Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A Revolution in Global Football?

The Guardian reports that the European Club Association is threatening not to renew its memorandum of understanding with FIFA and UEFA in 2014 when it expires.  That would free up European clubs to create a long-discussed "super league" that would in effect replace today's Champion's League.  The Guardian reports:
The Guardian can reveal the background to Karl-Heinz Rummenigge's comments on Tuesday about a "revolution" for football: a European super league that would see the clubs seize control of their own affairs from the regulators. The European game is currently ordered through a memorandum of understanding between clubs and Uefa that was signed three and a half years ago. It runs until 2014, and when it expires the top European clubs will no longer be legally bound to play in Uefa's Champions League or, crucially, to release their players for international friendlies or tournaments, including the World Cup.

In a reflection of their belief that Fifa lacks legitimacy – especially in the wake of the damaging bribery allegations currently surrounding the organisation – the clubs will not shrink from breaking away if they do not receive sufficient guarantees.

A board member of the European Club Association of which Bayern Munich's Rummenigge is president told the Guardian on Wednesday: "The fact that Bayern Munich, who have always been close to the institutions, are being so vocal and loud about the situation is a clear sign we're very close to breaking point. We have a memorandum of understanding with Uefa that expires in 2014. After that time we can no longer be forced to respect Fifa statutes or Uefa regulations. And we won't be obliged to compete in their competitions."

When asked what that would mean for clubs' finances if they were to withdraw from the Champions League, which generates tens of millions of pounds a year for his organisation's richest and most influential members, the ECA board member responded: "Don't be naive. Don't think there would be no alternative competition."
Who are the ECA?
Although the ECA has a broad constituency, representing 197 European clubs, it is the interests of nine in particular that will drive this agenda. They are Real Madrid, Milan, Liverpool, Internazionale, Manchester United, Barcelona, Arsenal, Chelsea and Rummenigge's Bayern. When the Guardian contacted the four English clubs for their views on the matter, all declined to comment. However, a director at one of the clubs said: "[Financially] there is a lot of unfulfilled potential in football as it stands."
The ECA are in an important position in holding FIFA accountable, based on their ability to change the economics of top-level club competition in Europe.  Upon Sepp Blatter's reelection as FIFA president, Rumminegge issued the following statement via the ECA:
The recent happenings have once more proven that FIFA needs a change in its whole structure. As Chairman of the European Club Association, I request FIFA to immediately introduce democratic and transparent structures and procedures. European clubs will no longer accept that they do not participate in the decision-making when it comes to club-related matters. We will closely follow FIFA's development in this respect in the future and take appropriate measures, if there is no improvement.
The Guardian suggests that the creation of the Premier League provides a precedent:
The English experience of the past 20 years, since a breakaway group of the leading clubs withdrew from the Football League to form the Premier League (albeit under the auspices of the Football Association), has been exceptionally lucrative for the game domestically and the hawks within the ECA are pushing for a replica at European level.
I don't think that the English precedent really fits the present case, as it changed the organization of English football but not its entire governance structure.

Rumminegge has it right, if the ECA were to topple UEFA and FIFA such a change would be a "revolution" and take football into uncharted waters.  Time will tell whether the ECA has adopted a negotiating position or has serious intentions for institutional reform.


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