Daryl Clark is under no illusions about the size of the boots he has to fill as he prepares to pull on St Helens’ famous number nine shirt for the first time in Betfred Super League action this week.

The 31-year-old hooker ended his decade-long stay with Warrington at the end of last season to step into the role vacated by James Roby, who retired after 19 trophy-laden years, with 551 appearances to his name.

Having assumed a role on the coaching staff, Roby’s presence continues to loom large at the Totally Wicked Stadium, but Clark is convinced his best route to emulating even a fraction of his predecessor’s success lies in making the position his own.

Clark told the PA news agency: “I knew the challenge when I signed up for it.

“I know I’m not going to be at this club as long and I’m not going to achieve as much as Robes has done at this club, but hopefully I’ll be part of some success and write my own little part of history.

“I have already spoken to Robes and I’m sure he will be there to give me some tips and advice going forward. But it is important that I am judged by my own performances and not against his.”

Clark’s ambition was echoed by Saints head coach Paul Wellens, who ear-marked him as the man to replace Roby as soon as the stalwart confirmed the 2023 season would be his last, but insisted he had never envisaged a like-for-like replacement.

“If Daryl goes out there to be the best version of himself, he will improve our team,” insisted Wellens.

“I need to be clear on this – it would be absolutely ridiculous of Daryl to go out there and try to be James Roby.

“In James Roby, he’s got someone there to have a chat or give guidance and that’s absolutely fine.

“But he’s also an experienced player in his own right, who knows what the game looks like at the highest level, so I told him to ‘just go out there and be you’ and that’s what I think the players and certainly I will respect.”

Having come through the ranks with his home-town club Castleford, Clark experienced five straight final losses – three in the Challenge Cup and twice in Grand Finals – before finally striking it sixth time lucky, ironically against Saints, at Wembley in 2019.

A recipient of the prestigious Super League Man of Steel in his final season Wheldon Road, he is relishing the task of helping Saints reclaim the trophy-winning status they lost to Lancashire rivals Wigan at the end of last season.

“The general feeling is that we’d been champions for so long and to get knocked off last year put us back chasing – and I think that could be a good thing,” he added.

“The main reason I came to Saints at this point in my career is because I wanted to be involved in the big games and win some silverware and that is what I have every intention of doing in the future.”

The player of the match in the men’s Super League Grand Final will be presented with the Rob Burrow Award from this year onwards.

The new prize will replace the Harry Sunderland Trophy, which had been presented to the most influential player in all 26 Grand Finals since 1998 and was previously used in Championship and Premiership finals.

The change was announced on Wednesday by the game’s commercial management board, Rugby League Commercial, and the award’s organisers, the Rugby League Writers and Broadcasters Association.

Former Leeds, England and Great Britain scrum-half Burrow won eight Super League titles and was the first player in the summer era to win the Harry Sunderland Trophy twice, in 2007 and 2011.

He is now a passionate campaigner and fundraiser for people with motor neurone disease – a condition with which he was diagnosed in 2019 – and was awarded a CBE in the New Year Honours list.

RLWBA chair Trevor Hunt, who is also serving as the vice-president of the Rugby Football League, said: “After long and serious consideration, we believe that now is the right time to make a change that brings the award recognition into the new era.

“I am certain that rugby league players and supporters will agree that the name of Rob Burrow is a fitting one to recognise.”

Two other two-time winners of the previous trophy, Burrow’s former Leeds team-mates Kevin Sinfield and Danny McGuire, have been invited to present the new award at this year’s Grand Final at Old Trafford on October 14.

The 2024 Betfred Super League season begins on Thursday, February 15 with a derby between Hull and Hull KR.

The European Super League's pledge to stream all matches for free is unsustainable and merely a ploy to coax fans into supporting the project.

That is the view of finance expert Dan Plumley, who does not see how a breakaway competition could offer enough prize money to earn the support of clubs while showing games for free. 

Despite a backlash from fans, players and media thwarting the Super League's attempted launch in 2021, the project reared its head again this week with a reworked format being announced.

After the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled FIFA and UEFA "abused a dominant position" in blocking the Super League two years ago, the competition's organisers, A22 Sports, revealed a new format for the tournament, which is still supported by Real Madrid and Barcelona. 

The plan features promotion and relegation across three tiers and also includes a promise to make all games free to stream, but Plumley doubts whether that is possible.

