Top European soccer teams have sounded the charge in their battle against FIFA, which runs world soccer, and UEFA, its European counterpart.
In the minds of the club executives, too much international soccer is played, there is too tiny paid to the teams for releasing players, and international soccer’s organizers ignore the clubs’ interests when setting up the soccer calendar.
Frustration has been building, with Bayern Munich president Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, the German attack dog and chairman of the European Club Association, borrowing the rhetoric of the Arab spring and suggesting FIFA president Sepp Blatter was a “Hosni Mubarak” figure ripe for overthrowing, as was the Egyptian ruler.
Well, Rummenigge apologized to Blatter for the intemperate language last week when the club association, which represents 201 of Europe’s huge teams, met in Geneva. But there was no softening of the stance on international games.
And persistent reports of corruption within FIFA have given the clubs just the opening they were looking for to up the pressure. Michele Centenaro, the ECA secretary-general, stated the clubs would focus on three key areas: “good governance, democracy and transparency.”
Obviously, the ECA is seeking an advantage from the obvious: FIFA’s reputation is at an all-time low.
Still, for many fans, the naked commercialism of clubs, the overblown wages for players and the greed that permeates the leagues make the clubs as culpable as FIFA for the game’s moral decay.
So the clubs’ initial list of demands is, by and large, a reasonable one.
“The clubs concurred in 2004 to cancel the second group phase of the Champions League,” Rummenigge pointed out last week.
Teams now go directly to knockout after the first group stage.
“Now there are 13, not 17, match days,” he added. “It was concurred that the dates would be taken by rest days for the players. But all the rest dates are now completely occupied by national-team dates.”
In the 47 months between January 2008 and November 2011, elite European clubs will have released their players for 47 international matches in the middle of the European league seasons. That doesn’t include the World Cup or European Championship finals. In addition to this, some players are committed to African and Asian continental tournaments played sometimes during January. The ECA sees several of the exhibition international dates as “nonsense” and wants them deleted.
Manchester United’s chief executive David Gill, an ECA board member, stated the organization wants international games to be reduced to six in non-tournament years and eight when a tournament is taking place. Matches at World Cup and European Championship finals would be in addition to that number.
“These topics have been discussed at length,” he said. “(The ECA hopes to) reduce the number of single dates – (ending the) friendlies in August and June and reducing it to meaningful games plus the Euros and the World Cup. Ideally, we would have six double dates over the period. That gives the right balance, while being a reduction for the interests of the national teams against what the clubs want.”
Then there is the real heart of the matter – yeah, you guessed it, money. FIFA has been raking it in as sponsors clamour to sign up for the World Cup. Its income increased by 22.7 per cent between the 2006 World Cup and the 2010 version. FIFA’s revenues from the four-year cycle ending in the 2010 World Cup were nearly $4.2 billion Canadian. Of that, the clubs got a cheesy $40 million in compensation. That increases to $70 million for Brazil 2014. The clubs, of course, want more.
But the clubs are leaving themselves open to attack. The only reason they are demanding more money is because they fritter away millions on inflated player salaries, FIFA might well suggest.
And the international body surely will point out that if the August international friendly date is cut, as the clubs want, teams will only use that as an opportunity to extend those moneyspinning preseason tours of Asia and North America.
Will there be a quick settlement? Well, unless Blatter, the 75-year-old FIFA president and master political fixer, has suddenly discovered an inclusive gene, it could be a messy few years in soccer.
Could teams refuse to release players for friendly internationals? It might happen.
© Copyright (c) The Montreal Gazette
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