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December 6, 2016

Goodbye, Sepp!

A guest contribution by Rainer Kalb.

That’s all, folks! The next time we hear about Mr Joseph S. Blatter, it will be its obituaries. As the CAS confirmed yesterday, there will be, unlike what happened to Michel Platini, no reduction of his suspension. Even among football functionaries, a six-year ban for an over 80-year old means a life sentence.

What did Mr Blatter achieve? He changed the rules of world football when as a paid employee of FIFA he challenged in 1998 the Swedish volunteer Lennart Johansson. The then DFB president Egidius Braun fumed with indignation: ‘Never a salaried employee shall run against a honorary official!’ But so he did, and he steadfastly remained silent about the exact amount of the ‘indemnities’ he perceived for the honorary position as FIFA president once it was his.

Difficult to believe he would know nothing at all about the bribes and kickbacks during his numerous terms in office. All the more so as they had started during his time a general secretary under president Havelange. And what kind of president would Blatter have been if had not known what happened within his harmonious ‘football family’? Perhaps he should have renamed his function from ‘FIFA President’ to ‘FIFA Godfather’, in order to better describe the relationship he had with many.

And yet, it must be recognized that Blatter actually did do some things ‘for the good of the game’. Not so much for its administration and governance, but for the game itself. His greatest achievement was perhaps to force the adoption of the rule according to which a player is no longer offside ‘if level-with the second-to-last defender’, as well as the (admittedly delicate) definition of ‘passive offside’. Both measures were in favour of attacking football and good for the game’s attractiveness.

Along the same line, and also introduced under his leadership as general secretary, was the ‘back-pass rule’ and the simple but efficient instruction to home teams to provide dozens of extra balls in order to prevent the temptation to gain several precious minutes of time by kicking the ball into the stands.

Oh, he was a smart guy, our Joseph S. Blatter, who had the perfectly redundant middle name ‘Sepp’ – which is nothing but a nickname for Joseph anyway – officially registered, because he had always like the ‘F.’ of President Kennedy and perceived it as a key differentiator for really important people. But when he started to find himself for more powerful than the Pope – quite logically, as there were ‘more footballers on the planet than Catholics’ – some of us started to have whether our Swiss friend was not somewhat disconnected from reality. Or struck by acute megalomania.

I can testify that at the time when Blatter was still general secretary and loved to play the Master of Ceremony at drawings for international tournaments of qualifiers, he was jovial, entertaining, often funny. When he had become president, these same qualities metamorphosed into lying, cheating, and hypocrisy. The life sentence is a good thing. It’s never too late to bring someone back to reason.

Post by : Albrecht Sonntag in the category : Football Politics, Governance - No Comment

November 18, 2016

Genuine social engagement or cheap hypocrisy?

My football book of the year is, I’m afraid, written in German. It’s the result of three years of field research carried out by Ronny Blaschke, a freelance journalist, independent in the best sense of the word. Its original title ‘Gesellschaftsspielchen’ (don’t even try to pronounce this) may be literally translated by ‘small board games’ but probably best rendered by something like ‘Playing the social game’. The book, released by the well-known publisher Die Werkstatt (Göttingen), is a journey through the social engagement of professional football and the multiple forms it can take.

Through a large number of encounters and field reports the book opens a large and, for the German case, rather exhaustive perspective on the vast variety of initiatives aiming – sometimes without knowing it – at implementing the principles of corporate social responsibility (CSR). Very often this happens in close collaboration with actors of civil society or with public institutions like municipalities, schools, hospitals or prisons.

Actions in favour of social inclusion or vocational integration, health and nutrition, urban development or even political education (such as increasing historical awareness or fighting against discrimination, for instance) – the sheer array of initiatives is more than impressive.

Except that…

Except that all this looks like an uncoordinated patchwork.

Except that the expenditures are not at all commensurate with the income.

Except that you can’t help but wonder whether all this is based on a genuine recognition of social responsibility or rather designed as a fig-leaf.

Philanthropic sprinkling, that’s what it is in its current state and scope. Efforts are no doubt sincere, but not based on a global concept or holistic strategy. And somewhat meagre: in Germany, the total proportion of voluntary CSR action by football clubs represents 0.61% of the overall turnover of professional football (€ 2.62 bn in 2015, one billion of which went into players’ and coaches’ salaries only). In England, to which the book’s last chapter is dedicated, the proportion is hardly any higher: what is a total of € 78 million of CSR-related expenses in the largest sense (as communicated for the 2015/16 season, p. 269) compared to the 20 million that Manchester United presumably had to pay to Paul Pogba’s agent (who credibly claims he is no longer even ‘driven by money’)?

