The Twohundredpercent Review Of 2011: The Ascent Of The Blue Sky Thinkers
That 2011 should have seen a trickle of new ideas on the subject of how to reorganise English and European club football should come as no great surprise. Last year saw an unprecedented undermining in the authority of FIFA, following the flawed process for determining the hosts of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, whilst UEFA’s Financial Fair Play regulations were always likely to cause a fluster in England, which long ago submitted its professional game to the rigours and inherent inequalities of neo-capitalism with such gusto that it sometimes feels as if an accountancy qualification is of almost as much use to a supporter as a working knowledge of the office law.
If the undermining of the credibility of those running the game – some of which was thoroughly well deserved, whilst some had the distinct whiff of self-servitude about it – created a vacuum, then there were plenty of people that were more than happy to step into that void and offer helpful suggestions of their own. The only problem with this was that, with this being Britain, just as the electorate reacted to a crisis brought about by runaway neo-capitalism by voting in an even more neo-capitalist government than the one that we already had, so it has been that the debate on the future of football in 2011 has been steered by those that can only see this future through the tunnel vision of their own self-interest. Fortunately for all of us, even those running Liverpool’s Premier League rivals saw how undesirable this state of affairs would be and quickly distanced themselves from it.
Take Ian Ayre, the Managing Director of Liverpool, for example. His helpful suggestion towards the modernisation debate was to put forward the end of the collective bargaining for overseas television rights for the Premier League. Never mind the simple fact that Manchester United’s television revenues would dwarf everybody elses, that further inequality between the biggest and the rest would only serve to make the notion of competition within the Premier League even more redundant than it already is and that the proof already exists from Spain of how destructive this can be, Ayre was up there, on his pedestal, stating that this was the future for the Premier League.
Whilst we managed to dodge a bullet on this matter, we were unable to on the subject of the Elite Player Performance Plan. This change to the rules of how youth players are brought through was effectively forced upon the clubs of the Football League by the Premier League under a threat of withholding funding, and it will, unsurprisingly, benefit the Premier League to the detriment if all other clubs. Yet for all the anger that was hurled in its direction when it became public, there was nothing that anybody could do about it. In what was possibly the greatest unwritten admission of the power imbalance between the clubs of the Premier League and the entire rest of English football, the EPPP was waved through, leaving many smaller clubs wondering what the point of maintaining their youth academies might be.
More concerning still, this trend has started spreading to Europe. Those of us that held out the hope that the end of G14 might herald the beginning of a new, more consensual era in the politics of European club football have had our hopes dashed. The European Club Association, the organisation which has come to replace it, has also, through its public voice, the former Bayern Munich forward Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, has started to agitate for change which will – you guessed it – benefit the biggest European clubs at the expense of just about everybody else. Some of their demands – and ‘demands’ is, considering the almost confrontational way in which they have been issued – amount to little more than common sense, but others were utterly unreasonable and hint at an absolute intention to set up a breakaway European Super League in the fullness of time.
The simplistic thing to do at this point is to blame the influx of foreign owners into the game for the quest for newer, more profitable ways to exploit the game. This doesn’t, of course, apply to European club football, but there is little evidence to suggest that applies within England, either. The patron saint of the Blue Sky Thinkers was, after all, Garry Cook, and Cook, who lost his position at Manchester City earlier this year after a very odd story involving the mother of one of City’s young players who doubled up as said player’s agent, is very much of British stock, albeit stock that may have been informed by his time working at Nike. The truth of the matter is, however, that it is neo-liberalism that is driving this push for reform, and this particular strand of neo-liberalism respects and cares only for money and, we might suspect, control of the game.
We have warned before of the dangers of campaigning against FIFA or UEFA without having a clear plan for whom or what should replace them on this site before. At a time of considerable difficulty in terms is European politics in a broader sense, it feels as if the time of a single European football economy will soon be upon us. Whether this proves to be a positive thing for supporters or not remains to be seen, but there is little evidence to prove that it will be, if those currently driving the debate over its constitution end being those that shape it. There is, however, still time for a debate to be had over this which includes the best interests of supporters at its heart. Twenty years ago, we lost out in England because there was not enough vocal opposition to the greatest carve-up of power in the history of the club game in this country. If football has to change, then we all have to make our voices heard if we want it anything like what we would want it to look like. If we fail, at least we’ll know that we tried.
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