Tag Archives: Michel Platini

Why Turkey Should Host Euro 2016

A little buried under World Cup hype and Robbie Findley hysteria is the fact that UEFA will be selecting the host for Euro 2016 this Friday at its Executive Committee meeting in Nyon, choosing between Italy, France and Turkey.

We can rule out Italy from the three final bidders, with UEFA already having offered serious reservations about ticketing, transportation and stadia infrastructure plans in their bid. France might seem an obvious favourite with Michel Platini heading UEFA, but Platini cannot vote or take part in the final debate (and nor can his Turkish or Italian counterparts, of course).

Turkey would be a bold choice and would better match, in fact, Platini’s own efforts to  reach out more away from the traditional western European strongholds of UEFA.

And remember, from 2016, the European Championship will expand to a slightly absurd 24 teams, increasing the demands on the host considerably. This piece gives us a good overview of the financial states of each bid, and it’s perhaps surprising to learn that Turkey “only” needs to spend 920 million Euros to prepare for the finals, compared to 1.7 billion Euros for the French, who hosted a World Cup just twelve years ago.

Despite this, the general consensus appears to be that Turkey is the riskier choice, but with much greater upside for European football than choosing France to host their third UEFA championship. The biggest event Turkey has hosted is the 2005 UEFA Champions League final.

World Football Insider has a good overview of Turkey’s bid, concluding that:

Expansion of UEFA’s flagship tournament into a new territory and the chance to grow the game in Turkey makes this the most attractive bid. But it’s also the most risky, with seven stadiums planned and massive infrastructure projects to complete. Turkey would be up against the clock if it were awarded the championships. But the government’s guarantees to provide 100% of the estimated total investment are an important and persuasive element of the bid. However, the Ukraine factor may ultimately count against them. The 2012 co-host’s trouble-hit preparations have been a major headache for UEFA and the governing body might look for a safer option this time around.

Concerns over Turkey because of Ukraine’s rather unique problems are harsh, however.  Giving Euro 2016 to Turkey would be a major spur for the sport in that country. France has hosted two World Cups and two European championships already; little is to be gained for football’s development by going there again.

Blatter, Platini, Champagne and the FIFA Presidency

Sepp Blatter

Why did one of Sepp Blatter’s key aides suddenly leave a top post at FIFA this week? Speculation from journalists is rife. The true story, sadly, is hard to find.

FIFA’s International Relations Director Jerome Champagne surprisingly departed from the world’s governing body this week, despite the fact that World Football Insider says Champagne had been “believed to be positioning himself for a run for Blatter’s job” next year. ESPN Soccernet similarly reported that “Champagne may have been positioning himself to run for president in next year’s election.”

Matt Scott at the Guardian concurs, seeing Blatter’s move as a sign of weakness:

Sepp Blatter is under increasing pressure as the president of Fifa, with his closest adviser having been dismissed last Friday following a coup. The departure of Fifa’s director of international relations, Jérôme Champagne, came as a result of the same stormy, seditious executive committee meeting last month at which Blatter was challenged over Fifa finances.

The move on Robben Island reflected a growing boldness among the heads of continental confederations, who have been growing their own powerbases and influence at the expense of Fifa’s once-omnipotent president.

Champagne’s direct courting of national associations – some say in an effort to promote his own ambitions towards the Fifa presidency, others say because he was under orders to cut out the confederations – left him vulnerable. And Blatter was told by the principal figures in the executive committee from the Asian, African and European blocs that unless Champagne was fired, the president himself would face a serious problem in future.

The background of unrest comes at a defining time for Blatter’s 12-year-old presidency and less than 18 months before he seeks re-election for another four-year term. His delivery of the first World Cup on African soil comes to the crunch this year and risks being a logistical disaster, with sponsors and fans declining to travel to a nation of questionable security at a time of economic difficulty.

If Blatter has been relieved by the reaction to Champagne’s departure, he is not out of the woods yet. With several senior pretenders to his throne ready to mount their challenge from within Fifa’s ex-co, his reputation will stand or fall with events in South Africa this summer.

Andrew Jennings, our favourite thorn in FIFA’s side, reports a slightly different background story, noting that FIFA’s briefings to journalists only hint at what the acclaimed investigative journalist believes are the real reasons behind Champagne’s departure at the behest of a confederation boss we can guess resides somewhere in the Americas:

Sepp Blatter’s FIFA is in chaos following the frenzied sacking of Jerome Champagne, one of the few clean senior executives remaining at the highest level of world football.

Blatter capitulated to furious demands from one of the most corrupt members of FIFA’s 23-man executive committee – from outside Europe – that Champagne had to be fired.

