You Know FIFA? Duh. UEFA? Check. What About The ECA?

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.

Ever seen this logo before?

Welcome to TSG Josh!

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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.

The former player...now chairman...

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.

Champions League image real madrid spurs

Revenue...with a twist...

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.

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36 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Matt Mathai on 2011/08/17 at 12:50 AM

    Outstanding. I learned something. Thanks.

    Reply

  2. Wow. That’s some great work.

    Reply

  3. Posted by dikranovich on 2011/08/17 at 5:56 AM

    reading this post and hearing the quotes. these guys still have it wrong. they say it is all about the clubs. the clubs themselves are saying this, when in fact, its all about the fans. that point still seems to be lost on this organization run by the german striker. europeans just dont have parity in their blood.

    Reply

    • I agree that there should be more concentration on the fans, especially from a German who’s league appears to be the one to model after when it comes to putting fans first.

      As for parity…parity is just something that’s not in any competitive organism’s blood/nature; it’s how we as humans have managed to evolve into beings that are doing what we’re doing which is commenting on soccer within interweb blogosphere. Parity is nice enough in that the story isn’t always the same, but the free market is also a pretty fair system – if you participate. Though, with the new implementation of Financial Fair Play Rules, the Free Market in terms of European soccer is going the way of the buffalo since the clubs that are already big clubs have a leg up in terms of revenue coming through the doors when compared to smaller clubs.

      Reply

    • Posted by Damon on 2011/08/17 at 8:55 AM

      Lets say that the fans prefer international friendlies to club matches, but will still pay to see club matches. The players don’t get paid significantly for the international matches. The owners of the clubs don’t get paid for international friendlies. As long as the fans are happy enough with the club system that they continue to pay to see those matches (or line up in droves to watch them on TV) then I do think that they have considered the fan enough.

      Once the fans don’t like the club product and stop watching it THEN they aren’t paying enough attention to the fan.

      Reply

      • There is definitely a devaluation of the international game in favor of the club game. The club game is just a better product, from the level of competition to the stadiums in which it’s played, to the emotional attachment fans feel. That’s why a breakaway by the ECA or at the least, the extraction of HEAVY concessions from UEFA in this next round of negotiations seems likely to me (I’m talking less friendlies, insurance for players on int’l duty, greater share of revenues from CL and EL, etc.).

        One of the reasons it’s a better product is that it is a business, unlike FIFA which is just a place for old guys to wield power over people without any real accountability. The NFL is a corporate behemoth, and it got that way by catering to fans. Generally speaking, what’s good for business is good for fans. There are obviously some massive caveats to that statement, but given the choice, I’d prefer business running my sport over corrupt old guys with no accountability (not to mention that Blatter appears to be a racist and a misogynist).

        Reply

        • Posted by dikranovich on 2011/08/17 at 2:48 PM

          josh, id say pretty much every FA in the world puts its national team first, which falls in direct conflict with every club team, who put their club first. maybe the exception would be something like real madrid, who in the past maybe tend to make more concessions to the spain national team, and more so when a guy like franco is in charge. the old club or country debate, or maybe its just hyperbole, but karl heintz rummenigga is from the same german team that thought so well of the rules and fair play that they would shaft algeria in the 82 world cup.

          Reply

          • Posted by Josh on 2011/08/17 at 2:57 PM

            I agree, except for maybe the USSF. Sometimes I think they put MLS before the USMNT. Generally the issues are not between the FAs and the clubs. There’s conflict, but they work together, whereas UEFA and FIFA have pretty much ignored that club football exists, banking on the fact that fans will revolt if a league or club decides to buck FIFA. They may still believe that this is true, but it isn’t.

            Reply

            • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2011/08/17 at 4:05 PM

              Considering nearly all of the money exists wit
              hin Europe, do you think that UEFA will ever break-away from FIFA, i.e. no European countries at the WC, but increase the frequency of the European Championships?

              Re. your devalue comment, I couldn’t agree with you more. And, unfortunately, that is a sad thing, especially as you say that fans are becoming less emotionally attached** as club football has grown more powerful. It used to be the pinnacle of a player’s career, but they get SO much money in club football, plus all the best players are generally involved in the CL.

              Fans of the big clubs. I’ve been to 2 WCs, and I can say this: +80% of the other English fans I came in contact with did not support the “Big 4″, but smaller regional clubs. Not sure if there is a correlation there or not…

            • Posted by dikranovich on 2011/08/17 at 4:38 PM

              well, the big leagues are not as interested in growing their leagues as MLS is. USSF has to walk a fine line between supporting the national team and growing MLS. soccer will continue to morph into whatever it becomes and people fifty years from now will be looking back on this time talking about how irrelivant it was to the game of the future. remember,” wherever you go, there you are.”

  4. This is why I am addicted to TSG. Thanks.

    Reply

  5. Excellent piece Josh. Welcome to TSG.

    I for one am saddened to see that the Blatters and Platinis (who ran on a platform of change) can’t see the writting on the wall.

    Reply

  6. Posted by GeorgeCross on 2011/08/17 at 6:24 AM

    Great article.

