By Keir Radnedge
The continual sabre-rattling being undertaken by Europe’s top 201 clubs has prompted wondering whispers behind the scenes about the real agenda: Is it ‘only’ about fixture schedules and compensation payments or is the European Club Association (ECA) pushing at the exit door?
The fact that the latest stage of disagreement coincides with the most high-profile and media-intense stage of the Champions League may be coincidence or not. But it remains clear that the temperature of debate has been rising steadily over the past year.
Uefa president Michel Platini stands astride the entire edifice. He has one foot planted in a European camp which depends significantly on the riches generated by the clubs through the Champions League; his other foot is planted firmly in the Fifa camp where he is a vice-president and heir-apparent to the presidency.
Will there come a day when Platini can no longer maintain his balancing act and plant his entire weight on one side or another?
Talk about a breakaway European super league rolls in like waves, usually generated by one storm or another far out in the Fifa ocean. But each wave which rolls ashore in Switzerland is more powerful than the last. This is what makes the ECA’s current irritation and impatience with Fifa so intriguing.
The scandals surrounding Fifa over the 2018 and 2022 World Cup votes and then last year’s presidential election prompted consideration in the corridors of league power about whether either a) the clubs in particular, or b) Europe in general would be better off outside Fifa altogether.
The prospect of the other five regional confederations abandoning Fifa are remote, to say the least. None of the them has the overall financial power or resources to step away; it is estimated, for example, that Europe generates more than 90 per cent of the world game’s wealth.
Breaking away | Europe's superpowers may be better off away from Fifa
In the club v country political sphere, bear in mind that national team football is far more important outside Europe than within it. The Cameroon league, for example, has no serious financial clout or revenue-generating potential; the national team, however, is another matter (this is one reason why the Africa Cup of Nations takes place every two years instead of every four like the European Championship, Copa America, etc).
The World Cup is the one single ‘property’ which provides Fifa with its organisational, administrative, social and above all commercially monopolistic power. The world federation has also established a brilliant administrative template (endangered only when host nation politicians and administrators - as with Brazil, right now - put personal and national ego before organisational efficiency).
It is estimated that Europe generates more than 90 per cent of the world game’s wealth
European club progressives claim that Fifa has done its job in establishing the universality of the game and raising the World Cup from fragile infant to self-sufficient adult.
All that is left is for it to hand over the keys to the Cup and head off into the sporting sunset to focus merely on law-making issues – rather like an expanded International Football Association Board.
Risto Nieminen, head of the World Lottery Association, regularly tells anti-corruption conferences that “the governing structures of sports bodies have not developed at anything like the pace needed to cope with the commercial and financial explosion of sport today”.
His words, it seems, may well have struck a chord with Europe’s clubs.