“Football clubs in every town and city and at every tier of the pyramid have a unique place at the heart of their communities, and are an unrivaled source of passionate local pride,” he added.

Never a big soccer fan himself, Mr. Johnson framed his opposition to the plan in his belief in competition.

Each year the three worst performing clubs are relegated from England’s Premier League — its top domestic tier — while the top ones qualify to play in European competitions the following season. The European Super League proposal would have seen a number of big soccer clubs becoming permanent members — something that Mr. Johnson likened to creating a cartel.

In fact, when England’s first Football League was established in 1888 it was on a similar model and its membership was not selected on merit, said Matthew Taylor, professor of history at De Montfort University, Leicester who has written widely on soccer.

Yet the furor over the European Super League illustrates the growing role soccer has played in national life in recent decades.

“In the last 15-20 years it seems to be so pervasive and so significant to British culture — very broadly defined — that politicians have to say something,” Professor Taylor said.

No longer does it seem odd for politicians and members of the government “to make statements on issues that 40-50 years ago would have been seen as private matters,” he added.

That change first became noticeable under Tony Blair’s premiership as the growing success of the English Premier League, combined with the country’s “cool Britannia” branding, gave soccer a great profile.

But soccer can be dangerous territory too for politicians. Mr. Cameron was much mocked when he once appeared to forget his long-running claim to support the Birmingham team Aston Villa and seemed to suggest he favored a rival that played in similar colors.

Mr. Johnson, who appears to prefer rugby to soccer, has avoided that fate by never declaring his allegiance to any team.

But suggestions that the government might legislate to control the ownership of clubs seemed to conflict with Mr. Johnson’s free-market instincts.

Although a Saudi Arabian plan to buy the Premier League club Newcastle United ultimately failed, Mr. Johnson promised the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, that he would investigate a holdup to the proposed take over, according to British media reports.

“One of the many dishonesties in all this is that it would allow money to corrupt football,” said Professor Menon, referring to the European Super League plan. “Money has already corrupted football. Rich clubs get richer.”

The professor said he believed that very little would ultimately change because any substantial intervention would upset the successful operations of the Premier League, and therefore annoy fans.

But Professor Taylor pointed to Germany as a successful alternative model, and said that in threatening to intervene in the running of soccer Mr. Johnson might ultimately disappoint some of those who are applauding him now.

“Having made such a significant and bold statement, I don’t think this discussion will go away now,” Professor Taylor.

View Source