    I was actually pleased when Platini took over from Johansson, because it was the latter who was a driving force behind the CL, where the former ‘seemed’ to champion fair play and equality. I thought having an ex-player who played at the highest level might help rather than an out and out politician / money man.

    I am afraid nothing has changed too much. It is still about money and who gets it. G14 clubs talk about player fatigue and fixture congestion, but they don’t mind scheduling money making preseaon tours, or playing more fixtures in the cash cow that is the CL. Remember the outcry when the CL format was changed meaning less CL football? What they really wanted was for the FAs to cut the numbr of teams in each domestic league.

    I love the game, and always will, but the politics drive me crazy. I guess one should not be too surprised when you look at FIFA’s revenue today compared to just 15 years ago. Blatter should be charged in The Hague for crimes against football…

    Reply

  7. Posted by GeorgeCross on 2011/08/17 at 6:33 AM

    FYI if people are interested in this subject, and football politics in general, then you should check out the podcasts on BBC World Service – World Football.

    Admitedly, it has a slight European point of view and definition of ‘standards’ and ‘best practice’. However, it is excellent and I have not come across anything that is better (and does not require a subscription fee).

    Reply

  8. Posted by Damon on 2011/08/17 at 6:43 AM

    Joshua- for a future article I’d love to hear about whether the UEFA financial Fair Play act would stand up to anti-trust litigation. From the outside it seems like this is a salary cap being arbitrarily instituted on players without it being collectively bargained and would be highly illegal but perhaps I am missing something. Anyway- thanks for an interesting article.

    Reply

  9. Posted by Josh on 2011/08/17 at 7:02 AM

    Thanks Damon. I’ll take a look at that subject. If any of you have a question about the intersection of law or the administrative side of things with football, feel free to send it to jdwells12@gmail.com or on twitter @joshuawells. Thanks for the kind words. I’m happy to be able to add something to a community I’ve enjoyed so much.

    Reply

    • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2011/08/17 at 7:28 AM

      I have always thought that European football goes against the basic principles of EU Employment Law / Restraint of Trade practices. At the moment there seems to be a special priviledge enjoyed by clubs, but if they have to become compliant, the wheels could fall off as there could potentially be zero stability if an employee could give 4 weeks notice and leave.

      What are your thoughts about this from a legal standpoint? And do you think that this will ever happen?

      Reply

  10. [...] The Shin Guardian has an excellent piece on the European Club Association and and the challenge it presents to both UEFA and FIFA. [...]

    Reply

  11. Posted by Alexandria on 2011/08/17 at 7:26 AM

    I say who cares these players and clubs are equally as guilty in exploiting anything in their benefit. If UEFA fell apart I wouldn’t care I want concacaf to reach its potential and to do that MLS must take center stage and with a weaker uefa, MLS can step in and take some talent and get an actual seat at the table. This could all be smoke and mirrors anyway but it will be interesting to see.

    Reply

  12. Posted by Gregorio on 2011/08/17 at 7:28 AM

    Wow, what a great informative article, Thanks Josh. I had no knowledge of the ECA and the memorandum of understanding. I think there will be more posturing and negotiating via the media and some forums like this one, (ok probably only this one since most football/soccer sites are more like TMZ or Perez Hilton) Eventually there will be a compromise, with clubs getting more revenue sharing,insurance for international duty, and possibly more control of the release of players and international fixtures.
    As in All the President’s Men Deepthroat’s advice was ” Follow the Money”.
    The big clubs are in it for the money too, although the smaller clubs will benefit. and the fans will hopefully have the trickle down effect (Voodoo economics!) There is no doubt that FIFA is run as a corrupt Oligarchy with UEFA one of its satelites. So there must be efforts made for transparency and accountability but this will be a long process. Expect more rhetoric from both sides, its like the Debates on the Debt, there eventually will be a settlement, there is just too much at stake, your $ and national pride and identities. FIFA will cling on like a 12yr old school girl with a Crush on RIcky Martin (Save discussion on delusions & magical thinking for the psyche forums), but FIFA will give in because they don’t want to lose their pize sow (You and your $) and the ECA will settle for more $, but we will all be caught in the middle if this tennis match, MY advice is to watch bemusedly at the characters invloved.

    Reply

  13. Posted by KickinNames... on 2011/08/17 at 7:31 AM

    Great piece. Thanks for taking time to share it. I guess we can summarize the situation using a Toby Charles/Soccer Made in Germany line from those fabulous short shorted 70′s….
    “RUMMENIGE….WITH A CHANCE!!

    Reply

  14. Posted by Joe Dirt on 2011/08/17 at 8:56 AM

    Great Article

    It would be great if you could do a piece on MLS Single Entity Structure. Specifically in regards to player ownership rights and registration rules.

    To me, it seems that MLS is in violation of a couple FIFA rules give that players have to owned by clubs and not a league. MLS owns all player rights, negoiates salary and pays salary of the player, however MLS is not a club and doesn’t hold registration. Just curious on some of this and would love to see an in depth piece along the lines of what you have written above.