"Everything we've seen throughout history would point to the fact that won't be sustainable, which is where the finances and the distribution models get interesting," he told Stats Perform. 

"We've seen the proposed format of the new ESL but we've not seen the financial distribution mechanisms, we've not seen where the money's coming from and if you are going to promote a free-to-air model through a streaming service, that obviously looks good for the fans.

"But at some point you have to have some form of broadcaster to be able to generate prize money and to generate the finances of the competition. 

"Everything I've seen throughout the years would suggest that you can't go that long without a decent broadcasting deal or big commercial and sponsorship partnerships." 

Asked whether the promise of free coverage was purely intended to get fans onside, Plumley added: "Yeah, for sure. 

"You've probably made the most relevant point there, which is how much people are paying currently for sports subscription content. 

"Talking from a basis of us being located in the UK, it's not cheap. If you want a Sky Sports subscription, a TNT Sports subscription, the Amazon one… it does become quite costly for the fans. 

"So to have something that is free at the point of consumption is obviously a hook for fans to come on board with it. 

"I think we've clearly seen the backlash in the UK with the English clubs and many English fans. 

"Even if it is free-to-air and dependent on the clubs that would be involved, I think some would still turn around and say: 'No, thank you very much. Even if it's free, I'm not interested'. 

"But there is a whole range of international fans out there that follow European football and follow some of these clubs. Maybe some of those are interested. 

"You look at it through your own lens, but you also have to look at it through the lens of others. Obviously it's a ploy to try and get some positivity on board by offering it free-to-air."

Plumley said the only way the project could succeed financially with a free-to-air model was through the potential involvement of a state wealth fund.

"I think where you might see some shift in the future, and this might start to make it bigger than Europe, is will we see sovereign state wealth funds or private equity consortiums get involved with the financing of the competition, to enable them to show some free-to-air content?" Plumley said.

"In the 2021 project, it was supposed to be financed by JP Morgan and we saw that American influence, we've seen an explosion in Saudi Arabian football in the last couple of years. 

"Do one of those other big players in the market get involved in the future? I think all those questions are a little bit up in the air at the minute. 

"At some point, you have to start talking about broadcasting deals because there's only so much free-to-air content you can give away if you're going to be putting a load of prize money on the table."

The European Super League project may come back with a vengeance if the Premier League punishes leading clubs like Manchester City and Chelsea over alleged breaches of financial rules.

That is the view of finance expert Dan Plumley, who says the threat of Europe's elite clubs forming a breakaway competition is unlikely to ever go away.

Everton dropped into the Premier League's relegation zone after being deducted 10 points for a breach of the league's profit and sustainability rules earlier this month, with an independent commission ruling the Toffees exceeded the competition's maximum loss limit by £19.5million across four seasons between 2018 and 2022.

That penalty – the largest in the competition's history – has been fiercely protested by fans and has led to questions regarding other clubs' financial practices.

The Premier League is investigating City over 115 alleged breaches of the competition's rules, while Chelsea's finances are also being examined following allegations of secret payments made by companies belonging to former owner Roman Abramovich.

Some have suggested those clubs could face huge points deductions or even expulsion if found guilty, but Plumley believes that could push them back into the arms of the Super League.

"I don't think the European Super League will ever go away. I think we've seen that time and time again," Plumley told Stats Perform. 

"It was the closest it's ever been to fruition in 2021, we know the backlash there but it's never off the table. You've seen the wider narrative in the European football landscape, and my take was that it would always come back around. 

"It will be particularly dependent on what the Champions League looks like and the Champions League broadcasting revenues and reformat of that competition. So broadly speaking, I don't think it's off the table."

Both City and Chelsea were involved in the widely despised Super League project, which collapsed under pressure from fans, media and players in 2021.

Plumley is certain the Premier League will be in self-preservation mode when it comes to ruling on cases involving those clubs, saying: "I think the Premier League will be mindful of that. 

"They know there is a lot of power held by those big clubs and their ownership structures and the people that are in that mix. They know that the threat of a Super League is still there. 

"I do think that will be a factor in this, whether we like it or not. It will be there in the background of the considerations. 

"There is that argument, in the same way as in the Champions League, that if the bigger clubs don't get what they want, or feel that they're being too heavily penalised, you can probably bet that a conversation about a European Super League will come back around. 