Ronny Blaschke

The best thing about the book is its tone. Ronny Blaschke does not take the part of the prosecutor accusing the ‘greedy football business’ (as the French love to do). The approach he adopts towards his over eighty very different interlocutors and the organisations they represent is marked by an attitude of critical empathy that allows him to dig deeper without prejudice or bias. He thus manages to bring to light the schizophrenia (or cognitive dissonance, if you prefer) of professional football clubs, who are increasingly aware of the social and environmental responsibility as large SMEs moving millions around, while at the same time being almost relieved to see themselves as prisoners of the ‘market mechanisms of global football’ that offer such a cosy excuse, even for intelligent and open-minded people like Reinhard Rauball, president of Borussia Dortmund and the DFL (p. 165), who at the same time recognises that there is a problem if ‘one fourth of TV rights revenues now go directly to players’ agents’.

Blaschke’s approach also reveals the sheer negligence of the media, so much occupied with staging and selling the spectacle that they become indifferent to its social stakes and impact.

The patient and meticulous field work on which this book is based – and which could serve as inspiration to some ‘football intellectuals’, if you grant me this aside – does not result in high-standing moral lecturing. Quite the contrary: Blaschke limits himself to asking the right questions. For instance, whether it is not too easy to ‘outsource’ social engagement into foundations (often understaffed and underfunded) rather than put CSR into the very heart of the corporate structures, in form of transversal departments that irrigate the entire strategic management. He also wonders whether it would be really so complicated for the leagues to impose on their clubs a minimum CSR investment threshold of one tiny little per cent of their annual turnover. In one of the interviews, Dietmar Hopp, the SAP founder-billionaire who has made his childhood club Hoffenheim into a premium address of German football, actually suggests ‘3% as appropriate’, before recognising right away that this would ‘ provoke an outcry’, p. 125). You can almost see this philanthropist (who has actually put much more money into cancer research and health infrastructure than into football) shrug his shoulders at the mentality of corporate football.

In quite a few countries football is a booming business. Its actors tend to forget that it is a profit-oriented sector whose very success is entirely dependent on a non-economic social need that was initially addressed by civil society associations (called ‘clubs’). Today these clubs have become full-fledged corporate organisations and it’s time they understand that their level of social responsibility has changed. Those who are in charge of these corporate players should take the time to read Ronny Blaschke’s excellent book. Maybe they would share my premonition that the football of the future would be well advised to give back to society a fair share of its totally disproportionate revenues. For professional football, embracing social and environmental sustainability will simply be a question of saving its soul.

This post was also published in French as column for Le Monde.

Post by : Albrecht Sonntag in the category : Football Politics, Governance, Public Sphere - No Comment

May 18, 2016

From Panama Pampers to Mexico Muddle

A guest contribution by Rainer Kalb.

Let’s sum up the recent episodes of our favourite soap opera.

Gianni Infantino, the newly elected FIFA president is a man of worldly manners who juggles between six or eight different languages. Having worked for years under Michel Platini, he must even be a master juggler.

After a few weeks in office only he already had the opportunity to give evidence to his skills. First, the Panama Papers leaked that he had sold the television rights of the Champions League for the ridiculously low sum of 110,000 $ to Ecuador. His defence line, according to which there were only two offers the better of which was chosen, sounds reasonable enough. But if an intermediary sells them for three times more to an interested TV channel, the question must be allowed by UEFA did not deal directly with the buyers, but charged a Swiss marketing agency to sell the rights via an Argentinian broker to Ecuador.

Like Beckenbauer, Infantino claims to have signed ‘blindly’ a ‘thousand contracts’. Note that the position of General Secretary (!) in a multi-million dollar business exempts you from reading documents that bind the organisation and engage a lot of money. It does not take a PhD in linguistics to understand then ‘Infantino’ means ‘little child’. Acting like an infant at age 46 is not a good omen for future responsibilities. So much for the Panama Pampers.

