THURSDAY'S BIG STORIES

We're very, very, very, very sorry

As a rule, billionaires don't spend a lot of time apologising. They've got money to count, companies to buy, nations to bend to their will. So it was quite the thing, to see John Henry, John Henry's vase of daffodils, and John Henry's most apologetic gilet, all out in public to say: Whoops. Got that one wrong, didn't we? What a goof.
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And come one, come all. Joel Glazer: "We are sorry." Ferran Soriano: "We made a mistake and we sincerely apologise." It appears Arsenal's CEO Vinai Venkatesham has taken things one step further and has called round each of the Premier League's non-Super clubs to apologise personally, an exercise in penitent awkwardness worthy of a Nick Hornby novel. Let's hope he got speakerphoned every single time.
While England's big clubs were making their apologies, there were further withdrawals. Atlético Madrid and Internazionale are both walking in the opposite direction, whistling and looking innocent. AC Milan and Juventus, meanwhile, haven't quite pulled out, but everybody involved is admitting that whatever ends up happening from here, it won't be following the original plan. There's a minimum number needed for Superiority, and it's bigger than four.
Even Florentino Pérez, Super League chairman and hype-man in chief, has given up on the dream of 15 fixed plus five guests. Though he does so with a dire warning: the super-clubs are in trouble. You may wish to sit down, this is pretty affecting stuff. Perhaps dig out your tiniest violin.
There will be no big signings this summer, he prophesied, striking fear into the hearts of agents across Europe. Congratulations to Real Madrid on signing David Alaba, by the way.
As much as anything else, this has been an exercise in discovering that not all big clubs are created equal. Real Madrid and Barcelona, heavy with debt: they needed this. Chelsea and Manchester City, not so much. So get ready for Super League II: Madrid and Barca, Juve and Milan, locked together in the world's noisiest and saddest preseason tournament.
But as we wait for the repackaging and the lawyers gear up - all these clubs have signed contracts, after all - the immediate consequences keep coming. The Premier League's Other 14 are looking into removing the Big Six bigwigs from their committee roles. The UK government, perhaps sensing a vote-winner and a chance to shout "England! England!" a lot, seems to be carrying on with plans to get involved in football reform.
And even the secret triumph of the big teams, the new Champions League format with its guaranteed places for teams with a strong coefficient, could be lost in the wash. It was Agnelli's baby, after all. But the European Club Association has a new chairman now, PSG's Nasser Al-Khelaifi, and the suggestion is that he's less keen on the plan. Here's Uefa, yesterday:
Further decisions regarding matters such as the rebalancing of the access list, match dates, seeding system, format for the finals, coefficients and financial distribution will be made by the end of the year and potential adjustments to the format approved today could still be made if necessary,
Which is Uefa-speak for: Wow, everybody's really into this whole 'earn it on the pitch' thing. Much to consider.

'Ceferin behaved like we threw an atomic bomb' - Perez on Super League chaos

Some actual football

Meanwhile, in the actual Super League… flipping heck what a save.
The WSL has been homing in on this fixture for a while. Leaders and defending champions Chelsea away at second-place Manchester City. The best two teams in the country, just two points apart. Chelsea unbeaten in seven, City unbeaten in forever. Bound to be a cracker. Bound to be.
And it was! Hooray! Chelsea took the lead on 25 minutes. City levelled five minutes later. Chelsea took the lead five minutes after that… and then, deep into the second half, City equalised again. And they pushed and they squeezed and they huffed and they puffed, but Chelsea held on. That save above preserved the draw and preserved the two point gap. That save above might just have won the league.
Or Lucy Bronze's late missed header might have lost the league. Or Sam Kerr's even later miss might have kept the thing alive. Look, it was an exciting game. Lots going on, all of it important. Which might explain why Chelsea manager Emma Hayes turned up for her after-match interview completely knackered. Started with "That was horrendous," and just got better from there.

Daring, doing

And meanwhile, in the money-spinning breakaway competition… Ryan Mason is now officially the bestest manager in the history of Tottenham Hotspur.
Whether his 100% win rate makes it through the cup final, we won't be speculating. Southampton were the better team for the first half, before tiring markedly in the second. And it turns out that sacking a manager doesn't immediately turn a team into a well-coached attacking unit overflowing with clever movement at pace.
But Spurs fans are discovering what Manchester United fans discovered: the games after Mourinho, with a new manager that you quite like, they feel lighter. Your side isn't fixed but it looks like it wants to be. The scapegoats are in from the cold. The pre- and post-game interviews aren't filled with muttered conspiracies and barbed paranoia.
And Gareth Bale played 83 minutes, scored a beautiful goal, and won man of the match. We're not going to pretend to know whether Mason's a genuine long-term option, and we're not going to pretend that City aren't considerable favourites going into the League Cup final. But here's Bale after the game:
At half-time we had a good chat, a few things we could improve slightly, and we controlled the game in the second half and deserved victory. We had a few positional issues and needed to be more patient on the ball. Obviously it was a very good team-talk at half time, and we came out in the second half to play well.
You can hear the relief rolling off those words. In a week of unprecedented Spursiness, one that began with an online humiliation at the paws of the Dulux paint dog and got somehow worse from there, at least the managerial change is off to a decent start.

IN OTHER NEWS

Some goals are so sweet, it feels like you scored them. Even when you were just standing around at the edge of the box.

RETRO CORNER

The European greats trying to block out the smaller teams, and José Mourinho getting sacked, again, all in the same week? Of course we went back to look at the 2004 final. How different things might have been, if the referee had noticed that Nuno Valente was wearing no. 8, done the decent thing, and sent him off.

HAT TIP

There's enough Super League-adjacent content out there to fill an entire second internet, but we thought this was particularly interesting. Over on The Athletic (£), Raphael Hongstein outlines why Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund weren't invited, and all the reasons why they'd probably have said no.
Bayern can rarely be accused of being overly altruistic. Some of their misgivings over the new format are not rooted in principle but cold, hard business considerations, such as doubt over the long-term appeal of a closed league, worries about the reduction in value of their domestic competition and unease over leaving the auspices of UEFA to become a minority member in a Southern-European-Anglosaxon rogue organisation.

COMING UP

All eyes on La Liga's title race tonight, as No-Longer-Super Atlético Madrid try to recapture top spot against Huesca, and then Still-Sort-Of-Super Barcelona try to keep up at home to Getafe. In the Premier League, West Brom's desperate charge for safety takes them to Leicester.
Tom Adams will be here tomorrow with a fresh selection of Super League humiliations.
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