"I think it would probably have come around anyway, but this kind of stuff might accelerate that. It might make it move quicker, but I don't think it was ever off the table."

The prospect of Super League rugby returning to Wales has been made more distant under IMG’s new grading system, according to the chief executive of the only remaining senior club in the country.

North Wales Crusaders ranked rock-bottom of the 35-strong list of senior clubs which will be used to determine the make-up of the top-flight from the 2025 season onwards, scoring just 5.07 points from a possible 25.

In common with a number of others, Andy Moulsdale believes the ranking is not a “fair reflection” of the progress made by his club, who only missed out on promotion to the Championship last season when they lost the League One play-off final to Doncaster.

It also paints a bleak picture for prospective expansion, with Wales’ only other senior club, West Wales Raiders, withdrawing from the league after the 2022 season, and no Welsh club having featured in the top two divisions of the domestic game for almost a decade.

Moulsdale told the PA news agency: “We all know what we’ve got to work towards and I’m the first to admit there are certainly some pillars we need to improve on, but some of it doesn’t add up.

“For what we’ve given back to the sport, I don’t think it’s a fair reflection. We reached the final last season and finished third in the two years previously. We’ve also set up a foundation that runs a women’s and three wheelchair teams.

“These gradings make it increasingly harder for League One teams to reach Super League. We’re the only professional club in Wales and our short-term goal is to keep a Welsh team going, and start to make progress rather than just existing.”

Super League arrived in Wales in 2009 when Celtic Crusaders, effectively the existing club’s previous incarnation, were granted a top-flight licence and lasted three seasons – the latter two as simply Crusaders – before falling into financial problems and failing to re-apply for a licence in 2012.

North Wales have since made quiet progress at the third-tier level, but the stark reality of elevating teams from expansion areas has been made plain by the rankings, which were ostensibly set up, at least in part, to encourage just that.

London Broncos languish in 24th place and face the prospect of a single top-flight campaign irrespective of their on-pitch performances next season, while Midlands Hurricanes and Cornwall occupy the two places immediately above North Wales.

“There’s no doubt it makes things more difficult for us,” added Moulsdale. “The scoring is inevitably weighted towards Super League clubs, because finances and fandom are obviously going to be bigger if you’re in the top division.

“We’ve lost the likes of West Wales and London Skolars in recent seasons, and unless you have someone who can come straight in and invest a lot of money, the prospects (for expansion teams) are extremely tough.”

Moulsdale is one of a number of chiefs who believe their clubs were incorrectly graded, and that their true score could have helped them at least avoid the negative connotations of being in bottom place.

But he conceded: “The IMG gradings make you take a step back and realise it’s not all about what happens on the pitch any more. Whether you agree with it or not, that’s the way it is, and we just have to try to improve in any way we can.”

Seven Betfred Super League clubs have been awarded Grade A status in the indicative phase of the new club grading process which effectively makes them immune from relegation from the start of the 2025 season.

The grades have been introduced as part of a strategy between Rugby League Commercial and sports media giants IMG to “reimagine” the sport and award points for five key factors including support base, performance, finances, facilities and community integration.

The indicative stage of the process gives clubs the chance to make improvements prior to the start of the 2025 season, at which point the identity of the 12 Super League clubs will be determined by the rankings, rather than solely next season’s on-field success.

The seven clubs given Grade A licences – which come with the assurance they cannot be relegated – are Leeds, who lead the way with a score of 17.49 out of the maximum available 20, Wigan, St Helens, Catalans Dragons, Warrington, Hull KR and Hull FC.

Based on the current rankings, Toulouse and Wakefield, who stand 10th and 11th respectively, would be promoted back into Super League at the expense of 13th-placed Castleford and newly-promoted London Broncos.

Castleford have indicated they intend to appeal their indicative grade based on confusion over a point relating to finance, which if accepted would move them into the top 12 at the expense of Challenge Cup winners Leigh Leopards.

The rankings are also a huge blow to London Broncos, who were promoted back to the top flight this month but rank a lowly 24th, meaning they are almost certain to be demoted at the end of next season, irrespective of their on-pitch performance.

RFL chief executive Tony Sutton said: “Rugby League embarked on a bold journey with the launch of the strategic partnership with IMG in May 2022, and 18 months into that journey, the publication of these indicative club gradings is a highly significant step.”