From Panama to Mexico, it’s just a three-hour flight. The distance between the Panama Papers and the FIFA reform congress in Mexico seems even shorter. At the congress Infantino presented Fatma Samoura as new general secretary of the ‘new’ FIFA. The 54-year old Senegalese who had served the United Nations for 21 years, seems to be beyond reproach, but the question must be allowed what Infantino’s intentions really are when appointing a person who is supposed to have a tight control over daily business and the use of FIFA’s revenues but has little to no knowledge of football (let alone European football).

Even more grotesk is the replacement of the previous executive committee by a so-called ‘Council’, which is supposed to be composed not only of football officials, although the latter remain. The supervisory bodies (ethics committee, appeal committee, audit and compliance committee and governance committee) were to be elected by the Congress, but since FIFA was unable to propose enough candidates who had passed the ‘cleanliness check’, Infantino imposed a shortcut, having the Council elect and dismiss its own supervisors! In other words: all doors are wide open again for influence-wielding, corrupting, and blackmailing. ‘Blatterism’ at its very best, as Mark Pieth, the resigned founder of the reform commission, called it bluntly.

The chairman of the independent audit committee, Domenico Scala, resigned right away, clearly disgusted with the Mexico Muddle.

Instead of making FIFA a cleaner institution, Infantino seems to be creating a mess. He will need king-size pampers to tidy it up.

Post by : Albrecht Sonntag in the category : Governance - No Comment

December 15, 2015

Unsubscribe!

Football is a financial bubble. It has always been. Since the beginnings of professionalism, players’ wages have been perceived as shockingly high and club management as shockingly irresponsible. Over the last twenty years, the inflation of the amounts of money injected into European football has accelerated exponentially. And each time you’d expect the bubble to finally explode, it happily continues to swell.

For the summer of 2016, one may anticipate new summits of obscenity. Thanks to the new contract between the Premier League and its broadcasters, the financial means made available to the most mediocre of English clubs will inevitable provoke grotesque transfer fees across the continent.

In an ideal world these additional millions would be reinvested in the training of home-grown talent, in infrastructures for grassroots football, in the reduction of stadium ticket prices, or even – let’s dream a little – in socially relevant projects funded on a genuine strategy of corporate citizenship…

Alas! There will be none of this (except some alibi gestures). The history of football teaches us that each new level reached in terms of revenues is immediately fed back into players’ salaries. Agents of second-lever players will see their income increase substantially. The dealers of luxury sports cars in Stoke and Norwich will be delighted to manage the influx of twenty-year old footballers who don’t know what to do with their money. And if you happen to be the owner of a sextape involving a French international you’ll be in a position to significantly increase your gains from blackmail.

If only this game was not as telegenic! After all, it is television that is at the origin of this never-ending inflation. Football and television are like the junkie and his dealer (although it is no longer clear who is the junkie and who is the dealer).

Very frankly: don’t you feel sometimes like bursting the bubble? Simply for the pleasure of saying ‘Stop!’ to an inflation that has become absurd? If you do, unsubscribe. Just do it. It’s feasible. I pay no subscription, and I have no detoxification syndrome whatsoever. If you miss a new marvel of Lionel Messi, some friend from Turkey or elsewhere will send you the Youtube link the next day. Or you let your office colleagues describe it to you at the coffee machine – your blissful ignorance will even create social bonds! Call me a condescending snob, member of a disconnected cultural élite, but I am just no longer willing to participate in greasing the wheels of this money-printing machine.

Unsubscribe! Do it for the sake of the clubs! These clubs that always find a way to imagine themselves under such an unbearable competitive pressure that they quickly need a fix of some more dozens of millions. They will curse you for it at the beginning, but they will be grateful in the long run.

Over the last two years I have finished each talk I had the opportunity to lead with an actor of European professional football by asking him or her whether they did not see their own business as a bubble ready to burst. And they all, without exception, confirmed to me how absurd and insane the bubble was, almost begging for someone to explode it for them.

Take the burden off their shoulders – unsubscribe!

Read the French original in Le Monde.

Post by : Albrecht Sonntag in the category : Governance - No Comment

November 16, 2015

Can we still believe in (football) miracles?

