although the prospects of the fixture even taking place appeared to be in jeopardy after City were one of 12 teams announced for the controversial breakaway Super League three days ago.

A concerted backlash throughout and beyond football led to the Premier League leaders becoming the first team to officially withdraw from the project on Tuesday, with the other five England clubs involved following suit.

Former FA chairman Bernstein, who helmed City as they rebuilt from relegation to the third tier of English football at the end of the last century, is a lifelong supporter of the club, but feels let down and surprised by their actions.

PSG are the only team remaining in this season's Champions League who were not one of the Super League 12 and, when asked by Stats Perform News whether UEFA might prefer the Ligue 1 giants to prevail, Bernstein replied: "Listen at the moment I may be wishing myself PSG win it, I am so upset with City. They don't deserve to win it this year, given what's has happened."

The well-documented financial struggles of the likes of Real Madrid and Barcelona were a key factor in them and others pursuing the money-spinning tournament, although Berntein pointed out that is not an excuse City and their Abu Dhabi ownership can so readily grasp.

"I'm extremely disappointed and embarrassed and a little surprised," he said. "They're good owners, the people at City, I think. They don't need the money, frankly.

"One or two other clubs do need the money. There is one club in particular, who will remain nameless, who've got above about billion pound of debt and must be pretty desperate with COVID and everything else that has caused income to go down."

Last year, partially in response to the challenges of the pandemic, Bernstein was part of an eight-person group also including Gary Neville and Great Manchester mayor Andy Burnham, that put forward a "Manifesto for Change", which called for a new regulatory body independent of English football's existing structure.

He believes the Super League episode underlines the need for football to make drastic change at a moment when, for now, disaster has been averted.

"Why are some of these clubs like Barcelona and Real Madrid, with all their wealth and income, in such financial difficulty? Because they're paying massive wages in spite of COVID, in spite of income having been reduced for all the reasons we know.

"Why hasn't there been some wage sacrifice? Why haven't wages been controlled? In any other industry, one would have to cut expenditure to match income.

"[The Super League being stopped] is highly significant. Everyone pays lip service to this but football clubs are more than straightforward businesses. They are incredibly important in their communities. Fans have to be treated with respect and not exploited.

"Clubs always go on about not exploiting fans but, actually, in many cases they do – in terms of the size of ticket prices, the cost of merchandise and so on."

Bernstein did reserve praise for City manager Guardiola, who decried the Super League plans as "not sport" at a news conference on Tuesday, in what was arguably a key moment as momentum built towards the eventual collapse.

"Pep is in a strong position, he is almost untouchable. It's very good that he did it, as Jurgen Klopp did as well," he added.

"They have contractual positions with their clubs and you have others who won't speak out, and I've got some sympathy when they are employees and livelihoods are at stake.

"For anyone who spoke out, good luck to them and it was good that Pep Guardiola did it."

Milan are "proud" to be part of Serie A but their chief executive Ivan Gazidis believes the European Super League will open up football to billions of fans.

The Rossoneri, along with Juventus and Inter, were among 12 teams included in Sunday's seismic Super League announcement.

Reaction has been sustained and vitriolic, with UEFA, FIFA and the Premier League among those to condemn the plans, alongside Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola – despite Liverpool and Manchester City also being on the initial roster.

Those involved have been accused of undermining their domestic competitions, by foregoing the challenge of qualifying for continental competitions in favour of a closed-shop arrangement.

Nevertheless, Gazidis sought to reaffirm his club's commitment to Italy's top flight in a letter to commercial partners and sponsors.

"Serie A will remain the most important weekend competition in Italy and Milan are proud to remain an important part of the pinnacle of Italian football," he said.

"We're confident that this new competition will capture the imagination of billions of football fans all over the world and will be a new, exciting chapter for the game.

"The Super League will provide value and support to the whole football pyramid with greater financial resources."

Milan are back in action at home to Sassuolo on Wednesday, with solidifying a spot in the top four the priority for head coach Stefano Pioli – irrespective of what that might now mean in the greater scheme of things.

“Milan have never finished top four in the last few years. It would be an important target for us that would prove our growth,” Pioli told a pre-match news conference.

“We have a target, and it's an important one. We are focused on this. We'll see what happens in the future. I repeat, this is not the right time to talk about the Super League."

UEFA's 55 member associations have strongly condemned plans for a breakaway European Super League, saying of the 12 clubs involved: "We are European football. They are not".

Reaction to the Super League, which was confirmed on Sunday following mounting speculation has been near-universal in its vitriol.

Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola are among those to have criticised the proposals of an effective close-shop competition with guaranteed membership for founding clubs, despite Liverpool and Manchester City being among the dozen involved.

UEFA president Aleksandr Ceferin criticised a "disgraceful, self-serving proposal" when he spoke to reporters on Monday and, at the federation's 45th Ordinary Congress in Montreux, Switzerland, all members rounded on the "conspirator clubs".

"The 55 member associations and participants in the UEFA Congress condemn the declaration of a so called 'Super League'," a statement read. "The UEFA Congress is adamant that the closed 'Super League' goes against the very concept of what it is to be European: unified, open, supportive, and principled on sporting values. 

"UEFA and its member associations believe in a truly European model that is founded on open competitions, solidarity and redistribution to ensure the sustainability and development of the game for the benefit of all and the promotion of European values and social outcomes.

"The conspirator clubs have obviously failed to see that their status today was not achieved in isolation, but rather was part of a dynamic European system where big, medium and small clubs have all contributed to the successes and losses of everyone. 

