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.
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