Wigan are looking to kick off a new era of Super League dominance while a Sam Tomkins-inspired Catalans Dragons hope to take rugby league’s biggest domestic trophy back to France for the first time.

Here the PA news agency picks out five key talking points ahead of Saturday’s Grand Final at Old Trafford.

Sam slam

Sam Tomkins admitted prior to the play-off semi-final that he dreamed of finishing his career by lining up against the team with whom he won three previous Grand Finals. The Catalans playmaker has got his wish but will have no room for sentiment as he looks to lead his current side to an historic first win.

French Revolution

After falling short in the final two years ago, Steve McNamara’s Catalans are in a stronger place to take the sport’s biggest domestic trophy back to France for the first time. The impact of such a win should not be understated and could only have positive repercussions for the profile of the sport in the south of France.

Culture club

The sport’s dominant force throughout the late 1980s and 1990s, Wigan were forced to watch in pain as St Helens wrested control with four back-to-back Grand Final wins. With strong recruitment already in place for next season, the feeling is a Wigan win could spark a spell at the top to match that of their vanquished rivals.

Crowded house

Catalans’ previous appearance at Old Trafford yielded a crowd almost 15,000 lower than for any other Grand Final this century. Such a discrepancy may be inevitable – and not so pronounced this time with the French club set to bring a decent contingent of fans – but it does raise a headache where empty seats at the showpiece event are concerned.

Grand finale?

The Rugby Football League’s contract with Old Trafford runs through to 2024 but changes are afoot as strategic partners IMG push forward with a ‘reimagination’ of the sport. While there is no suggestion the Grand Final in itself is under threat, this could be one of the last to be staged at Old Trafford – with the Etihad Stadium across the city rumoured to be leading the list of potential replacements.

The prospect of a historic first Grand Final appearance is not enough for Hull KR head coach Willie Peters as he plots to make the Craven Park club a permanent fixture among the Betfred Super League elite.

Rovers head to League Leaders’ Shield winners Wigan on Saturday standing 80 minutes from their debut in the domestic showpiece after rallying brilliantly from last month’s Challenge Cup final loss to earn a place in the post-season play-offs.

But with the backing of the club’s new ambitious owners, Peters believes his job will be far from finished even if his side manage to upset the odds at the DW Stadium and book their place at Old Trafford next weekend.

“We’re not where we want to be,” admitted Australian Peters, a former Wigan player who has made a huge impression since his arrival in east Hull last year as a then relatively low-key appointment in his first head coaching role.

“We’re in the top four teams this year but we talk about being a top-four club in everything we do, and you can’t just do that for one year, you need to do it year in, year out.

“It’s no fluke that the likes of Wigan and Saints are in the top four all the time. They got their club and their culture right years ago, and they bring in the right players year in, year out.

“We want to be a top-four club too, and we’ve got an excellent opportunity this week. The job’s not done yet, and as much as we’re pleased with what we’ve done so far, I don’t like putting a ceiling on things when you’re still in the competition.”

Rovers’ tumultuous campaign saw them get off to a flying start before being ravaged by injuries, experiencing the full range of Challenge Cup emotions with a golden point semi-final win over Wigan at Headingley followed by their agonising last-gasp Wembley loss to Leigh.

Many believed Rovers’ season to be as good as over after that final disappointment but instead Peters rallied his players for a post-season run that saw them snatch fourth place on the final day of the regular season, then sink the ailing Leopards in the first elimination round.

“Wembley could have changed our season for the worst, but we looked at the areas we needed to work on and we came back to what we do well,” added Peters.

“The players are still fresh and we’ve now got a lot of players who could make the 17. We are still training with the same intensity and momentum and it’s really important at this stage of the season to keep that going.”

Rovers’ injury issues have eased to the point where Sauaso Sue is the only confirmed absentee, and Peters hopes one last push will be enough to ensure veteran centre Shaun Kenny-Dowall can sign off his memorable Craven Park career with a Grand Final appearance.

“Shaun is going to leave a legacy at our club and we are extremely proud of what he’s done for us and will continue to do for us as a coach,” added Peters.

“The fans love him, the players and staff love him, and we’re proud of his achievements but he’s not finished yet.”

Leeds have released forward Zane Tetevano from his contract as he continues his recovery from heart surgery, the Super League club have announced.