"It is an affront to European values and sporting merit for them to assume they are entitled to 'separate' and lay claim to the legacy that everyone built.

"UEFA, its member associations and all those who love football stand firm and will strongly resist and fight against this move by these clubs' owners and their backers to the fullest extent possible. 

"We know, morally, what is at stake and will protect football from a selfish clan who care nothing for the game. We are European football. They are not."

The 14 Premier League clubs not invited to the Super League have "unanimously and vigorously" voted against the proposals and England's top flight is considering "all actions available" against Liverpool, City, Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham.

Elsewhere at the UEFA Congress, Nasser Al-Khelaifi and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge were ratified as representatives of the European Club Association after Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern Munich did not feature in the initial Super League rollout.

Former Manchester United chairman David Gill has been re-elected to the UEFA Executive Committee, where LaLiga president Javier Tebas will be the representative of the European leagues.

Florentino Perez insists the primary aim of the European Super League is to "save football" after the breakaway competition came in for relentless and vitriolic criticism in the 24 hours after it was announced.

The Super League launched its competition website late on Sunday after a day of speculation, with Perez named as chairman of the new competition.

Madrid, fellow LaLiga giants Barcelona and Atletico Madrid, the Premier League's 'big six' – Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester City, Tottenham and Arsenal – and Juventus, Milan and Inter are all on board, with founding members set to benefit from an initial windfall of €3.5billion.

Nevertheless, Perez told El Chiringuito TV that he felt there were higher ideals at play than mere greed.

"The biggest clubs in England, Italy and Spain have found a solution to the very difficult situation that football is experiencing," he said.

"Real Madrid in just two season have lost €400m and that's just Real Madrid. When you only have income from television, you understand the solution is to create games that are more competitive and more attractive and that can be seen around the world.

"We decided, in midweek, instead of the Champions League we could have a Super League with more matches.

"Football has to evolve. It is losing interest. We have to think why 16-24 year olds are losing interest. There are bad quality matches and other platforms for entertainment.

"We have to make it more attractive. It is not something for the rich. We do this to save football."

Perez rejected the criticism that the league was creating a closed shop, due to the intention to allow five teams to enter on "sporting merit" and bring the total number of competitors up to 20, alongside 15 founding clubs.

He also has no concerns over Madrid, their opponents Chelsea and fellow semi-finalists City being expelled from this season's Champions League, nor UEFA and FIFA banning Super League players from taking place in international tournaments.

"Every player can be calm because that's not going to happen," he said.

"Real Madrid will not be kicked out of the Champions League. Nor City, nor anyone else.

"It's not going to happen. I don’t want to get into the legal reasons but it's not going to happen. Legally it's impossible."

Despite the historical animosity between Madrid and Barcelona, Perez said it was easy to convince recently elected Camp Nou president Joan Laporta to take part in the project.

He added: "Games between the big clubs are the most attractive, they generate the most money. I don't think the smaller ones are more attractive.

"There are national competitions people don't even know the name of. Football as it is cannot continue."

Israel Folau is no longer wanted by St George Illawarra Dragons after the NRL club confirmed it had ceased discussions to sign the former Australia international.

Folau, whose Rugby Australia contract was terminated in 2019 for a "high-level breach" after the 31-year-old posted hell awaits "drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolaters" on Instagram, plies his trade with Super League outfit Catalans Dragons.

But St George Illawarra had been looking to lure him back to his home country, with the club having approached the NRL over the matter.

However, a brief statement released by the club on Wednesday revealed the chase was now at an end.

"While the Dragons did enquire about signing Folau, the club can confirm that such discussions have now ceased," it read.

Folau's move to Catalans in January last year prompted widespread criticism, with head coach Steve McNamara confessing: "We knew it would be controversial."

 

Former Leeds Rhinos captain Stevie Ward has retired from rugby league at just 27 due to the effects of concussions.

The forward, twice a Grand Final winner and a three-time Super League champion overall, sustained head injuries in January and February last year.

Ward says he still suffers daily symptoms and that the concussions "completely derailed plans and my ambitions".

He told Sky Sports News that he has suffered "one of the hardest years I've ever experienced".

Ward said: "[I have experienced] symptoms like migraines every day, balance and dizziness issues, sensitivity to light, screens and slurring my speech sometimes."

In a statement confirming his retirement, Ward said: "I have come to the conclusion, after over 11 months of severe symptoms, that I need to give this injury the respect and time it deserves and cannot put my health and brain to any further risk and detriment.

"I love the game of rugby league. I am immensely proud to have competed on some of the biggest stages next to childhood heroes and test myself to the absolute limit while feeling the incredible buzz from the Leeds fans after being one myself as a youngster.

"I thank every player that I have played with and against, and I am especially grateful for the incredible friendships the sport has given me.

"It is fair to say that my career has been only partly what I envisioned as a young fan stood in the South Stand, but I can honestly say it has surpassed my expectations in terms of how it has shaped me to become the person I am."

Discussions over the long-term effects of head injuries in rugby and football have risen to the fore again in recent weeks.

Temporary substitutions for head injuries are being trialled in some football competitions, including the FA Cup and Premier League. In rugby union, former World Cup winner Steve Thompson, who has early onset dementia and cannot recall winning the global trophy in 2003, is one of eight players reportedly planning to take legal action against World Rugby, the Rugby Football Union and the Welsh Rugby Union.

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