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 Warner. An 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.