National Federations would not force FIFA to scour itself after recent scandals, but the sport’s top clubs might. Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, Bayern Munich’s chairman and board member of the European Club Association (ECA) has threatened the nuclear option if soccer’s governing body does not seriously address its corruption, pulling out of FIFA and UEFA.
“The fact that Bayern Munich, who have always been close to the institutions, are being so vocal and loud about the situation is a clear sign we’re very close to breaking point. We have a memorandum of understanding with Uefa that expires in 2014. After that time we can no longer be forced to respect Fifa statutes or Uefa regulations. And we won’t be obliged to compete in their competitions.”
Under the “memorandum of understanding” clubs must release players for international play and must participate in UEFA’s Champions League. If the clubs pull out, they are under no obligation to respect FIFA dates and release players for international duty. They could neuter international soccer. They could set up their own super league, outside UEFA control. The gravy faucets would shut down. Blatter and Platini would be left castrated and irrelevant.
The FIFA scandals are a convenient cloak for this power play clubs would have made anyway. Under the present system, FIFA, UEFA and the national federations reel in millions from international soccer. Clubs don’t profit and assume all the risk.
Let’s say Holland plays a friendly and Wesley Sneijder blows out his knee. Inter Milan has to rehab him, to pay him during the interim while he’s not playing, potentially buy a replacement for him to play while he’s injured and suffer the loss on their investment, should he return a diminished player. UEFA has not, as promised, implemented a plan to provide insurance to clubs for player injuries.
Sans such a catastrophe, clubs still have players traveling halfway across the world to play midweek friendlies and playing 10 or more extra matches per season in non-tournament years. With the European championship expanding to 24 teams and discussions of even more international friendly dates (more cash for the federations) without consultation, clubs have had enough.
Facing such a dire outcome, FIFA must compromise, making this, rather than placating internal steps to be implemented by those with their own skeletons, the best chance for reform. Here are some changes the clubs could push for.
Transparency: Large decisions, such as awarding World Cups, would be made in the open rather than by a coven of shady shitbags taking a secret vote behind closed doors. Pushing for this would ensure a PR win for the clubs. It is also the only effective way to stave off corruption. Clubs will make sacrifices in the best interest of the sport, but not to keep Sepp Blatter and his ilk well greased.
Representation: No more unilateral decision-making. Clubs receive their rightful place at the forefront of the game with a voice and representation in the sport’s governing body.
Premier Champions League: The last thing UEFA or FIFA want is a closed-off NFL-style league of Europe’s best clubs beyond their control. This is the compromise. A Champions League still in tournament form, with teams staying in their domestic leagues, but with the clubs in control and taking a substantial portion of the profits. This would satisfy, for a time, the clubs’ pursuit of “untapped potential.”
Fixture Restrictions: International fixtures would be cut back, or at least blocked from further expansion. The year after the World Cup in Europe is the lightest load. England, for example, still played nine matches during the season footprint from. Four of them were friendlies. That would be like USA basketball forcing NBA players to travel around and play an extra 15 games during the season. You could see fewer overall matches, fewer friendlies or matches consolidated into specific zones to be less invasive.
Player Restrictions: Clubs would get their promised insurance for player injuries. Clubs could get rights to withhold players recovering from injuries, withhold players from friendlies and possibly put a cap on the total.
2022 World Cup: So, let me get this straight, you want us to release our players to play in your competition, assigned through bribery, where conditions are so extreme the rules of the sport may need to be altered to protect players’ health? File the clubs under the list of powerful interest groups who want that tournament moved.
[Photo via Getty]