A LEAGUE TOO FAR
Mickey Blue Eyes
Once Britain turned neocon in 1980 some things became inevitable in football: clubs would become saleable commodities, some fans would become self-absorbed cynical consumers, mainstream media would profit, transfer windows would assume a hysterical mob spectacle and accountants/agents/spivs would appear in their droves waving graphs, spread sheets, balance sheets and gawd-knows-what-else esoteric monetarist bullshit. Institutionalised greed will always try to elbow honesty aside. And that's how we got to our current state of footy affairs. If you don't see the corollary with other much more important economic factors then you haven't been awake.
The trend now approaches its logical conclusion - the proposal to create a European League and split from established national domestic leagues and administrative associations. Of course this has been on the cards since the existence of the G14 Group between 2000 and 2008, and the subsequent formation of a one hundred member European Club Association (ECA). Both of these organisations threaten traditional administration of the game by FIFA and UEFA. Make no mistake, the threat is motivated by an urge for more money and profit; it has zero to do with the good of the game. It should be regarded accordingly.
Now, few fans have illusions about FIFA and UEFA. Both bodies are notoriously corrupt and have been for years, though each of them have some talented and altruistic administrators who plainly love the game for its own sake. Unfortunately, good administration has been overwhelmed so far by unaccountable, corrupt council members and key executives. They can be so far out of touch for Sepp Blatter of FIFA to claim that racism can be dealt with "by a handshake," a notion so ludicrous you want to laugh aloud. But these flaws can be dealt with through proper democracy. They can be corrected and the original philosophy of administration for the good of the game restored as the ruling factor, not profit, not money. Profit does not equal economic efficiency and money is only necessary to pay for costs and improvements. Profit-greed, of course, is a sickness, as is power-greed...together they form a toxic mix.
There won't be very much anybody can do if sufficient numbers of European clubs decide they want to split from their national leagues and national and international administrative bodies. After all, that too is democracy. If that happens then I think the response should be unequivocal. The clubs who leave should be expelled from domestic leagues and cup competitions and their players not selected for international matches of any kind, including the World Cup. Everyone connected with them should be isolated and left to fester in their own incestuous juices. Eventually they would discover the roots of the game won't perish but those out on a limb will. Accountants and spivs will learn over time, as they have on a wider stage, that greed-monopoly leads only to bankruptcy. They will learn that two can play at this game and that they are a minority. Existing administrative autonomy may be flawed but it is a whole lot better than spiv economy and anarchy and it is capable of improvement, whereas there can be no modification of greed.
The fact is the game flourishes because of national domestic leagues grounded in its grass roots of truly amateur and part-time local associations and leagues. Football, like all sports, cannot operate any other way. Youngsters start out dreaming of sporting glory, not money. That only comes later when spivs get their claws on them and deliberately confuse the harsh reality of paying your way in life with gouging as much as you can. It's a subtle and diabolical process. Most gifted sports youngsters are vulnerable and ill equipped to define the differences because they're too busy searching for glory. Individual temperament will define how they deal with it as realisation dawns. Some become resigned, some cynical, and a few wordly-wise. But in the end they are no better or worse than the rest of us in coping with a system that is rotten to the core.
So if a European League comes about my response will be to have nothing to do with it. As matters stand I barely tolerate the so-called Champions League and the Europa League. Both competitions are bastardised offshoots of knock out competitions that had virtue as season highlights, not tedious monetarised work-outs. They have become compromises of the worst sort at the behest of just a few selfish one-dimensional clubs. We should return to the previous two leg knock out format of a European Cup for national champions only, and a similar second tier UEFA Cup. A European League offers us nothing except initial novelty that would wear off. It is as stupid an idea as the proposal to eliminate relegation from the Premier League. What would be even worse would be a compromise whereby clubs were allowed to compete in both a European League and a domestic league, the results of which would be obvious to even the most benighted neocon.
After the G14 Group disbanded I said that it wouldn't be the end of their Murdoch/Berlusconi-inspired nonsense. And here it is, its ugly double-head reappearing right on cue as the culprits await the final curtain. But there will be others. You can bet your last Euro on it.