He had become increasingly incensed at Champagne’s attempts to block his rampant thieving from football.

Blatter and his general secretary Jérôme Valcke spent Friday hurriedly persuading reporters that Champagne had to go because he was planning to run against Blatter in the presidential elections.

This is nonsense; Champagne never tried to build his own power base – and probably couldn’t have persuaded a single national association to risk Blatter’s anger and nominate him. It is virtually impossible to unseat Blatter who ‘looks after’ his voters in the national associations so generously with millions of dollars for unaudited ‘development.’

But Jennings does say that “An increasing threat to Blatter’s survival comes from FIFA’s World Cup sponsors who are letting it be known they are disturbed by the endless corruption allegations clouding his administration and dirtying their brands.”

suspicion

So, might this be an opportunity for Michel Platini to ride in as a white knight? The AP reports that Platini will decide his future before the 2010 World Cup, saying “I’m very happy (as UEFA president), but, still, I can also be very happy elsewhere.” The Guardian speculates that Platini may challenge Sepp Blatter instead. Platini, though, would have a lot of work to do to win the necessary votes from outside UEFA to beat Blatter, or another confederation chief.

And yeah, I’m as confused as you are as to what’s really going on here, and I shan’t pretend to know otherwise. And sadly, that’s just how Sepp Blatter, Jack Warner and the many cronies getting rich out of our love for the game want it to be.

And the parlour games go on.

The Sweeper: How Roman Abramovich Has Played His Rivals

debt

Big Story
Chelsea are debt-free. Their owner and benefactor Roman Abramovich has converted no less than $541 million in interest-free loans to the Premier League club into equity, apparently in advance of possible forthcoming UEFA financial regulations that will require clubs in the Champions League to be breaking even to enter the competition by 2012.

But this does not mean the future is necessarily rosy for the club. Chelsea’s hopes (expressed early into Abramovich’s reign by Peter Kenyon) of becoming profitable by 2010 have clearly not been realised. As generous as Abramovich has been with these loans, now converted to equity, the question remains whether the club can continue at its current competitive level without further massive cash injections from the Russian, which seem unlikely to come.

Indeed, this may be exactly why Abramovich has recently taken a different strategy to squeeze his rivals in the coming years, culminating in this debt-relief. It was a visit from Abramovich himself to Michel Platini at UEFA that gave considerable momentum to the plans for the proposed new “financial fair play” regulations in European competition.

This of course is convenient for Abramovich and Chelsea, as their main rivals do not have the same option of their billionaire owner converting debt into equity. The banks will not be so kind to Manchester United or Liverpool. Abramovich remains rich enough to do this, even if he is not crazy enough to keep pumping in hundreds of millions of more dollars into the club to keep up. He has attempted to make the club big enough to generate serious cash itself, and is now using the unsustainability of the Premier League’s madcap spending that he helped generate in the first place to push UEFA to restrain the rest of the elite as he draws back.

Pretty clever, if you think about it.

Worldwide News

  • Yet the dangers of reliance on a benefactor are clearly shown elsewhere in the Premier League. Portsmouth have been given until February 10th to clear their debts to HM Revenue and Customs, a deadline they are unlikely to be able to make, and are thus likely to be made bankrupt. A long saga of mismanagement and broken promises is ending in disaster. As John Beech comments, looking at the club’s history back to the 1970s, “Portsmouth provide a textbook example of the unsustainability of the benefactor model.”
  • Gary Megson is fired as manager of Bolton, and it’s the fans blamed by Barney Ronay at the Guardian for “a rather grisly, bullying version of “fan power”.”  It’s curious, though, that the piece never mentions who actually fired Megson (hint: it wasn’t the fans.).
  • Everton’s stadium plans are back at the drawing board, though there remains hope the city council can help the club find a new home. Maybe it’ll help that the council leader is an Everton fan.
  • Anyone want to read about Ronaldo telling us how “real” football fans should behave? Thought not.

The Sweeper appears every weekday, and once at the weekend. For more rambling and links throughout the day every day, follow your editor Tom Dunmore @pitchinvasion on Twitter.

The Sweeper: UEFA Introduces the Most Boring Job in Football

Big Story

f fd a

It’s not quite what video replay advocates were hoping for, but Michel Platini is betting the experimental addition of two goal line officials during tonight’s Europa League group stage opener will eventually silence critics and placate fans, managers, and players tired of diving players and dodgy goal mouth calls like the one made at Ashton Gate last month. While the officials have no power to make decisions, the referee can decide whether or not he’ll consult them before pointing for a goal or a goal kick, or a penalty (the Daily Mail provides a neat explanatory diagram).  Imagine, if you will, Tofik Bakhramov‘s point of view in 1966 superseded by a very bored man standing next to the German goal, adamantly shouting “no goal.”

