Is It Wrong To Laugh Whilst Writing An Obituary?
G14 hasn’t gone away, of course. That would, obviously, be asking too much. It’s more, well, a change of strategy. Since its foundation in 2000, G14 has taken something of a “bull in a china shop” approach to its politicking, getting itself involved in needless court cases with one sole aim – creating a European legal precedent that would make them more money. The crassness of their involvement in the Charleroi vs FIFA case was staggering – here was G14, explicitly setting its sights on the governors of the world game, and using a small, provincial, Belgian club to do so. They barely even bothered with the pretence of caring about Charleroi. This was all about making money out of FIFA.
There is a cogent case to be made that the clubs should be given a share of the money that the confederations make from the likes of the World Cup and the European Championships. These are the people that pay the wages of the players that the international associations take away, use, make a profit from and occasionally return in pretty bad condition. The FA has a compensation package which covers the wages of players that get injured on international duties. However, it is limited to £50,000 per week, and a number of the players in the England squad earn considerably more than that. In the case of, say, Michael Owen, it was less than half of his wages being paid by the FA for the months and months that he was out injured after the 2006 World Cup.
The flip side to this argument is somewhat more nuanced. It’s entirely plausible to argue that clubs depend on the international game as much as the international set up depends upon the club game. The renaissance in English football came, not from Sky TV, no matter how much they might want you to believe it. They didn’t get properly involved until 1992. In that respect, they were bandwagon jumpers. The renaissance started with the 1990 World Cup and the ending of English clubs’ exile in Europe. People started going back to their clubs off the back of a renewed interest that was engendered by England’s performance in Italy and when they got there, they found that it wasn’t as bad as it had been. The effects of The Taylor Report were starting to kick in, and the facilities were starting to be improved.
All of this, though, is history. The game has moved on considerably since the early 1990s, and the clubs (and, in particular, the wealthy and powerful clubs) are in a stronger position than they ever have been before. However, international football still creates better “occasion” football than club football. The Champions League final is the biggest thing that club football has to offer, yet the TV audience in Britain for it will usually be less than for an England match of any significance. The response of the broadcasters has been telling. If you sit and watch a Champions League match on the television, you are constantly reminded how great it will be if the English clubs are successful, but I suspect that less and less people are falling for this line, now. This line serves the broadcasters very nicely. It pushes the patriotic button and (and this is crucial, as far as the broadcasters are concerned) creates interest amongst the neutrals. If you strip the neutrals away from the Champions League, the audiences would lousy. They play the same trick now on the international matches, but the base audience is bigger to start with.
Ultimately, G14 was outflanked by Michel Platini, and they were left with little choice but to re-group and re-organise. For the time being, Platini has got them onside and, for the first time in the best part of a decade, there’s a chance that peace might actually break out within European football. I’d watch my back, though, if I was him.