Where Is This Relationship Going?

This article is a submission for the Soccerlens Football Writing Competition; to participate, please read the details here.

Definitely the second most hated question a true man might be asked right behind ‘- Are you watching football, again?’- which by the way, my dear ladies out there, fulfills the term rookie mistake and therefore you want to stay clear of it. However, now I am trying to put the other question in question in a different prospective.

While we need to listen to all the demagogues claptrap of UEFA about narrowing the scissors among clubs the gap is widening to an abyss. One must realise that football is and has always been on first name terms with money.

Let’s go with the well-known example of Juventus Turin. It was no later than 1923 when the bourgeois Agnelli family bought up the club and having a few years passed the team managed to win five consecutive scudettos, still a record for Serie A (together with tragic Il Grande Torino) and the club found itself being the most beautiful symbol of success of FIAT. Do you see what I am getting at?

For our naive fellow comrades let me put it crystal clear with the famous quotation from legendary Ferenc Puskas, who upon journalists’ request, summed up his view on football as ‘little money, little football — big money, big football‘. Try and confront him — and it was in the fifties.

Like it or not, football pitches are becoming playgrounds for tycoons, oligarchs and sponsors. Since I am not much of a wise guy I looked up its exact definition and found that sponsorship typically benefits both the recipient (by providing material benefits) as well as the sponsor to have access to a wider audience. Mutual interests — isn’t it touching? Having a few teardrops cleaned up, let’s take a closer look on its effect through the example of Premier League and later on how Didier Drogba benefitted from it.

The first television rights agreement was worth £191 million over five seasons (’92-97). For the time being television rights altogether raised to an astonishing £2.7 billion for 2007-2010. Make no mistake — money does smell and we all know since David Attenborough that sharks have excellent nose. And the sharks came.

Abramovich for Chelsea, Usmanov and London-based financier Farhad Moshiri for Arsenal, the Glazers for MU, Tom Hicks and George Gillett for Liverpool, Eggert Magnusson for West Ham, Mike Ashley for Newcastle, Mohamed Al-Fayed for Fulham, Randy Lerner for Villa etc. We can expect the flashing neon lights of Sold out appear on Premier League any moment.

During the last three seasons of Champions League (not quite that — of course for the sake of smaller teams) there has always been a PL team in the final. Freakish coincidence? I hardly think so. It is the inevitable manifestation of economic welfare and barrows of money poured into the clubs.

Football has become a multi-billionaire business with the sheer rule of eat or be eaten. It might just be me but it makes me vision our sacred football turning into soccer — if you pardon my nonsense. But would it be an absurd utopia to suggest a parallel between NFL (American sports whatsoever) and European football? You surely can’t miss the symptoms.

Unusually long-term contracts, rocketing ticket prices, transfer packages (involving money&players – in the plural), franchise rights, own TV channels, loads of statistics, head and assistant coaches, insane salaries for quarterbacks playmakers whom your team is built upon. Familiar? Wait, there is a lot more still to come yet.

How many times have you seen players retiring from national teams at the age of thirty? How many times have you heard fierce arguments between clubs and national teams? Don’t bite the hand that feeds you, as the old saying goes. Owners happily could do without friendlies and qualifiers meaning nothing else but unnecessary risk of injury for their precious stars. Insurance is about to become a keyword for football world sooner than we may realise.

Want to know more? Ask European basketball stars in NBA — even world class Dirk Nowitzki had difficulties playing for Germany, not to mention smaller countries’ representatives. Same question will arise in football. Who is going to pay the bill of compensation? National associations? No way. The FIFA itself? Hell no.

G14 LogoSo what do clever sharks do in a case like this? They form the G-14 (since 2002 it really should be G-18, but they smartly retained the original name). It is seemingly just an organization of European football clubs but actually a fearful pressure group against FIFA & UEFA. And one more tiny-little detail: it is for invited members, only.

Why are they fearful? G-14 members have won the Champions League (or predecessors) 41 times out of 51 seasons and are spread across seven countries with about 250 national championships; clearly, you can’t imagine football without these teams. The confessed aim of the organisation is to make FIFA pay compensation for injuries and wages for players while on international duty.

With a full understanding of how strong their position really is we can’t marvel that they showed no hesitation to take FIFA on court to prove their right – the case is still pending. But that’s not all they are after. Even though it is heavily denied, for those with sound mind it is obvious that the main goal of the G-14 is the creation of the European Super League.

Have I already mentioned that there are ambitious plans to expand their membership by inviting further 16 teams to join? A couple of oilrigs say that these clubs will be mostly from Russia and Scandinavia and some others from Greece, Turkey and Ukraine — all in all teams from Eastern Europe. Would you please have a look at the Western Conference existing members of G-14?

Now, let’s put the pieces of the theoretical puzzle together. The big picture is the European Super League (ESL), divided into two or more Conferences, which is independent from any outsider international association, supervised by their own delegated members, holding each and every exclusive right. Well, that would be one hell of a sharquarium. Moreover, it may also solve an other problem.

International Didier Drogba (btw can you see Ivory Coast paying enormous insurance fees for all the top names they have?) played an incredible 60 matches for Chelsea last season not to mention the World Cup and qualifiers and all he gained for the pain was a massive injury. Kind of the same story for Wayne Rooney, Henrik Larsson, Ole Gunnar Solskjær, Thierry Henry or Michael Owen. And just when they thought the season was over, bang, there came the disillusioning shock of gig games played in the Far East. Abracadabra, this is how the Selecao, MU or Real Madrid have become the Harlem Globetrotters.

How about players’ private lives? — one may wonder. I say go and have a chit-chat with Ronaldo’s wives, Maradona’s dealer or Deisler’s psychologist. There are brands like Beckham who can live with that and than the others like natural Ronaldinho whose performance has been frightfully declining since he was assigned World No. 1 on duty.

But with supreme ESL, the number of matches could be limited. First, the teams would be in the League by invitation not by every year qualification. Second, they wouldn’t (of course) play in any other competition. Yes, not even in the national championships, where the farm teams would compete and bring up new generations. This way commercial success could be achieved without distorting the qualities of the players — sloshars will be maniacally chanting. Sounds impossible? When it comes to the holy trinity of multinational sponsors, tycoons and the most popular game of the world, I am afraid – impossible is nothing.

And just one more thing a la Colombo. Can you remember how the ruling of the European Court of Justice changed the world of football in 1995? It was due to a Belgian footballer, Jean-Marc Bosman. Ten years later G-14 clubs decided to take FIFA to court again after Abdelmajid Oulmers had been out for eight months having suffered a serious injury when playing for Morocco. Anyway, he plays for Belgian Charleroi. Will history repeat itself?

This article is a submission for the Soccerlens Football Writing Competition; to participate, please read the details here.

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  1. benito 15 October, 2007
  2. emilio calleja 15 October, 2007
  3. freiwald 25 September, 2008