Seems like a nice, human solution to an old problem, but of course not everyone’s happy.  Everton manager David Moyes believes it could lead to an increase in penalties given for scrapping in the box: “…you might find they’re giving every single thing and we’ve not had any directive except to say where they’re going to stand and what they’re going to do.”

Yet perhaps the most damning criticism, cited by Petr Cech and Graham Poll, is that introducing two of what UEFA referee panel member Hugh Dallas calls “human cameras” still doesn’t address the problem of human error.  Cech warns “…if there is a really strong shot which bounces quickly the referee can stay wherever he wants but he still has no chance to see it,” and Poll reasons that “tight goalline calls for goals will still be tough to get right. Imagine being asked to stand next to the goal, looking along the goalline, as Fulham’s Paul Konchesky sizes up a thunderbolt shot!”

While there are sure to be some bumps along the way, long term success in preventing incorrect on-field decisions in front of goal will be integral in putting an end to the goal line tech debate.  Platini won’t be forgiven if his two extra officials simply add to an infinite regression of all-too human error; fans will still demand to know if that legit Konchesky goal isn’t given by the bored guys in sweats, “who watches the watchers?”

  • Major League Soccer president Mark Abbott explains changes to the 2010 MLS schedule, including a proposed two week break during the World Cup and a fixture list with each team playing every other club twice, mirroring the European set-up.
  • “Mirroring the European set-up” you say?  How about some wild and unconfirmed speculation about MLS Team Owner’s Association meeting with the league to discuss the introduction of MLS2?
  • New MLS addition Philadelphia Union is already proselytizing for the Beautiful Game in Philly, introducing a soccer program to Chester Upland School District, a school where the game is about as known as cricket.  Somewhere, Stephen Wells is smiling.
  • The Premier League is posting the fifth highest losses in Europe and UEFA plans to do something about it by 2012, likely involving banning indebted clubs from buying players in the transfer market.  Something about the unlimited source of wealth behind some European clubs leading to player price inflation.  Who knew?  Oh wait, everyone.
  • Flash Queen’s Park Rangers owner Flavio Briatore would fail the fit and proper test and be forced to sell the club if ejected from Formula 1 racing due to a Grand Prix fixing scandal, reports the BBC.
  • Match Fit USA on the Columbus Crew‘s historic achievement yesterday in the Champions League (CONCACAF that is), yet it may be the exception that proves the rule.
  • And just because this will be my last Sweeper filling in this week, some news for all the Canadian Aston Villa supporters out there: the Mail reports a very, very unsubstantiated rumour that Canadian native-turned-Dutch-national Jonathan de Guzman, brother of recent Toronto FC DP Julian, is being sought after by none other than Martin O’Neill.

Richard Whittall tries to be a writer at A More Splendid Life. Tom Dunmore returns tomorrow.

The Sweeper: UEFA to ban U-18 transfers? Think of the children!

Fifa logo

Big Story

The fallout from FIFA’s ruling against Chelsea in the Kakuta case continues to dominate the headlines. Of course, it took that case for the British press to notice that several similar cases were also working their way through FIFA, and today it’s Manchester City under the poaching spotlight, with French club Rennes accusing them of luring away teenager Jeremy Helan. And domestically, Everton are being forced to pay up to £1m for 16 year-old Luke Garbutt, snatched away from Leeds. Such deals may in the future be illegal: UEFA are looking into Michel Platini’s proposed ban on transfers for under 18s, a move which would have to be carefully pursued to abide with European law.

The issue of youth transfers is a more complicated one than the simple morality tales being peddled around, however. Brian Phillips at the Run of Play interestingly raises a forgotten part of this debate: the child himself. “The big-club-vs.-small-club narrative is so ingrained in football that we reflexively see anything that benefits a smaller club at the expense of a bigger club as “fair.” But this isn’t fair. We’ve gotten so used to seeing Premier League clubs as wicked developers strip-mining the talents of poorer continental clubs that we’ve started thinking the latter have some kind of moral right to control the futures of their very young trainees. But players that age ought to control their own futures. In any other field, we’d look at this story and see Lens standing in the way of the right of a child and his parents to decide what’s best for him. In football we see the kid as a strategic weapon in a quasi-declared class war in which his preferences don’t really count.”

