Editor’s note: This is the first piece for The Shin Guardian from Joshua Wells. Joshua is an attorney and was editor of his law review. He’ll be broadly looking at the administrative side of soccer from legality through business practices.
Welcome to TSG Josh!
If you go to UEFA.com and make a few clicks of the mouse, eventually you’ll find a link with the title “Stakeholders.”
On the right hand side of the page is a column with the title “Supporting Documentation.” The first document in the list is one with the benign title of “Memorandum of Understanding Between UEFA and ECA.” This is a document that most football fans have never even heard of, but it could be the most important document in world football.
Any football fan knows what UEFA is, but you might not know what the ECA is. Formed upon the dissolution of the G-14 in January 2008, the European Club Association (ECA) is an association of 197 European football clubs, with at least one club from each of the 53 European football associations. The purpose of the ECA is ostensibly to represent the interests of all European clubs in the football halls of power. Truth be told, the ECA represents nine members, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea, AC Milan, Inter Milan, and Bayern Munich, while paying small tribute to the idea that the little guys matter.
The Memorandum of Understanding was entered into between the ECA and UEFA on January 21, 2008. Without it, it could be said that there would be no Champions League, Europa League, European Championships, or World Cup. Among other things, the Memorandum of Understanding provides that members of the ECA will honor the international schedule set by FIFA, will release their players to play in international fixtures, and will participate in the Champions and Europa Leagues. The Memorandum of Understanding will expire on July 31, 2014, and there is a very real chance that it will not be renewed, throwing the world of football into chaos.
FIFA’s last round of World Cup site selections and the presidential election were so steeped in corruption, ineptitude, and hubris that support among the public for FIFA is at an all time low. In years past, the ECA could not expect for the public to sit quietly and abide a decision to abandon FIFA and UEFA. Now, the average football fan is begging for anybody to stick it to FIFA, even if it means the end of international football as we know it.
ECA Chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge has been quick to take advantage of Blatter’s ineptitude and Michel Platini’s unwillingness to speak out against FIFA’s corruption. On July 27, 2011, Rummenigge was quoted as saying, “Sepp Blatter is saying [that he’s cleaning up shop] but the fact that no one believes him tells you everything you need to know. I’m not optimistic because they believe the system is working perfectly as it is. It’s a money machine, World Cup after World Cup, and, for them, that’s more important than serious and clean governance.
“It is a nice game but is decided by people who are corrupt. I am not ready to accept the system as it is and I am not alone. I am asking for transparency, balance and democracy in governing bodies like FIFA and UEFA. I don’t accept any longer that we [should be] guided by people who are not serious and clean. Now is the moment to intervene, because knowing something is wrong is an obligation to change.”
Rummenigge went on to state, “There are 200 clubs in this organization and we are unhappy with the developments. Clubs are the root of all football, but no club is involved in the decision-making process at FIFA and UEFA. It’s not just the top clubs – it’s all the clubs.”
The next day, AC Milan’s Organizing Director, Umberto Gandino, fired his own salvo stating, “We are the ones who invest the money. We are the ones who develop the players. We are the ones who give the players a reason to play. Without the clubs, what do you think [FIFA and UEFA] are going to do?
“We will keep on fighting to find the right balance between national association football and club football. Into the future I cannot see exactly what will happen, but for sure the ultimate position could well be a refusal of cooperation or the refusal to accept the imposition of certain rules.”
It doesn’t take much reading between the lines to see that the ECA will not be particularly motivated to negotiate a new Memorandum of Understanding that will extend the current agreement, or anything remotely like it, beyond 2014.
The ECA has much to be unhappy about with the current Memorandum of Understanding. With the exponential growth of the financial aspects of the game, especially in Europe, players have become worth well more than their weight in gold. Clubs are required by the current Memorandum of Understanding to release their players for international fixtures when called on by their national federations. Each year there are numerous instances of key players becoming injured while on international duty, and the clubs get no compensation for the use, or loss, of their players. In short, it’s the equivalent of your neighbor borrowing your brand new Maybach, totaling it, then returning it to you without so much as an apology.
If that weren’t enough, FIFA wants to increase the number of international fixtures, providing more opportunities for players to become injured, limiting their chances to rest, and extending club seasons which already last for ten months. FIFA intends to meet in the coming months to increase the international fixture dates, and as per usual, the ECA will not have an opportunity to participate in the discussions. Blatter is the emperor with no clothes, and apparently it’s going to take the defection of the ECA, whose players made up 75% of the participants in the World Cup, to make him see his nakedness.
UEFA promised the ECA that they would address the issue of insurance for players on international duty following the presidential elections in March, but four months have passed, a new round of international fixtures are coming, and UEFA has not lifted a finger to address the problem.
The only carrot which UEFA has to hold in front of the ECA is the millions of dollars in revenue that the Champions League, the most popular tournament in sport, and the Europa League pour into various clubs every year. However, the ECA will be more than happy to form their own version of the Champions League, which would likely be better run and more progressive in regard to technology. Most importantly to the ECA, the money from the gargantuan television contracts associated with tournaments like the Champions and Europa Leagues would pour directly into the clubs’ coffers, as opposed to filtering through Blatter’s and Platini’s sticky fingers before the dregs are distributed to those who make it an event worth watching.
For those who believe this could never happen, it already has. In 1993, the Football League First Division decided to break away from the Football League and form the Premiership in order to take advantage of lucrative television contracts. The English Premier League, as it’s now known, has been nothing but a success, attracting talent and ownership from all over the world. It is now generally considered the best league in the world. If the clubs of the Football League were willing to break with hundreds of years of tradition for a television contract, there’s no reason to believe that the ECA will not be willing to do the same.
July 31, 2014, could be the end of football as we know it, and Blatter and Platini appear to be doing everything in their power to make that happen. In the end, money, and those who control its flow, will win out. Blatter and Platini continue to operate FIFA and UEFA as if they are the true power players in the sport, but as the end of the current Memorandum of Understanding draws near, real cataclysmic change could be on the way.