The New Zealand international suffered a stroke during a training session in May.

It was then discovered the 32-year-old had a hole in his heart which required surgery.

The Rhinos had initially hoped the prop would be able play again before the end of the season, but that has not proved possible.

With his contract due to expire later this year, the club have allowed Tetevano to leave early and return home to New Zealand.

Tetevano said: “I would like to thank everyone at the Rhinos for the support they have given me over the last three years.

“Especially I would like to thank all the staff at the Leeds General Infirmary who have looked after me so much since my stroke and heart operation.

“I will always remember my time in Leeds fondly, and I wish (coach) Rohan (Smith) and the team all the best for the rest of this season and the years ahead.”

Tetevano made 47 appearances and scored three tries after joining the club from Penrith Panthers in 2021.

Tee Ritson admits he has “loved every minute” of playing with St Helens as he continues to embrace the challenge of playing in Super League.

The winger joined Saints on a season-long loan in November from Championship side Barrow after scoring 33 tries in 31 appearances with Raiders in 2022.

Ritson marked his debut in style for the defending Super League champions with a try against Castleford in the opening round of league fixtures and has continued to impress.

His performances have seen him start their last four Super League games and he feels he has adapted well to the league’s standards.

“I’ve loved every minute of it,” the 27-year-old told the PA news agency. “Obviously it’s been a massive step up for me, the training and everything, I think I’ve adapted really well.

“I’ve just kept my head down, focused on this year, focused on my training, the team and stuff like that then I’m getting a good run of games now so hopefully I can continue that form.

“The team itself, they’re a great set of lads, the club’s really good, all the staff have helped me out – I couldn’t ask for anything more to be honest, I’ve loved my time here.

“This time last year I was playing in the Championship and now I’m playing for the World Club Champions in Super League.

“It’s a massive step up, the training, the intensity and stuff like that. The first couple of weeks I was pretty sore so I wasn’t used to all the training every single day!

“But I’ve adapted to it, there’s a lot of new systems and tactics, things that you need to know within the team that I’ve had to get used to.

“I feel I’ve really settled in now and feel at home at this team.”

Ritson was speaking ahead of the eagerly-anticipated Magic Weekend which takes place in Newcastle at St James’ Park with St Helens facing Huddersfield on Sunday.

The winger has previously played in the Summer Bash, a similar event where a round of Championship fixtures take place over the course of a weekend, but Ritson admits Magic Weekend is on a “different level”.

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He said: “Obviously the stadium that we’re going to be playing in this weekend is massive compared to the stadium we’ve been in at the Bash before!

“I’ve been involved in a few Summer Bashes and they’ve been great, they’re really good for the fans.

“You get a good mixture of fans there, fans who don’t usually watch you play so you can showcase what you can do.

“Obviously this is a different level, a huge stadium, a massive following from all the teams, I’m expecting the place is going to be bouncing so I’m really looking forward to it.

“This is the first time I’ve been in the stadium today, just looking at it now it’s quite impressive, it’s really something.

“I can’t wait to see what it’s like once it’s packed with loads of fans, I’m looking forward to experiencing it.”

Hull KR prop forward Sam Luckley insists fulfilling his “boyhood dream” of playing at St James’ Park will never get old as he prepares for his third Magic Weekend.

Super League’s showcase event returns to Newcastle with six fixtures taking place across Saturday and Sunday.

Luckley, who grew up in North Shields, has featured in two Magic Weekends previously for Salford and says playing at the home of his beloved Newcastle United is “mesmerising”.

“I’m absolutely buzzing,” the 27-year-old told PA news agency. “I’ve played here twice before and it’s just mesmerising.

“I love coming and playing at this stadium. It’s a big do for all my friends and family as well, it’s a big build-up. I just try not to think about it too much, but I can’t wait to get on the pitch.

“When you come out for warm-up and stuff, the sprinklers are on… it feels like I should be wearing the number nine shirt!

“It’s brilliant, you can’t put it into words. It’s a boyhood dream.”

Hull KR face Luckley’s former club Salford in the 1330 kick-off on Saturday in what looks set to be a tight contest, with both teams locked on 16 points in the table.

Last time he played at St James’ Park, Luckley scored a try in front of the Gallowgate End – celebrating with an Alan Shearer-style raised hand – and would love the chance to do so again.