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Trevor Francis, Bryan Clough and John Robertson, by Hans van Dijk / Anefo [CC BY-SA 3.0 nl

Let’s play a game. Do you know which team is currently in the 13th place of your country’s football second division? We are talking here of Queens Park Rangers in England, Laval in France, Alcorcón in Spain, Arminia Bielefeld in Germany, or 1461 Trabzon in Turkey. What future do you think that such a club will have in the next few  years? Imagine, for a moment, that this clubs fires the manager and decides to employ a young coach that was sacked by his previous employer only after 42 days in charge. Would it be possible for QPR, Laval or Arminia Bielefeld to earn promotion to the top tear, win the league, two League Cups, qualify for Europe and win two back-to-back UEFA Champions Leagues?

Not a single chance! Is, quite probably, your answer? And you are quite surely right. However, there was a time in which this was possible. In fact, there was a time in which this indeed happened. It was in the late 1970s, the club was Nottingham Forest and the young manager a striker turned coach from Middlesbrough by the name of Brian Clough, aptly assisted by his lieutenant Peter Taylor.

I write these lines after watching, for the second time, I Believe in Miracles, the recently released documentary by Welsh director Jonny Owen. In the movie, Owen looks back at the extraordinary achievements of Nottingham Forest during Clough’s peak years. Clough arrived to Forest in February 1975, with the team lingering in the bottom half of English football’s second tear. In the space of five years the reds from Nottingham went on to win a league and two European Cups. They also set a record for consecutive unbeaten matches in the top division – 42 matches – only surpassed by Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal a quarter of a century after. Forest and Clough did all this, moreover, whilst maintaining five players of the original 1975 second division squad (Viv Anderson, Martin O’Neill, Ian Bowyer, Tony Woodcock and John Robertson). Using Clough’s own words, I would not say this is the best football achievement in history, but it surely is in the top one.

Post by : Borja García in the category : Governance, History, Memory - 1 comment

November 1, 2015

Sound assumptions, false conclusions

It is only recently that the excellent German intellectual weekly newspaper DIE ZEIT – whose outstanding quality was recently (and rightly) praised by our friend Simon Kuper – introduced a football page. Yet another proof of the game’s increasing socio-cultural and political impact. The page still has to find a stable quality: the interviews are generally very good, but I am afraid not every article is a highlight – sometimes it’s simply well-formulated trivialities, sometimes the texts are simply beside the point. But once in a while it provides tasty food for thought.

The picture from the 1930 World Cup final that illustrated the article in DIE ZEIT.

The recent article ‘After the earthquake’ (DIE ZEIT No. 42/2015, from 15 October), by journalist Cathrin Gilbert and Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht, the renowned literature theorist and philosopher from Stanford University, is a good example for the latter case.

With regard to the current FIFA scandal(s), they go beyond condemning the obvious in an attempt to design a fundamentally new approach to global football governance. According to them the perspective must change completely: rather than overloading football with a symbolic meaning it does not inherently possess, but which opens the door to all kinds of political and economic manipulation of the game and its governance bodies, they call for a new ‘sobriety’.

What is needed, according to Gilbert and Gumbrecht, is a professional management of football by ‘cold specialists’, who unlike the ‘hot amateurs’ who run the game in the national and international federations – all the Platinis, Beckenbauers, Blatters or Niersbachs – are not flawed or hampered in their decision-making by their own ‘emotional investment’.

The author’s basic assumption that ‘football does not have any higher, intrinsic values’ is sound. But the conclusions they draw from it are wrong.

Firstly, their claim that the components of football tradition (old clubs, legendary stands, etc.) are ‘only a souvenir of football history, but no longer a central phenomenon’, i.e. simply ‘elements of nostalgia that enhance the attractiveness of the event in the stadium’, is misleading. Just because something is more imagined than real does not mean it is not of utmost importance to those who believe in it.

Secondly, the alternative they describe – taking inspiration on the American model of professional sport, complete with closed leagues, franchises, salary caps, draft and occasional updates of the rules – would turn out, as much as Professor Gumbrecht admires its efficiency, to be very counter-productive when applied to European football – especially for ‘cold specialists’ who aim at maximising its entertainment impact and business potential.

Thirdly, the authors’ declaration that national teams have become obsolete seems simply runs against evidence. They describe the World Cup as a ‘grotesque exception to the kind of football that has conquered the world’ and ask the rhetorical question whether ‘the double-coding of football’ – in club competitions and national teams – is still necessary.

My answer is very simple: ‘Yes, it is. Maybe not necessary, but very efficient. ’ We’ve had this discussion in the 1990s, but the popular response to the French World Cup and the following ones have clearly shown that there is not only room for two footballs, but that they actually need each other (1).