Meanwhile, Trevor Brooking asks what damage the influx of foreign talent into British youth academies is doing to the national team’s chances, and the Independent looks at the network of scouting that goes into the Premier League’s poaching strategies. Ian Wright and other former players are also under the spotlight for their academy in South Africa. This story is not going to die any time soon.

Worldwide

  • Sheffield United goalkeeper Paddy Kenny received a nine-month ban for failing a drugs test after taking over-the-counter medication, even though the commission accepted he had taken it innocent of any performance enhancing desires. While this might seem harsh at first glance, the commission’s ruling that Kenny had shown a “complete disregard” for his professional responsibilities by failing to consult with anyone at the club before medicating himself does have some merit.
  • England’s women are on the verge of glory, where they’re forced to face “perennial nemesis” Germany in the European Championship final this Thursday. The Guardian has a good rundown of who’s who, Richard Williams praises coach Hope Powell to the skies and Tony Leighton profiles up-and-coming England star Eniola Aluko. It’s great to see all this coverage from the Guardian, and lets hope this translates into more regular coverage of the women’s game in general going forward. Oh, and a special good luck from here to England’s Karen Carney of the Chicago Red Stars.
  • Thierry Henry ripped into French coach Raymond Domenach with some aplomb at the weekend.
  • Perhaps no team will feel more pressure than Bahrain in the World Cup qualifier’s this week. Having never qualified for a World Cup, Bahrain will head to Saudi Arabia — in front of an expected crowd of over 65,000 — in the Asian Football Confederation play-off, with the winner to face Oceania Football Confederation champions New Zealand home-and-away for a place in the World Cup finals.
  • There’s a very interesting interview with Blackburn Rovers chairman John Williams in the Lancashire Telegraph. It’s notable not just for some very interesting nuggets of information about Premier League finances, on budgets, wage bills and profit/loss, but also just because Williams is so open about the numbers, explaining plainly to the public why Rovers have spent what they have (and haven’t) this summer. It’d be good to see more of this from other top executives.
  • Footiebusiness looks at the disappointing attendance for the New England Revolution, who had their second successive sub 10k turnout at the weekend. A 16,700 average in 2007 declined to 14,300 in 2008, and around 12,000 so far this season. There are a myriad of reasons for the decline, but the fact is despite some solid performance, New England have never gone full throttle on or off the field as an elite club. At the end of the day, much of the blame has to lie at the door of the ownership, the Kraft family.

The Sweeper appears daily. For more rambling and links throughout the day every day, follow your editor Tom Dunmore @pitchinvasion on Twitter.

The Sweeper appears daily. For more rambling and links throughout the day every day, follow your editor Tom Dunmore @pitchinvasion on Twitter.

The Sweeper: Roman Abramovich leading calls for Champions League frugality!

Roman Abramovich

Big Story

This is a bit rich. We noted yesterday Michel Platini’s announcement that UEFA would demand clubs break even in the soccer business to enter the Champions League by 2010, and according to Platini, a leading instigator of this attempt to level the playing field is none other than that well-known frugal owner, Roman Abramovich.

Platini explained that “It’s mainly the owners that asked us to do something – Roman Abramovich, (AC Milan’s) Silvio Berlusconi, (Inter Milan’s) Massimo Moratti. They do not want to fork out from their pockets any more.”

Platini continued that, “Manchester City can spend £300m if they want to but if they are not breaking even in three years then they cannot play in European competition. I haven’t spoken to Manchester City about this and I don’t remember meeting their owner [Sheikh Mansour], but I’m sure I will. Roman Abramovich is a football person and passionate about the game. He loves football. He has come to me and said that we must do something about this.”

According to reports, Abramovich has been alarmed by the spending of Manchester City, and has been attempting what the Guardian nicely describes as “relative austerity” (because he’s a lot less rich now than he was five years ago). So let me get this straight — Abramovich sent Chelsea into the stratosphere by spending wildly and leading to the inflationary pressures in the European game that he’s now complaining about, and so wants to limit other clubs abilities to wildly outspend him as a consequence?

