The news that the biggest club sides in Europe may be looking to cast UEFA and FIFA aside and form their own breakaway league will come as no great surprise to anybody with even the most cursory knowledge of the modus operandum of those that run said clubs. At height of the FIFA corruption hysteria at the end of May, we noted on this site that, “Who is to say that the coup d’etat won’t come from a cabal of the biggest clubs and television companies that these clubs already work so harmoniously with? And who is to say that a post-FIFA carve up of the world game wouldn’t be tailor-made to suit them and them alone?”, and it now seems as if this is what may well play out over the fullness of time.
So, we have to get a few things straight before we can begin to examine what all of this might mean. It may well end up being spun that this story is somehow related to alleged corruption within FIFA. This, after all, would fall in line with what has increasingly become the narrative that runs parallel to the game’s governing body. Should this line come to be put out in some piece of PR guff, though, it should be treated with the derision that it deserves. This is all about two things: money and, to paraphrase Karl Marx, of all people, the ownership of the means of production. The biggest club sides in Europe look on with bewilderment at the fact that FIFA can turn a $1bn profit on the World Cup finals, while a large number of them are millions of pounds in debt, and they want a bigger slice of that pie. It seems unlikely that they would be opposed to strangling the international game, either.
Why, though, should we be concerned with the floating of such ideas? After all, they are still very much at the nascent stage and may just be a form of (as subtle as a crowbar) brinkmanship. Well, the obvious thing to say would be that such a league would almost certainly be, if not very nearly a closed shop, then very actually a closed shop. It is likely that a completely closed league of, say twenty clubs would be deeply unpopular with fans (or, if you prefer, consumers), so they may allow access to clubs in a very limited way, perhaps through play-offs. Overall, though, any new league would be all about keeping the invited – and, whilst we have no concrete idea of who they would consist of at present, we could probably guess at the approximate make-up of this vainglorious pack – in a position of perpetual wealth and status.
The common consensus seems likely to be that these clubs would be begged to keep second elevens playing in their domestic competitions, but the fact of the matter is that all domestic tournaments would be fundamentally debased by their biggest clubs acting in such a way, and it seems likely that there will be a vocal minority that will argue that, should they choose to break away, this should act as a formal act of a severance, and that these clubs should be summarily expelled from all competitions other than the one that they choose to break away in favour of. Much will depend on what the reaction of UEFA and FIFA is to such threats, but the possibility of the sort of split that has bedevilled other sports such as boxing and darts in recent years can only now be regarded as a very real one.
It is important, perhaps, to make a couple of points regarding the timbre that any future debate on this subject may take. First of all, a loathing of FIFA and/or UEFA doesn’t mean that one has to support plans for a break-away. It is perfectly possible to believe that both groupings in this argument may be as bad as each other, but that there is a chance that FIFA and/or UEFA can be reformed to be more egalitarian. It should go without saying that the biggest club competition in the world being directly managed by the likes of, say, Silvio Berlusconi or Florentino Perez would be beyond any notion of football other than a supplier/consumer relationship. It is not contradictory, for example, to believe that FIFA’s decision to schedule a round of international friendly matches at the start of August is a stupid decision, but still to believe that any big club-led break-away might be more damaging still to football in a general sense.
It should also be pointed out that the matter of objecting to the current batch of football club owners that will be agitating for such divisive action is nothing to do with nationality, rather it is about plutocracy. From an English perspective, for example, it seems inconceivable that, say, Ken Bates would not jump at the chance at such avarice if he were in a position to do so. It is, on balance, plausible to argue that foreign owners may be less concerns by ideas of history and tradition than others, but this is, in the overall scheme of things, probably irrelevant, because nationality is really not the point, here. Plutocrats go wherever the money is, and their loyalty is only to themselves. Which country they are from, how their name is spelt or what accent they speak with matters not a jot.
So, it’s not about nationalism or otherwise and, in spite of what you may hear and it’s not really about allegation of FIFA corruption (which will, in all likelihood, be masked in public discourse as “fitness for purpose”). This is about power, control and money. The formation of the Premier League, which is understood to be the break-away model that is being followed the most closely by those agitating for change, in 1992 created a hegemony that is unlikely to be seriously challenged in the forseeable future. The possibility of a severance of tradition and heritage in the pursuit of raw, naked wealth should alarm all football supporters. This may prove to be a long battle indeed.
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