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The Potential For Discord In World Football

Mon, 5 July 2010

As FIFA basks in the publicity, if not the financial success, of the 2010 World Cup Finals, it is easy to ignore the potential discord that lies ahead for world football.

The financial compensation aspects of the longstanding “club v country” debate may have been put to rest in January 2008, but there are enough loose ends for the issue to be revived.   And the distribution of power and wealth in world football is an issue that continuously brews in the background.

The loose threads of the compensation deal agreed between FIFA, UEFA and the ECA are discussed here.   As player salaries continue to increase, the financial risk of a player being injured while on international duty is increasingly borne by his employer club.  Arsenal’s claim last year relating to Robin Van Persie’s injury while on international duty for The Netherlands reflects the discomfort of clubs with the current position.

UEFA and football clubs clearly had competing interests in agreeing to the formation of the European Club Association – UEFA must have seen it as diluting the influence of the most powerful clubs, previously grouped as the G14 – the clubs must have seen it as broadening their power base.  Everything else was compromised at the time, and for the time being.

UEFA’s new financial regulations may be aimed at reducing levels of  debt in European football, but if it is also applied to restrict the ability of wealthy owners to pour money into their clubs, there will surely be a reaction in time.

The potential for a breakaway European league has been delayed, but has not disappeared.

The grip on power that FIFA, and Sepp Blatter, have in world football is achieved through the control of a narrow coalition  and balancing off other competing interests against each other.

FIFA’s confederations represent the various continents.

Although South America, and increasingly, Africa, produce many of the best players in the world, Europe, where much of the current wealth in world football lies, is a popular destination for these players.  Much of the future wealth in world football will arise in Asia and North America.

North America is kept in line by Jack WarnerAn Asian challenge to Sepp Blatter earlier this year, by proposing an 8-year limit to the presidency of FIFA, failed.  As the warm glow of the first African World Cup fades, there will be growing dissatisfaction in South America and Africa that despite producing many talented players, their countries have not performed as well as expected in the current and previous World Cups.  Despite misgivings about FIFA, Europe does not want to rock the boat while it is still prospering and relatively prosperous football-wise.

It is difficult for any one group or entity to challenge the behemoth that is FIFA.  By a mixture of rewards and threats, FIFA keeps the bulk of the international football community in line at any given time.

It would take a larger scale challenge to bring about change.  Despite an undertone of grievances, it would take a major shake-up to bring about change.

Money is often the motivation – a revival of the conflict over compensation for players injured while on international duty, coupled with renewed interest in a European league as a means of dealing with debt and increasing costs in football, may just be the catalyst.

Give it 3 to 5 years.

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5 comments

  1. From another blog:

    As noted previously, FIFA has the best business model in the world in that they have a high demand, endlessly renewable product that costs them – quite literally – nothing. All they do is pass rules saying that the clubs who employ, train and develop the players are required to hand them over to a bunch of corruptocrat Federation and Confederation officials whenever FIFA says they must.

    They in turn use said players to generate vast sums of money for themselves after which – if they haven’t been injured of course – their clubs can have them back for a spell. As R. Lee Ermey Soccer News Topics might put it, the clubs don’t even get the common courtesy of a reacharound. Just a tired, worn out, travel-weary star player who really needs a couple weeks off.

    Of course none of this is really new, but as the years go by FIFA has created more and more international dates in order to generate more and more income for the local Federations who sell the tickets, pocket the money and then re-elect the man who makes it all possible, Sepp Blatter.

    In a decision reached last June, as kind of the opening salvo in Blatters’ re-election campaign, FIFA quietly increased the number of international dates by fully 20% over the next four years, (from 38 to 46 between 2011 and 2014).

    The clubs were not consulted and indeed were not even informed that the idea was being considered. It was simply presented to them as a done deal: we’re going to be taking your players some more and since we make the rules you can like it or lump it.

    When the EPFL complained, saying that it was reaching the point where the players were going to start breaking down, Blatter loftily replied that the “real problem” is that there are too many club matches. Cut down on those, he told them, and there won’t be any problem.

    ….

    … the EPFL, … issued this statement:

    “The EPFL … invites Fifa to reconsider its decision-making process and enhance participative democracy.”

    ….

    What this entire affair did accomplish is a sudden realization amongst the large European clubs that they are entirely at the mercy of the whims of a bunch of venal old men whose only interest is in living like oil shiekhs.

    The fact is that they’re the ones who have paid for and developed and heavily invested in the players who are the engines of FIFA’s wealth. ….

    And if push comes to shove they can get along without FIFA one whole hell of a lot better than FIFA can get along without them.

    Because FIFA’s biggest stick – the threat of expulsion and disqualification if you don’t follow their instructions – is simply no threat at all against a united Europe. They can get along just fine with UEFA Cup and the European Championships and Champions league but how much money is a World Cup without the players who toil for clubs in Spain, Germany, England, France, Italy, Portugal and the rest of Europe going to generate?

    If they really got together and refused to release their players, what is Blatter going to do about it?

    ….

    Right now, no one can say how all this will turn out; what I do know is that this is an election year and bin Hammam is waiting in the wings ready to pounce on any sign of weakness from Zurich. Not that he’d be likely to change much of course but he can hardly be worse. Or a bigger embarrassment.

    I also know that the only way you can force FIFA to change is to start costing them money, and the only organization truly capable of doing that is the major clubs. Without the players they provide, FIFA’s money machine will collapse like the proverbial house of cards.

    Have they had enough? Will they really flex their muscles?

    We may be about to find out.

    The EPFL is the European Professional Football Leagues.

    Personally, I think the ECA are more likely to force the issue than the EPFL.

    The writer is American, and perhaps his perspective is the American one of leagues controlling player contracts.

    In Europe, the immediate and only employers of professional footballers are the clubs themselves.


  2. [...] surprisingly, while I believe that the European Club Association (ECA) is more likely than the European Professional Foo…, despite all the past talk of a break-away European League, I doubt the ECA have any great interest [...]


  3. [...] usual mix of threats, promises, inducements and calling in of past favours, whether communicated expressly or impliedly, will surely make Blatter the favourite to be [...]


  4. [...] The Potential For Discord In World Football, posted on 5 July 2010 [...]


  5. [...] The club v country debate is one about money – clubs pay players, countries use their services with minimal recompense, [...]



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