North America

  • America’s lower league system the USL is in new hands, as its sale from Nike to Nu Rock Holdings was confirmed yesterday. Their bid won out over that of Miami FC’s owners Traffic, with the Miami Herald speculating this could mean the end for Miami’s USL team, who lost 9-0 to Carolina on Wednesday night. With another ownership group within USL supposedly having submitted a bid, is NuRock the answer?  The news that Nike/Umbro are staying on as sponsors is certainly a positive point.
  • Jennifer Doyle has a piece on “Why I want a feminist, anti-homophobic WPS & a more progressive, anti-nationalist/pro-migrant MLS as a response to some discussion of her stance from Dan Loney on BigSoccer. I’m not distilling such a complex argument into a bullet point, so take the time to read it.
  • Match Fit USA has a piece on the American company leading Russia’s 2018/2022 World Cup bid, competing with their home nation.
  • A supporters match between LA Galaxy and Chivas USA supporters’ groups was cancelled by the Home Depot Center just two days before it was scheduled to take place, the Examiner reports. Chivas’ Union Ultras and the Galaxy’s Angel City Brigade had arranged the match as part of an attempt to improve dialog between the groups. “We basically decided to use open dialog and open access between the groups to avoid the misunderstandings that lead to violence”, said an Union Ultras member. Ironically, Home Depot management reportedly cancelled the match due to a fear of trouble breaking out. Having been involved in supporters’ matches myself, I can say that if this is true, this was a short-sighted move as whilst such matches don’t necesarily lead to friendship, they can promote some mutual respect.

Worldwide

The Sweeper appears daily. For more rambling and links throughout the day every day, follow your editor Tom Dunmore @pitchinvasion on Twitter.

A Step Towards a Champions League for Champions

d

Remember when the Champions League wasn’t called the Champions League, but it was actually for champions and not a bunch of runners-up from Europe’s biggest leagues?  Well, we’ll surely never return to the halycon days of the European Cup, but Ian Plenderleith at When Saturday Comes has a very good piece on the change to the qualification structure this season by Platini & co. at UEFA which has, in a small way, redressed the balance towards national champions.

Platini may not have reversed football’s top-heavy tide, and we will likely never again see Malmo play Nottingham Forest in a European Cup final. But this year’s Champions League reforms carry the mark of the idealist, even if they are a far cry from the Frenchman’s original vision of a level playing field. They come in the form of this week’s Champions League play-offs, which have added another round to the already intricate process of qualifying for what must necessarily be described as the competition’s “lucrative” group phase. This fourth and final pre-league round of ten, two-legged ties is divided into two sections. One for teams who placed second, third or fourth in their domestic leagues, including CL regulars such as Arsenal, Celtic, Lyon, Anderlecht and Sporting Lisbon. And the other section for actual champions.

And so, Sheriff Tiraspol of Moldova play Greek champions Olympiakos Piraeus. Swiss title-holders FC Zurich travel to FK Ventspils of Latvia, FC Copenhagen match up against APOEL Nicosia, Salzburg host Maccabi Haifa, and Levski Sofia face Hungary’s Debrecen. In previous years, most of these sides would have faced the likes of Atletico Madrid or Fiorentina (two more very strong teams in the other half of the draw), and that would likely have been the end of their participation. Champions would be eliminated by non-champions and the wealth from the group phase headed towards the same old major leagues.

Of course, it would be even better if all national champions at least automatically qualified for the group stage and all runners-up had to go through a play-off system to get there. After all, UEFA’s new system also guarantees a large number of champions can’t make it to the group stafe by default, since they’re all playing each other to qualify, but Plenderleith is right that it realistically raises the odds for the likes of a Levski Sofia making it to the group stages in this set-up.

But of course, UEFA would face an unwinnable fight to get back to anything closer to the old European Cup.  Unless they’re willing to see a breakaway of the elite clubs, they must obviously strike a fine balance with the continued pressure towards a closed-shop European Super League from the biggest clubs who never want to run the risk of missing out on lucrative guaranteed group play and their stated desire to spread wealth more widely. Such a need to compromise is why Platini didn’t remove the bizarre continued aberration that Champions League group stage losers still luck into what’s now the Europa League’s knockout round, itself revamped and rebranded to guarantee more revenue to more clubs.

This is a small step, but UEFA should be praised for at least trying to hold back the tide towards a guaranteed Big Club Bonanza every season by ensuring some smaller champions definitely make the group stages and gather some much needed attention and revenue.

Dinner with Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini

I didn’t know what to expect that night when I pulled into the parking lot of the Red Lobster. I’d suggested meeting at the Union League—had gotten reservations, in fact—but Mr. Blatter’s assistant called back, quickly, to tell me in no uncertain terms that there’d been a change of plans. I didn’t see them when I got out of the car, so I waited, a little unsure of myself, by the entrance. A sign stuck to the glass of a giant lit-up menu case alerted the public to the fact that it was “Crab Crackin’ Wednesday,” and that a pound and a half of snow-crab legs could be bought for $19.95.

After a few minutes, I felt the telltale buzz of my Motorola vibrating in my pocket. Through a thick French accent, a voice on the other end said, “You are at ze Red Lobster?” Then: “Stup it, Seppy, he says he is zayr, be quiet! Yes? We will arrive shortly. Seppy, stup!”