He said: “I thought if I do score, I’ve got to do it, in front of the Gallowgate as well… I don’t really get many tries so I’ve got to take it when it comes along.

“I’ll 100 per cent be doing it again… If I get through, if I get the chance, I will!”

He insists, though, that he would value a victory over personal glory.

“I haven’t won here yet,” he said. “We lost against Castleford when I was playing for Salford and we lost again to Huddersfield when I scored my try, so I’ll trade all the tries in for a win. We’ll have a big push for that on Saturday.”

The future of Magic Weekend is up in the air, with global sports media company IMG having been commissioned to “reimagine” rugby league in its role as the sport’s long-term strategic partner, but Luckley feels it is a “great spectacle” and “can’t be anything but good”.

“It’s great for the sport,” he said. “Just look at the NRL, they’ve got a Magic Round as well and they’re loving it.

“It’s a great spectacle for our sport and getting people who don’t watch rugby into rugby league over a weekend like this in a big football stadium in a big city… It can’t be anything but good.

“It doesn’t just have to be Newcastle, it could be anywhere. I think, being a bit biased, St James’ Park is a great spot, the pubs are down the road, shops down the road…

“I’d be more than happy to go somewhere else to try it out but I think you’ve got to get the location right.”

Ten points from Jake Clifford helped give Hull FC’s testing Super League season a belated lift-off as they clung on to sink leaders Wigan 14-10 in a thrilling clash at the MKM Stadium.

Tony Smith’s men made a storming start then withstood serious late pressure to seal their second win on the bounce with a performance unrecognisable from their April travails that included a 40-0 derby thumping by Hull KR.

In contrast to the hosts’ gutsy spirit, embodied by two stellar shifts from Brad Fash in the front row, Wigan were flat-footed and error-strewn, and only a comeback double by Iain Thornley either side of the interval kept them in contention.

It was a surprising reaction from Matty Peet’s side who had oozed into Yorkshire on the back of six straight wins.

Hull were on the front foot from the start and struck after just six minutes when Darnell McIntosh chased down Clifford’s kick to the corner, with the Australian adding the first of his two conversions.

Liam Farrell set the alarm bells ringing as he cut through the defence with ease but Wigan could not convert and Hull extended their lead on the quarter-hour, Clifford stretching over after electing to run the last tackle.

The visitors, for whom five players featured in England’s thumping win over France at the weekend, looked flat-footed, coughed up errors and spurned their best chance so far when Thornley failed to grasp a high pass to the wing.

Clifford opted to stretch Hull’s lead to 14 by kicking the two after Chris Satae was penalised for a high tackle, before Thornley was sent spurting down the left by Bevan French but Hull held firm.

Thornley, making his first appearance of the season, looked most likely to break Wigan’s duck and after another jinking run, the 31-year-old finally got his reward five minutes from the break when he speared over from another French set-up.

Harry Smith’s cool conversion from the touchline reduced the deficit to 14-6 at the interval, and the shift in momentum continued within four minutes of the restart when Thornley darted over for his second.

As the rain poured down Wigan’s pressure was relentless, and Hull’s cause was not helped when Cam Scott and McIntosh both dropped kicks deep in their own territory.

But Peet’s men failed to capitalise on their territorial dominance and Hull, shored up by the reintroduction of Fash, scented another change in the game’s direction.

A mistake by Thornley deep in his own territory piled pressure on the visitors but Danny Houghton’s grubber bobbled free and was pounced upon by French, who burst half the length of the field before the danger was snuffed out.

In a dramatic final few minutes, Junior Nsemba knocked on from a set restart on the 10-metre line, Hull debutant Jake Trueman was sin-binned for holding down Joe Shorrocks, then Jez Litten’s error went unpunished as Wigan knocked on under the posts as the seconds ticked down.

UEFA's newly re-elected president Aleksander Ceferin has renewed his attack on the Super League and hit back at critics of the Premier League.

Ceferin has held the position since he was elected in 2016 and will now remain in the post until at least 2027 after running unopposed. 

During his last term, the Slovenian had to contend with the initial threat of the independent European Super League in April 2021.

Despite its failure when several teams pulled out amid fan protests, high-profile clubs – notably Barcelona, Real Madrid and Juventus – continue to support the proposal which announced plans for an 80-team format earlier this year.

However, when addressing the UEFA congress in Lisbon on Wednesday, Ceferin offered up a starkly different assessment of the project.