We are living the age of two footballs and it happens to be an age of unprecedented popular and economic success for both club football and national teams. In the wake of the paradigm shifts of the 1990s, they have undergone a ‘mutually beneficial divorce’, which has helped them to adapt remarkably smoothly to the dialectics of cultural globalisation between enjoyment of postnational, multicultural creolisation and the longing for nostalgic, cultural singularity (2).

Epitomised in the English Premier League and the UEFA Champions League, postmodern club football stands for unlimited mobility and multiculturalism, while at the opposite end of the football spectrum the national teams represent strong roots and a kind of imaginary, untainted, not-for-profit cultural ‘purity’. Their perceived antagonism has not only stabilised, but actually reinforced their appeal (and their revenues). Football’s global community of fans wants both. They are, as I put it at the WCSF conference in Copenhagen last May, at the same time ‘smart consumers and hopeless romantics’ (3).

All of us are, to various degrees. It’s the human condition in the times we have been put in. And football is a lovely looking glass for observing ourselves.

(1) See my chapter ‘France 98 – a Watershed World Cup’ in: Kay Schiller and Stefan Rinke (eds), The FIFA World Cup 1930 – 2010. Politics, Commerce, Spectacle and Identities. Göttingen: Wallstein-Verlag, 2014, pp. 318-336.

(2) See the final chapter of my book Les identités du football européen, Presses universitaires de Grenoble, 2008, or my article in Les Cahiers du Journalisme No. 19, 2009.

(3) ‘Smart consumers and hopeless romantics’ is also the title of my forthcoming contribution to the conference proceedings.

Post by : Albrecht Sonntag in the category : Competitions, Governance, Memory - No Comment

October 4, 2015

The Winterkorn’s Tale

A guest contribution by Rainer Kalb on the links between Volkswagen and the Bundesliga.

Martin Winterkorn.

What’s in a name? Saint Martin, who had marched a long way from Hungary via Italy to France, still did less kilometers in his life than an average Volkswagen Diesel. When he died in November 397 A.D., his body was not carried by a diesel transporter either, but in a bark on the river Loire to Tours, where he was buried.

Saint Martin is most famous for having cut his cloak in two in order to share it with a beggar. Question: will Martin Winterkorn, who earned 16 million Euro per year, share anything with anybody? He was supposed to sign a new two-year contract as Volkwagen chairman, bringing in an even richer harvest. But then winter broke out in Wolfsburg, and his golden indian summer was over. Still he insists on generous payments after having had to resign over the emissions cheating scandal.

What does this mean for VfL Wolfsburg? Despite the optimism of director Klaus Allofs who believes that his football business will continue as usual under the new Volkswagen boss named Müller – albeit unfortunately not Gerd or Thomas – nothing will be the same as before.

In what world does Allofs think he lives? When a huge industrial company has to pay fines of billions of Euros, when eleven million cars must be recalled and fixed, when sales are likely to collapse and massive compensations to be paid, when suppliers will be suffering and people will lose their jobs, VfL Wolfsburg, the costly toy of Volkswagen, will have to give away more than half a cloak in order to preserve a reason for being. Even in the Champions League half of the fans turn their back on them. Aspiring young professionals in Niedersachsen may be well advise to head for good old poor Braunschweig in second division rather than Wolfsburg.

The VfL will become an excellent point in case for the 50+1 rule, staunchly defended by the DFB and the League, which guarantees the majority of voting rights to club members rather than investors. Wolfsburg will illustrate just how quickly a corporate-owned club can be drawn into  downward spiral.

But the Wolfsburg earthquake will even be felt in Munich. Not only because Audi, Volkswagen’s accomplice in cheating, holds almost ten per cent of FC Bayern, but because Martin Winterkorn holds a comfy chair in the record champion’s supervisory board. Can anybody let me know how a guy who presumably knew nothing about what happened at Volkswagen, may be in a position to ‘supervise’ what’s going on at Bayern?

Karl Hopfner, the honorable Bayern president, observed that Martin Winterkorn sits on the board as a private person and not as a representative of VW and/or Audi. But that’s fairly thin ice he’s walking on. Bayern may be able to support Rummenigge the luxury watch smuggler and Hoeness the tax dodger, but should it support someone who is at least morally responsible for eleven million frauds? As a trustworthy private person?I beg to differ.