A loud metallic clanking drew my attention to the 1986 Cadillac Seville sedan slowly rounding into the parking lot. Through the windshield I could see FIFA President SEPP BLATTER with both hands on the wheel, intently piloting the car toward the nearest parking space. Beside him, the unkempt mane of UEFA President MICHEL PLATINI was partly obscured by an enormous fold-out map.

Blatter got out of the car and came toward me, beaming. He had a small cowboy hat in his hands and, as he approached, he planted it firmly on his head. Platini followed—somewhat sulkily, I thought.

We exchanged greetings. Vanessa showed us to our seats.

ME: Did you find the place okay. Did you know how to find the place.

MICHEL PLATINI: Our map, you see, it was from…what is ze name again? Denny’s.

SEPP BLATTER: Look! They have the “Admiral’s Feast”!

MICHEL PLATINI: It did not show anysing but other Denny’s restaurants.

SEPP BLATTER: Great heavens, that’s a lot of food for $18.95!

MICHEL PLATINI: Ze one-way streets…zey were unknown to us.

SEPP BLATTER: I simply adore this country. I feel like I can stretch out!

MICHEL PLATINI: We could easily haf driven from Denny’s to Denny’s, in an unending loop, forever, like two damned souls.

ME: Interesting. Did you try Google maps. Are you familiar with that concept.

MICHEL PLATINI: Bah! I do not understand zis sing, zis “internet.” What is ze meaning of a simulacrum whose purpose is to be co-extensive with ze sing it simulates? Ze reality within, it bears no substantive relation to ze reality without, and yet, zey are ze same? How can I use zis, “sidewalk view”? All zese automobiles frozen in place on ze highways. What are ze semiotics of memory?

BRANDY: Can I take y’all’s order, please?

SEPP BLATTER: I’ll start with the Southwest chipotle Habanera shrimp poppers. Then, the “Admiral’s Feast”.

BRANDY: To drink?

SEPP BLATTER: Great falcon in the morning, I haven’t even considered the drinks menu yet.

SEPP BLATTER: Bring me one Kahlua mudslide with your finest top-shelf liquors, Brandy, if you please.

BRANDY: And for you, sir?

MICHEL PLATINI (miserably): Filet of halibut.

BRANDY: I’ll put that in for you, sir.

ME: So the big news this week is that you have crushed the G-14. How did you do that. What gave you the idea that you would crush the G-14.

MICHEL PLATINI: Peter Kenyon, he says to me, “Michel—

SEPP BLATTER: —my belle!” (giggles)

MICHEL PLATINI: “Michel, we can seize zis opportunity to strike a blow for ze underprivileged football clubs, and for underdogs everywhere, like Chelsea.”

SEPP BLATTER: “These are words that go together well!”

MICHEL PLATINI: So we said, zese big clubs, zey have ze money but zey do not haf ze numbers. You say, one of Barcelona is worth ten of Trabzonspor. I say, but zayr are fifty Trabzonspors. You say, of course, but zayr is only one Trabzonspor, ze well-known “Black Sea Storm” of Hussein Avni Aker Stadium, in Turkey. I say, ah! But it is figurative. You see?

SEPP BLATTER: Look here, it’s like Elvis, understand? Just when the Colonel thinks he can run everything…BAM! (smashing his fist into his palm) That’s when the King strikes!

MICHEL PLATINI: So we formed ze European Clubs Forum. Now, ze G-14? Zey are not ze only organized group. Now zayr is an answer to ze question, “Who will speak for Chelsea?”

SEPP BLATTER: You do not step on my blue suede shoes. You do not step on them!

MICHEL PLATINI: And so ze G-14, zey decide zat it is better, yes, to work wis zis new group. Zey will try to dominate it from within.

SEPP BLATTER: And by the neck of the great Fitzgerald, I’ll stop them.

MICHEL PLATINI: I will stup zem wis you, Seppy. We are a team, remember?

SEPP BLATTER (shaking his torso at Platini in a gesture that is somehow aggressive and taunting): A one for the money! A two for the show! A three to get ready, now, go, cat, go!

BRANDY: Here are y’all’s dinners. Careful, sir, that plate’s hot.

ME: I guess the big question I have for you is this. Why do you keep having ideas. What are your ideas good for. What do you think you will accomplish with them.

MICHEL PLATINI: What do you mean? Ideas are ze ripe mind’s fruit. We are men, we are—

SEPP BLATTER: Sweet Mary mustache, this is a fantastic piece of shrimp.

