A Rummenigge revolution

The club versus country row that has rumbled on for most of this century looks set to take on a whole new level of bitterness.

In the week when FIFA hosts one of its showcase events (the 2014 World Cup qualifying draw in Rio de Janeiro), the top European clubs have sent a stark warning about the future of football.

Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, President of the European Club Association (ECA), CEO of Bayern Munich and owner of some “sexy knees” declared on Tuesday that a “revolution” would soon sweep through football with clubs taking control of the game from current regulators such as FIFA and UEFA.

According to the Guardian, the “revolution” will involve the creation of a European Super League (which was first mooted in about 1874, I think), the cessation of the policy of clubs releasing players for all international duty (friendlies and tournaments) and participating in UEFA’s Champions League. This comes with the impending expiry of a code of understanding between clubs and UEFA in 2014 regarding all of these issues.

The timing comes when the backlash against the bribery fiasco at FIFA (and thus questions over his legitimacy) is at its greatest; an issue compounded by Sepp Blatter refusing to answer questions regarding Mohammed Bin Hamman’s dubbing him a dictator. Perhaps a less dictator-esque response would have gone down better. Similarly, the ECA may need to do some PR work as how a European Super League would be regulated is a mystery and self-regulation is hardly a guarantor of accountability (just look at OFCOM).

The ECA, which represents 197 clubs across Europe, believes that there is far more financial potential to be made from football and this is one of the key reasons for this political manoeuvring against FIFA and UEFA. Other issues include the planned increase in international football by FIFA and the issue of insurance for players in international matches should they get injured.

You may well spot a running theme here; money, cash and wonga. FIFA want more international football to increase revenue at that level whilst the clubs want more money as owners of the big clubs become more aware of the power of football to raise capital and the threat UEFA’s fair play rules make to this.

Despite similar threats coming from the old G14 clubs and nothing materialising, the situation appears to be different this time with the top clubs holding most of the trump cards. The timeframe of the code of understanding is drawing to an end, they own the big-name players, their brands are strong and they keep the money coming into their domestic leagues so smaller clubs have little clout when it comes to reining them in.

Speaking as a fan of a smaller club, I feel somewhat ambivalent to this latest threat. Should the top clubs break away, though the effect would be huge on the English football system it may not strictly be for the worse. Income would be reduced which would mean wages cut for playing staff which is not the worst thing in the world and the quality of football would be unlikely to change as there are only so many players to go around. Furthermore, it would mean other clubs might actually be able to win things rather than aiming for 17th place in the Premier League every year.

That said, the complete opposite may happen. Ticket prices may rise due to the loss of revenue, the quality of football would decrease as there is less money to go around and clubs may go bust due to this loss of income (though the question over whether football clubs would be allowed to go bust is a moot point for another time).

However, the impact it would have on other leagues is where the big problem is caused. The greed of the top clubs may well be the death knell for leagues such as the Scottish, Scandinavian and Eastern European leagues who may miss the Super League boat and have little chance of crashing the party at a later date.

Whilst FIFA and UEFA aren’t perfect, not by a long stretch, I would much prefer them (albeit a thoroughly reformed version of them) to a system regulated by the top clubs and run for the sole benefit of the top clubs. Either way, one could safely assume that the customers (or is it fans?) would have a say in the outcome. Quelle surprise.

Dan Whiteway @Dan_Whiteway


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