    Reply

  15. Posted by rafok on 2011/08/17 at 9:16 AM

    Amazing read

    Great work, Josh!

    I’ve always liked KHR as a player, he always played for the love of the game

    Reply

  16. Posted by Rodrigo on 2011/08/17 at 9:49 AM

    incredible article! I hope this also means that technologies for fairness in dubious plays would eventually be considered too!

    Reply

    • Sure. I think looking at the laws of the game and how they’re applied, and how they can be better applied, fall under the purview of what I’m going to be doing.

      Reply

  17. Posted by SamT on 2011/08/17 at 10:51 AM

    Great read. Fascinating that the beginning of the Premier League has some similarities to the current situation with the ECA. Indeed, it does seem possible that it could happen again.

    Reply

  18. Posted by Alex on 2011/08/17 at 11:04 AM

    Thank you for this piece. I now hate FIFA more, and am glad that high level officials in soccer loathe the organization as much as I do.

    Reply

  19. Posted by GeorgeCross on 2011/08/17 at 1:46 PM

    If my memory serves me correctly, didn’t the G14 clubs want to create a (full time) break-away ‘super’ Euro League? And the old European Cup was re-formatted into the CL to satisfy these clubs and to stop said break-away?

    Reply

    • Posted by mpentz on 2011/08/18 at 9:08 PM

      Yeah from my understanding, there is a movement growing to create an exclusive Super League. It would draw from the top few teams in the top leagues, teams that would then break away from the domestic structure and play a 20-team slate with the fellow elite. For me, this is the major story to watch in the soccer world (at least in Europe). The big clubs tend to think that they’re giving up too much revenue — not enough in my opinion, but I’d like to see more parity — and are giving serious consideration to a schism.

      A proposal I saw was a league of the top-20 historically success clubs, with two relegated and two promoted from a revamped Europa League every FIVE years. This is gaining steam not because of the European fans, who, as you pointed out, are mostly loyal to local clubs, but fans abroad (cough, Americans) that gravitate toward the big clubs. Certainly a frightening concept for any fan outside of the elite (I’m a Portsmouth fan, for full disclosure).

      Reply

  20. Posted by dikranovich on 2011/08/17 at 5:47 PM

    just to play devils advocate, has fifa done any good? because it could be said that fifa has expanded the game. there is almost no comparison to the game of just thirty years ago. 32 team world cups as opposed to the 24 team cups of the late seventies and early eighties. maybe the expansion happens without fifa, but the older world cups where in fact more heavily geared towards european teams, so something is moving in a good direction. maybe it is to easy to just bash the messanger, though he does still have political motive, it aint nothing new.

    Reply

    • Posted by Josh on 2011/08/18 at 12:31 PM

      Like with most things, of course FIFA has not been all bad. As you say, the expansion of the WC to 32 teams, the growth of the sport in Africa, and the growth of the women’s game (despite Blatter’s cromagnon stance on women’s sports) have all been good. The problem is how inefficient it is compared to what we expect of our sports organizations. FIFA runs itself more like a government than a sports organization. It has its own courts, it protects it’s people in power, it stamps out opposition, it hides corruption (have any of you read The Fix by Declan Hill? How nothing has changed as a result of that book is amazing), and it does not meet the standards fans hold their sports organizations to.

      One reason I’m so passionate about the corruption in FIFA, is I believe it is the last major hindrance left to the growth of the sport in the US. FIFA’s unwillingness to get rid of criminals at it’s upper echelons, bring its TV rights packages into the 21st century, and provide technology to officials are major turn offs to sports fans here in the US. FIFA will eventually come into the 21st century in some for or another, and I’d rather see it done from within, than blown up from without.

      Reply

      • Posted by dikranovich on 2011/08/18 at 3:21 PM

        so many sports organizations out there. josh, you remember when the olympics where played and they actually meant something? if soccer needs to come into the 21 century like the olympics have, then i say no thank you, because the olympics where so much better back in the day. at least thats what it seems like to me.

        Reply

  21. Posted by Adam Kirby on 2011/08/23 at 4:20 AM

    As a sentient human being, I bow to no man in my loathing of the benighted, corrupt oligarchy who run the world and european game. (and if you really want to get angry about things, watch the recent documentary “The Referees” for an insight into the chilling indifference of self serving tools like Michel Platini to the routine, game-changing errors made by officials at even the biggest tournaments).

    However, the Maybach analogy (you lend it to your neighbour, he sends it back totalled) is not quite apt; the inconvenient truth for us FIFA-haters is that when you lend your neighbour your Maybach, it is already a depreciating asset. Contrastingly, footballers “lent” by their clubs to internationals are, in many cases, enhancing their value, and thus their resale price-tags to their owners; obviously this is most marked in big tournament finals; but let’s not deny the value to a player, his agent and the selling club of a cap or three, even in friendlies, even where the big names have pulled out from a tweaked hamstring, even as a late sub, even in a by now totally switched XI.

    Objectively, then, the FIFA mandates are doing a lot of people a lot of good.

    Discuss

    Reply

  22. [...] You Know Fifa? Duh. Uefa? Check. What About The ECA? [...]

    Reply

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