‘A snake’: Agnelli’s cut-throat soccer politics cause uproar

ROME (AP) — If the stylish and swashbuckling soccer romantic Giovanni Agnelli represented the epitome of club presidents a few generations ago, his nephew Andrea Agnelli’s affinity for the cut-throat business side of the sport falls more in line with the American and foreign owners who are gobbling up the European game.

Considered by many the mastermind behind the breakaway Super League that is dividing soccer, Andrea Agnelli is gaining a reputation for his boardroom backstabbing.

“A snake,” was the way an angry UEFA president Aleksander Čeferin labeled Agnelli on Monday. “I have never seen a person lie so many times and so persistently as he did.”

The breakaway announcement came a day before a UEFA executive committee meeting was to decide on revisions to the Champions League proposed by the European Club Association guided by Agnelli, who is also the Juventus president.

But Agnelli slithered away with 11 other clubs to announce the Super League and then resigned from the ECA.

“He is probably the biggest disappointment of all,” Čeferin added of Agnelli, whose young daughter he became godfather to.

As some European soccer insiders have put it, Agnelli represents the tougher, more calculating side of a family that made its fortune running Fiat Automobiles — now Stellantis following mergers with Chrysler and Peugeot.

He’s a far cry from the late Giovanni Agnelli, who used to wake up his Juventus players with friendly phone calls at the crack of dawn — just to see how they were doing.

If anything, Andrea is more like his sterner father, Umberto Agnelli, another former Juventus chairman.

But toughness was just what Juventus needed when Andrea Agnelli was named club president 11 years ago when he was only 34.

It seems like a distant memory now, with Juventus having won the Italian league a record nine straight times, but Juventus was in disarray when Andrea Agnelli took over. The team was still struggling to recover from the match-fixing and refereeing scandal known as “Calciopoli” — which resulted in the team being stripped of two Italian titles and relegated to the second division.

“An Agnelli was needed to revive the club,” FIFA council member Evelina Christillin, a longtime associate of the Agnellis, told the Gazzetta dello Sport last year. “Andrea had ambition and courage and, thanks to him, Juventus is no longer just a soccer club anymore. It’s a world unto its own.”

Indeed, under Andrea Agnelli’s watch, Juventus has become the only major Italian club to open a new stadium and he was also the driving force behind bringing Cristiano Ronaldo to Turin three years ago.

“I remember him as a kid at Villar Perosa when he went wild watching games,” Christillin said, referring to the Agnelli’s summer villa. “Andrea is an athlete. He skis and goes scuba diving and plays soccer. In the stands, he’s almost like an ultra.”

Just about the only thing Andrea Agnelli has not accomplished with Juventus is win the Champions League, with the team having lost two of the last six finals.

This season has been a struggle for Juventus, with the team in fourth place in Serie A and at risk of missing out on next season’s Champions League.

Perhaps that’s why Agnelli is eager to create the Super League. Even if that means letting down the vast majority of the 246 teams he represented as president of the ECA.

“Our 12 founder clubs represent billions of fans across the globe and 99 European trophies,” Agnelli said in Sunday’s Super League statement, in which he was described as the league’s vice chairman.

“We have come together at this critical moment, enabling European competition to be transformed, putting the game we love on a sustainable footing for the long-term future, substantially increasing solidarity.”

Investors seemed to agree with Agnelli, with Juventus shares soaring 18% in trading Monday on the Milan stock exchange.

Agnelli’s handling of the Super League is similar to the way he championed the introduction of a 1.7 billion euro ($2 billion) offer from a consortium of private equity funds that was to be charged with improving the sale and promotion of the Italian league’s TV rights, only to then back away.

Agnelli attempted to smooth things over during an online Serie A meeting Monday but that drew only ire from Urbano Cairo, the president of city rival Torino.

“I told him during the meeting, ‘How can you come here and talk about solidarity when you sabotaged the negotiations with the funds, already knowing you were doing the Super League?’” Cairo said. “It’s a betrayal. It’s what a Judas does.”

Even Christillin acknowledged that Agnelli had gone too far after she emerged from a day of UEFA meetings.

“We expected him at the executive committee but he resigned and his seat was empty,” Christillin said on Italy’s La7 TV. “I’m sorry. I wish him well but this time he’s made a decision that’s not right.”

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AP Sports Writer Graham Dunbar in Montreux, Switzerland, contributed to this report.

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More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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Andrew Dampf is at https://twitter.com/AndrewDampf

Copyright © 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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