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Sunday, September 20, 1998 Published at 20:15 GMT 21:15 UK


Sport: Football

'Napoleon' in European conquest

The sort of crunching tackle Bernie Ecclestone is usually interested in

Bernie Ecclestone is nicknamed 'Napoleon', because he is small in stature but big on power.

At just 5ft 4in tall, but with a reported salary of £54m, he is the highest-salaried executive in the world.


[ image: Bernie Ecclestone: £2bn fortune]
Bernie Ecclestone: £2bn fortune
He is in charge of the body representing Formula One's teams, second-in-command at the sport's governing body and owns the television company which shows the sport.

But there is one other sport that regularly beats motor racing's viewing figures across Europe - football.

And in trying to gain influence here, the man who started off selling cars and motorbikes will inevitably drive a wedge through the sport.

The big clubs of the continent are totally at odds with the governing body Uefa over the concept.

It is the sort of continental campaign beloved by the French emperor who gave his nickname to the man whose Croatian wife Slavica, 37, stands to inherit his £2bn fortune.

The proposal for a Super League comes from Milan-based Media Partners. This consortium wants to set up a Europe-wide competition for the continent's richest clubs to go head to head on pay-per-view TV.


[ image: Rupert Murdoch: £623m bid for United]
Rupert Murdoch: £623m bid for United
Mr Ecclestone has confirmed he is behind the idea financially, even if he did not come up with the proposal himself.

He admits to knowing little about football. However, he is also reported to be the mystery bidder willing to take on Rupert Murdoch's BSkyB bid for Manchester United - certain to be a major player in any Super League.

Any venture outside Formula One would be a departure, so his motivation is almost certainly financial - he is an expert at spotting money-making potential.

Back in the 1950s, the 67-year-old son of a trawler skipper anticipated the gold mine that Formula One would become.

After gaining a chemical engineering degree from Woolwich Polytechnic in south-east London he established a car and motorcycle dealership in Bexley, Kent.

He had a brief career as a racing-car driver before crashing and moving into F1 management with the Brabham racing team.


[ image: Bernie Ecclestone already has the technology for pay-per-view]
Bernie Ecclestone already has the technology for pay-per-view
Since then he has spent £70m building up Formula One but his real power lies in his control of TV coverage of motor racing.

He has Europe's most advanced digital TV operation - meaning that he could screen pay-per-view Super League matches across the continent.

But he may also learn that football fans are different to those who follow the Formula One circus.

Only the Ferrari team commands anything like the passions that supporters feel for their clubs in all European countries. Many will be alarmed at his plans.

If Mr Ecclestone is trying to gain control of Manchester United it could also lead to further tricky questions for the UK Government.

Having made promises to football fans before the election, the government may find themselves having to explain themselves if takeovers by either Mr Ecclestone or Rupert Murdoch are permitted.


[ image: Tony Blair: Forced to apologise]
Tony Blair: Forced to apologise
They already stand accused of paying too much attention to the newspapers owned by Mr Murdoch.

And it would not be the first time Mr Ecclestone had become embroiled in political controversy.

He donated £1m to Tony Blair's Labour party at the last election, a gift soon followed by an exemption for Formula One from a ban on tobacco advertising.

The donation was returned but the row led to a personal apology from Mr Blair who admitted mishandling the dispute by letting information "dribble out".

The prime minister insisted the government had "not done anything wrong".





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