Rainer Kalb’s previous contribution can be found here.

Post by : Albrecht Sonntag in the category : Governance - No Comment

June 2, 2015

The European Hot Air Ballon

Guest contribution No. 3 by Rainer Kalb.

Following Sepp Blatter’s re-election as FIFA President the UEFA Executive Committee will meet in Berlin (probably on Friday) for a crisis meeting. The only topic on the agenda: how do we get out of our self-inflicted mess?

It is hard to believe that they will find a miracle solution. The whole drama began when Michel Platini grandiosely declared he was the only European able to beat Blatter, only to withdraw cowardly from the battle shortly afterwards. In the end the ‘powerful’ Europeans presented an Oriental prince instead. Difficult to be more pathetic…

It was of course clear that Russia, as host of the 2018 World Cup, would not vote against Blatter. But that France itself would stab Platini in the back was hardly believable. The rationale behind the French vote for Blatter? Well, it seems the FIFA boss had been instrumental in attributing the Women’s World Cup 2019 to France for the first time. Good to know. And who had been instrumental in attributing the Euro2016 to what was formerly known as ‘Grande Nation’? Difficult to be more hypocritical…

The eternal Sepp is rubbing his hands. He even managed to split German football in two. According to Blatter the ‘Kaiser’ himself told him he had ‘folded up’ DFB President Wolfgang Niersbach for having voted against Blatter. While Beckenbauer and Niersbach confirm the conversation, they contradict the ‘folding up’ of one by the other. Difficult to be more ridiculous…

After their embarrassing performance Platini and Niersbach will have to respond to the question how on earth they envisage cleaning up the FIFA stable. Platini already announced that all options would be on the table. Niersbach represents the world’s most powerful federation. But the only one to have a backbone is David Gill from England, who demonstratively stayed away from the first FIFA ExCo meeting following Blatter’s re-election.

Unfortunately his courageous stance will not hurt FIFA much. The English already ignored FIFA’s foundation in 1904, joined one year later, left again between 1920 and 1924 in order to protest against the re-acceptance of Germany, and boycotted it during World War II until 1946. Let’s face it: FIFA wouldn’t even falter if all European members of the Executive Committee went on strike.

A World Cup boycott and a Euro every two years with an invitation to Argentina and Brazil, as proposed by some, would only make sense if all 54 UEFA members agreed to participate. If this, however, results in, say, Argentina as European Champion and Russia as World Champion, it would look somewhat strange.

And what about the economic partners? If broadcasters like RTL in Germany withdrew from broadcasting the World Cup qualifiers, Adidas put an end to their equipment contract, and VISA dropped out as sponsor, what would happen? Easy to guess: you can already hear the Champagne corks pop in Nike’s headquarter, another (public?) television channel would eagerly step in, and VISA might remember that FIFA already shrugged their shoulders when they had to pay MasterCard a 100-million Euro indemnity for breach of contract and engagement with a direct competitor…

Thanks to European club football, the Champions League, and its economic power, UEFA clearly is the most important continental confederation within FIFA. It should be a proud fortress. Instead it looks these days like a hot air balloon that can easily be transformed into an empty rubber wrapper by one little needle-stick in the hands of Sepp Blatter.

Read the previous post by Rainer Kalb here.

Post by : FREE-TEAM in the category : Competitions, Football Politics, Governance - No Comment

February 21, 2015

Unintended consequences of a mega-deal

In terms of commercialisation, the Premier League is definitely a league of its own. By managing to sell the rights for live TV broadcast of games for a total of 5.14 bn pound (almost 7 billion euro) for three seasons, it has reached a new dimension. You could almost hear the champaign corks popping in the clubs’ headquarters, but it is perfectly possible that this windfall may not only make all of them richer, but also have some unintended consequences.

On the surface, the first reaction is of course the panic that is rising in the other European leagues, especially among French and German clubs. Experience tells them that each substantial raise in revenue for the Premier League is very likely to be poured directly into players’ salaries and transfer fees. In boardrooms across the continent – with the exception of Madrid, Barcelona and Munich, presumably – presidents and managers are scared to death they won’t be able to compete any more with what Burnley, Hull or Stoke have to offer and that the most talented players will soon have left for England.