ME: I mean, the game is pretty good, right? Soccer, right? It’s pretty good? And yet you two are always strutting around on the sidelines in like black vulture hoods tutting about how one thing or another ought to be different.

MICHEL PLATINI (shrugs): Sings can always be improved…

ME: Sure, but I mean, that doesn’t even seem like why you’re in it. Some of your ideas are sort of sensible, but some of them just seem like making chess out of politics, man. Today you want extra officials on corner kicks. Yesterday you were tinkering with the Champions League. Tomorrow it’ll be computer eyes on the goal-lines, and next Thursday you’re going to want seatbelts for every seat in the stadium. You’ve got silver goals and golden goals. It’s about net effect, here, man. You’re giving people the idea that fixed things are broken, man. Why do you do that. Why do you have to do that.

MICHEL PLATINI: You are suggesting we are intellectual vulgarians, Monsieur?

SEPP BLATTER: Are you implying I’m some sort of crass opportunist?

ME: No, it’s just—

MICHEL PLATINI: But listen! Without our ideas we are nothing more than—

SEPP BLATTER: Clerks!

MICHEL PLATINI: Accountants!

SEPP BLATTER: Shop boys!

MICHEL PLATINI & SEPP BLATTER: Ridiculous!

MICHEL PLATINI: What we are doing, why, ze significance is obvious.

SEPP BLATTER: We’re like John Wayne in the closing scenes of Hondo.

MICHEL PLATINI: Ze game is a series of imposed semantic conventions zat cease to mean anysing if zey are not constantly renewed by ze application of materio-dialectical engagement!

SEPP BLATTER: I swear on the soul of Byron Leftwich that I have never loved a woman as much as I love the taste of this sweet Kahlua mudslide.

Brian Phillips is offering Surf n’ Turf at very reasonable prices at The Run of Play.

Photo credits: drewesque; artposada; utcathy83; Joits

G14 Disbands: A Victory for Football?

“Victory for football as a whole,” reads the title of UEFA’s triumphalist press release today announcing the elite clubs’ forum the G14 had been disbanded.

Meeting at the Home of FIFA in Zurich, the representatives of the organisations present (cf. list at the end of this media release) agreed on the intention to regulate their future relationship with a number of actions. These are to include the planned evolution of the European Club Forum into the European Club Association (ECA), the formal signature of a memorandum of understanding with UEFA and subsequently the dissolution of the G-14 with the withdrawal of its claims in court. As part of the planned moves, UEFA and FIFA will enter into a series of commitments including financial contributions for player participation in European Championships and World Cups, subject to the approval of their respective bodies.

A new independent club forum, consisting of over 100 clubs from all 53 Uefa member nations, will be formed in its stead. It won’t be controlled by Uefa, but will be recognised by it through a “memorandum of understanding”.

As usual, we mere football fans are not privy to all the details of this, and that’s the fundamental problem with the bizarre claim today’s meeting was somehow a victory for the game as a whole.

The BBC’s Dave Munro illuminated us a little more on the details.

Significantly, the clubs are going to get paid when their players take part in international tournaments. All the details have not yet been sorted out but I understand that it is going to be a daily rate irrespective of whether it is £100,000-a-week or £1,000-a-week.

FIFA boss Sepp Blatter, never one to miss out on the chance to get his name on a press release, chimed in with the absurd hyperbole that “Something very special has happened today. The clubs, which are the basic cells of our game and fundamental to its thriving, are at last to become a part of the pyramidal football organisation.”

I actually thought players and supporters were the basic cells, not the greedy and self-serving list of participants at the meeting, including Blatter himself, his mendacious deputy Jerome Valcke, Manchester United’s David Gill, and interestingly — given they’re not even in the G-14 — Chelsea’s Peter Kenyon.

Sepp Blatter and Michel PlatiniAt the Fanhouse, Dave Warner calls the dissolution of the G-14 a win for Michel Platini. He is, I think, correct in the sense that the result fits his gameplan perfectly: as I’ve written previously, some of his more unlikely suggestions in the negotiations over the Champions League places were clearly pawns he could give up in a future compromise with the G-14 to fulfill his promises to central and eastern European clubs.

Brian at the Run of Play also seems to concur, saying that “this looks like a colossal victory for Blatter and Platini against the power of the big European clubs. The threat of a breakaway superleague appears to have expired, gently, in its sleep, and the lawsuits that the G-14 had arrayed around FIFA will pack up their things and go home.”

