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Bobby McMahon

Bobby McMahon

You can see me on Soccer Central most Mondays and Thursdays on Rogers Sportsnet in Canada. I write a regular column for Forbes.com and Soccerly.com and frequently guest on various podcasts and radio shows.


TANGENTS

European Clubs Have FIFA In Gun Sights

Written by on August 3, 2011 | 10 Comments »
Posted in Money Game

Rather like recessions, complaints from the big European clubs about money, power and authority come on a regular basis.

And just as the seeds of a future recession are often sown by the medicine administered to fix the immediate ailment it’s the same with the relationship between what was, at one time the G-14, and the governing bodies UEFA and FIFA.

Because every concession granted by the governing bodies only emboldens the clubs for the next go-around.

Last week saw the first shot of the latest skirmish with Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, the chairman of the European Club Association (ECA), going public with criticism of FIFA over its recent scandals.

Rummenigge’s comments about the way FIFA does business will sit well with many fans and with many European clubs. But the remarks shouldn’t be interpreted as a come-to-Jesus moment by the European Club Association but rather it should be seen for what it is – good old-fashioned politics.

Rummenigge and the clubs he represents smell blood and in politics where there is blood there is also opportunity. There are a number of factors that are lining up in favour of the clubs and the interview by Rummenigge was only the first salvo in a campaign that will run over the next three years.

The present agreement between the then newly formed European Club Association and UEFA was signed in 2008 and runs until 2014 and includes the next World Cup. The expectation is that sometime before the expiration a date a new deal will be signed.

But the landscape has changed considerably in the last little while and the ECA have been dealt a pretty good hand.

Included in the last agreement was a commitment by FIFA to distribute some of the revenue it earns from the World Cup to the clubs that provide the players.

The money provided to the clubs from the 2010 World Cup Finals was only a pittance compared to the cash-cow that is the World Cup but nonetheless the clubs are now in a far stronger position having had the principle of entitlement accepted last time around.

As far as competition is concerned the Champions League now outstrips the World Cup Finals in terms of entertainment, spectacle and technical quality although the latter still provides a greater financial bonanza.

Despite generating less money the success of the Champions League will have emboldened the European clubs and provided some assurance that if push came to shove there is a viable alternative model for them to exploit.

The ECA represents nearly 200 clubs so the accusation of elitism is one that FIFA may try to make but it will be a lot harder to make it stick than when only a handful of clubs were voicing complaints.

In the July edition of World Soccer Brian Glanville noted that Sepp Blatter’s bete noire Andrew Jennings had recently suggested that FIFA could soon face further accusations of impropriety.

An investigation of the financial collapse of ISL continues in Switzerland and prosecutor Thomas Hildebrand may bring forward evidence that leads to the prosecution of a number of high-profile individuals associated with FIFA.

It is clear that if Sepp Blatter survives the slings, arrows and tactical nuclear missiles currently being launched in his direction that he will soon become a lame duck President with a term that concludes in 2105.

That allows the ECA to work with possible successors (even though the ECA channel to FIFA is supposed to be through UEFA) on a more advantageous agreement for the clubs.

The FIFA corruption allegations have also garnered the attention of European Union politicians of all stripes. Sports Ministers are due to meet in the fall to discuss governance of national and international sports and you can rest assured that the ECA will be using the politicians as a strategic weapon in their battle.

The European Club Association may have initially positioned the issue as one of good governance but the truth is that FIFA’s current ailments have only provided the clubs with a very convenient foot in the door.

The next three years are going to get very ugly.

*The European Club Association

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10 responses to “European Clubs Have FIFA In Gun Sights”

  1. Gus Keri says:

    Bobby:

    Did you mean to say: “the remarks shouldn’t be (interpreted) as a come-to-Jesus moment” ?

  2. Gus Keri says:

    When I initially read Rummenigge’s remark, I had one thought in my mind.

    It came at a time when all the world is focussing on the FIFA corruption and there was a risk that the world cup in Qatar 2022 might come to be investigated.

    If the WC was taken from Qatar, Germany stands to lose the most. Germany will benefit tremendously from building the infrastructures in Qatar.

    It could be an attempt by Germany, through Rummenigge, to re-direct the disccussion and the eyes of the world away from the scandal that might hit Qatar 2022.

    It was a crazy idea but this is how the world of politics, sometimes, works.

  3. Gus – thanks for the catch.

  4. […] on the business side of football, the ever-excellent Bobby McMahon forecasts a bloody three years of wrestling between Europe’s big clubs and FIFA executives […]

  5. John Bladen says:

    It’s tempting when one reaches a certain age to begin thinking that the inmates are indeed running the asylum. Going back quite a few years, the path that the G14/ECA have followed was entirely predictable. For all their complaints about ‘supplying’ talent, the fact is that they do quite well out of the current system (though I’m sure they can always see room for improvement).

    At some point, you’d have to think the threat of a superleague (whether expressed or implied) will result in someone in the halls of power ‘calling’. Then what?

    I remember a lot of discussion in the 1980s from english clubs about what they might lose vs what they might gain if they left their domestic leagues for a pan-european league. Perhaps the threat has proven to be more valuable for the clubs than the act could ever be?

  6. John – In Canada we can recognize it as the Quebec nationalist strategy I think.

  7. Ursusarctos says:

    … and in Britain as that of their acolytes at Holyrood.

  8. Gus Keri says:

    UA:

    I thought about saying something similar but I chickened out.

  9. Gbenga says:

    Gus,

    Interesting points and I also see it that way. I’ve always wondered how hypocritical Rummenigge looks when he talks like this. He was a former international player himself and now he behaves like as if he never played the game before.

    The only people whining about Qatar’s bid are the English who weren’t even bidding for it but yet keep talking about it. I wonder why they don’t direct their anger towards the Russians… Sour grapes always…

  10. John Bladen says:

    Gbenga:

    It is not only the English, but your broader point is well made. Every nation that has bid for the world cup in the “modern” era has included at least some (and often a great deal) of graft in the bidding process. England’s own investigation into what went ‘wrong’ found suspicious transactions/gifts etc.

    No-one who bids for a world cup, Olympics or any other major event run by the likes of the IOC or FIFA should be at all surprised that the decisions are made in the manner in which they are.

    If a nation chooses to climb in bed with FIFA, it shouldn’t be surprised when things “don’t quite work out”.

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