But this fear is no doubt exagerated. After all, the Premier League’s salaries and the UK tax system have always been widely more attractive in financial terms than any other European championship. Moreover, the aggregate number of players in the 20 top-tier clubs is not going to increase, which means that there is a limit to the number of would-be football migrants from the continent. The frantic search for new ways of imitating the Premier League is not only doomed to failure but not even necessary in the first place.

The real change inducted by this mega-deal could be summed up as ‘higher expectations’. Not necessarily from the worldwide spectator community – the Premier League already provides brilliant entertainment and drama enacted by global star players. What is much more likely to change is the regard of society. The way English football business is conducted will be scrutinised much more closely by the critical eyes of the public. The demand for good governance, the insistence on fair and decent treatment of employees, affordable ticket prices, redistribution of money to grassroots football, funding of community programmes. In short: now that football has really become big business, the call for serious, credible, and sustained Corporate Social Responsibility is a logical consequence.

In a forthcoming German book (to be reviewed on this blog in March), former DFB president Theo Zwanziger, recalls how, in 1992, ‘social responsibility’ all of a sudden became an issue in the world’s largest sport organisation: ‘Commercialisation played a considerable role, especially the earnings opportunities that arose from TV rights. In this context, it became clear that the DFB could not only cash in, but also had to be willing to assume social responsibility.’

And that was peanuts compared to the amount of money that is circulating today! Club owners in England are likely to insist on their ‘return on investment’, but society is likely to remind them that the revenues are generated by supporters’ investment, i.e. expensive pay TV subscription, in the first place. Chances are the clubs are not getting away with some nice alibi philanthropy this time around.

Post by : Albrecht Sonntag in the category : Governance - No Comment

June 23, 2014

Thank you, guys

Fifteen years ago I had the privilege of living one of those adventures that remain with you for life. Back then I was quite far away from the academic world, working as a reporter in a Spanish sports newspaper. One day may boss decided, who knows why, that I was the best person to travel to Nigeria to cover the 1999 FIFA Youth World Cup. Little I knew then that I was going to have the opportunity to report on the first major triumph of a group of players which, defeated, bowed out of the 2014 World Cup yesterday after cruising to a meaningless 3-0 win over Australia. Certainly, I would have never thought when writing up a report on the final 4-0 crushing of Japan in a humid evening in Lagos, that some of the names in my text would feature eleven years later in other journalists’ reports of a World Cup final. It is perhaps because of this personal link that I cannot help to feel for this group of players who, as I argued in a post in this blog, made so many of us happy.

Brazil 2014 is certainly the end of a glorious generation of Spanish footballers that came to dominate the game in a fashion I could never have imagined. Not even when I first met Xavi, Iker Casillas or Carlos Marchena in the Spanish hotel in Calabar, a small city neat the Niger River, where Spain played two group-stage games of the 1999 Youth World Cup. The story of that month-long competition was one of coming out of age for a group of players and quite a privilege for me. Given the informality of the tournament, players and journalists shared hotels and many of the difficult moments in Nigeria. We were even able to forge some friendships that were maintained over time. It is also perhaps because of that more personal element that I have really struggled to see Xavi suffering because of his lack of fitness and his patellar tendons over the last couple of seasons. It has also been difficult to see the state of Casillas in the World Cup. The great captain who took us to heaven was a caricature of what he used to be.

Be that as it may, in this very sad and disappointing moment I can only have a word of gratitude for those who made this possible. It is of course necessary to start with Luis Aragonés, the scorer of Atlético de Madrid infamous goal in the 1974 European Cup final. Luis was a particular character, but he needs to be credited with giving a complete turnaround to the way Spain used to play and to feel on a pitch. He relayed of course on a bright group of players, later evolved by Vicente del Bosque to the work of art of Puyol’s header over Germany in South Africa, Casillas save on Robben or the team demolition of Italy in Kiev in Euro 2012.

This Brazil World Cup was perhaps one too many for some players. It is the moment to evolve the team, but it is not the moment to throw an idea of playing football in the bin. Some would say that Brazil changed and it does not play the attacking football of the Pele years. True. But it would be a real pity not to try to persevere in the idea of Luis Aragonés and Del Bosque that made many of us dream. In the meantime, in the moment to hand in our trophy of world champions, it is also the moment to say thanks. Thank you, guys. It was a very enjoyable journey.

Post by : Borja García in the category : Governance, History, Memory - No Comment

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