While that’s true, I’ve long believed that the superleague threat was a bluff the G-14′s just been using to extract more out of Uefa over the past decade, most of which they’ve now got. There isn’t really much else they need, with the final contentious issue on international compensation settled. The superleague simply isn’t realistic: you don’t walk away from the huge television contracts and packed stadiums the national leagues and the Champions League are already providing unless there’s a deal sitting on the table guaranteeing — literally — trillions of dollars in future revenue to replace it. And there isn’t such a deal on the horizon, as everyone knows there isn’t much interest among football fans in watching the G-14 clubs play each other to death.

The new forum does reflect a reality that the G-14 would have had to expand further anyway (as it already has and had plans to do), though the new forum does reflect there has been a slight powershift, especially given the growing financial power of certain other European teams outside the original core. Yet we can be sure that whilst each of the 53 nations will be represented, it won’t be composed equally: expect the richest leagues, home to most of the G-14 as it stands, to have the most representatives, and thus the most power.

And all the real dealings will continue to go on behind closed doors, the curious fan left to guess at how the fate of football is actually decided. A “Victory for football as a whole” would only come if the fans’ interests or even those of the clubs lower down in the pyramid Blatter mentions were also considered in these deliberations.

Photo credit: Antoon’s Foobar on Flickr

European Championships to Expand?

Michel Platini and Sepp BlatterAs we’ve noted in our historical series, the European Championship (originally European Nations’ Cup) started out on a small-scale in the 1960s: just four teams played in the finals, allowing an exciting knock-out tournament as qualifiers.

Now Uefa is considering expanding the Championship finals to take in 24 teams, greater than the number of teams that played in the entire 1960 qualifying campaign.

This is a terrible idea. I’m sure television executives are still shedding tears over England’s failure to qualify for Euro 2008, but letting everyone in bar San Marino in the future will make the qualifying tournament a joke, and fill the finals with tedious matches.

Of course, Uefa would make more money out of a larger tournament, with added ticket sales, and television/marketing revenue, and Platini can sell it as a benefit to the smaller nations. Here’s hoping they restrain themselves.

Photo credit: Antoon’s Foobar on Flickr.

Platini and G-14 Compromise on the Champions League

We wrote last week that all the machinations over a European Superleague, a rejigged Champions League and the proposed disbanding of the G-14 spoke of a grand compromise in the making between UEFA and the big clubs. Platini needed to keep the constituency that has supported him, the weaker nations, happy by including more of them; the G-14 needed to keep four spots in the tournament reserved for the stronger leagues. Platini’s recent proposal to include cup winners as well was a red herring, designed so both sides could declare victory and save face.

And UEFA is soon expected to confirm that more champions from the weaker leagues will enter the competition; cup winners will not; and the big leagues will keep four spots each (some might say this was a slight win for them, as they now have three automatic entries to the group stage; on the other hand, the fourth entrant will now have to navigate an extra qualifying round).

These quotes from UEFA and a G-14 spokesman speak of a grand compromise.

The cup winners’ inclusion was “a minor point and it has been delayed in a spirit of conciliation,” said UEFA spokesman William Gaillard, adding that the issue could be discussed again in three years.

Gaillard said that the main goal of the reorganization — to give more nations a place in Europe’s premier club competition — had been achieved.

“What president Platini had in his program was the widening of the group stage to more champions from middle-sized nations,” Gaillard said.

UEFA’s executive committee is expected to approve the proposal next month.

The G14 group of powerful European clubs is happy that the cup winners won’t be included.

“We always thought it was not a good idea,” G14 general manager Thomas Kurth said. “Now, we see it will not come through. It is fine by us.”

The G-14, Michel Platini and the Bluff of the European Superleague

Superleagues, ego, politics, diplomacy, money, money, money. The chess battle between UEFA and Europe’s biggest clubs continues to go on, but today, there was a strong indication the endgame is here.

The G-14, the now misnamed grouping of eighteen elite self-selected European clubs, seems likely to extinguish itself soon with a new organisation apparently to be formed. G-14′s General Manager, Thomas Kurth explained to Reuters.

“Let’s be clear this is not an expansion of G14, it is an evolution,” Kurth said, adding that the new group would be called the International Club Organisation.

“If it is formed and it can find a solution to the current problems, then it would make no sense for both G14 and the new group to co-exist,” he said in an interview. “Ideally this will happen some day soon. G14 clubs are the facilitators and are leading the formation of this group but, yes, the clubs may decide there is no more necessity for G14 anymore.”

However, The Digger reports that the postponement of the expansion of the G-14 (announced a couple of months ago) suggests a tacit agreement has been reached with UEFA to resolve their dispute with the dissolution of the G-14 and the formation of a new, broader group approved of by Michel Platini.

Continue reading