"Those who promote this project are now claiming that they want to save football," he said.

"It's a good job nobody has ever died of shame. In the space of a few months, the Super League has turned into a character in Little Red Riding Hood: a wolf disguised as a grandmother, ready to eat you up. 

"But nobody's fooled. Because here we have two opposing world views. We have cynicism over morality. We have selfishness over solidarity. We have greed over benevolence. 

"Self-absorption over openness to others. Self-interest over altruism. Shameful lies over the truth. Heirs over builders. Cartel over meritocracy and democracy. Stock prices over sporting merit. The quest for profit over the quest for trophies.

"If there is something that we must never forget, and that no one should ever forget, it is this: football is and will always remain the sport of the people." 

Ceferin also leapt to the defence of the Premier League, which has been the subject of much criticism.

LaLiga president Javier Tebas suggested that teams in the Premier League are "financially doped", with others citing it as the cause for the economic imbalance in European football. 

"Jealousy is a bad adviser," Ceferin said. "Before it was UEFA that took the criticism, now it seems that it is the Premier League that is demonised and should be overthrown. 

"The Premier League was created through a system of equality and solidarity between its clubs. Rather than a model to be destroyed, it is a model to be imitated."

Zinedine Zidane interrupted his hunt for a top job to give the glowing reference that secured his former Real Madrid assistant a first head coaching role in Switzerland.

David Bettoni has been appointed boss of Sion, the club where Mario Balotelli plays, and that may mean Zidane will be looking for a new second-in-command when he returns to football.

Zidane recently has made no secret of his eagerness to get back into work, having walked away from the Madrid hotseat after the 2020-21 season.

A post with a big club likely awaits the France great, while Bettoni begins his life as a head coach with a ringing endorsement from his friend and former boss.

Bettoni has been appointed on a short-term basis initially, taking the job until the end of the season.

Sion president Christian Constantin told newspaper Le Matin he spent over an hour on the telephone with Zidane, joking that was more than former French Football Federation president Noel Le Graet was willing to give of his time.

Le Graet caused uproar in France at the start of the year when he said he would not even have answered his phone to Zidane if he had called to enquire about the France job. That was after Zidane saw his hopes of being made boss of Les Bleus scuppered by Didier Deschamps signing up for another World Cup cycle.

Constantin said of his chat with Zidane: "It made me very happy to be able to talk about football with him for an hour and a quarter. He had a much better reception with me than with Le Graet!

"He told me how loyal David had been to him, that he had never sought to find fault with him in his mission. Without him, he told me again, I would never have succeeded in doing what I achieved at Real during all his years."

Sion sit ninth in the 10-team Swiss Super League and have not won a game in the competition since October.

Bettoni, who first got to know Zidane when they were teenagers at Cannes, initially joined Madrid when Zidane was in charge of the youth side, before stepping up and helping his compatriot lead Los Blancos to three Champions League triumphs.

Real Madrid and Brazil great Marcelo has left Olympiacos just five months after signing for the Greek Super League champions.

The left-back, a five-time Champions League winner, called an end to his glittering Madrid career in September as he joined Olympiacos on a free transfer.

Marcelo made just five appearances in the Greek top flight this term, failing to start in any of those, after signing a reported one-year deal with an option of an additional year extension.

The 34-year-old took to Instagram to confirm he had parted ways with Olympiacos on Saturday.

"I have lived unforgettable moments in Greece, in which I was warmly welcomed to a new home, not only for me, but also for my family," he wrote.

"Piraeus and the people have all my heart and this won't be my last time in this amazing country. I can only express gratitude for wearing the Olympiacos jersey.

"Even though the brief stay, the experience and the friends I made there will be forever marked in my life.

"Today I say goodbye but I'm leaving my affection and respect to the president, my team-mates, all the employees and fans of the club.

"I wish Olympiacos a successful future! Thank you, Olympiacos."

The Greek Super League side added: "The entire Olympiacos family would like to thank @MarceloM12 for his cooperation and presence in Olympiacos.

"The time he stayed with us was brief but enough to create everlasting bonds. He knows that in Greece, in Piraeus he will always have friends!"

Reports suggest retirement is not on the cards for Marcelo, who remains Madrid's most decorated player after the 58-cap Brazil international lifted 25 major trophies with the LaLiga giants.

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