Javier Tebas leads the rebellion of football ‘SMEs’ | Soccer | Sports
”This is like the climate crisis,” warns Daniel Lambert, executive director of the century-old Bohemian FC, in the League of Ireland. “If we continue to ignore the imbalance, we are going to destroy the entire ecosystem. “Big clubs have the right to be big, but this should not mean that the others do not exist.”
A tone of revolt permeated the forum organized in Brussels this Wednesday by the newly born European Club Union (UEC), the organization that aims to bring together the nearly 1,500 medium and small First and Second Division football clubs that make up, along with non-professional clubs, the base of the pyramid of competitions for the most popular game on the continent. They were supported by Margaritis Schinas, vice president of the European Commission, Matteo Zacchetti, sports expert at the Commission; and the MEPs Tomasz Frankowsky and Ibán García del Blanco. They proclaimed principles of “transparency”, “sustainability”, “equality”, “solidarity” and balance in “competition”, and then Javier Tebas, president of La Liga and great promoter of the project, closed the conclave with a depth charge. “If within a period of a few weeks we are not able to create a strong association that defends all clubs, not only those that participate in European competitions, the future of football will be dark,” warned Tebas, who maintains, like many presidents of clubs, that the Super League, the elitist project led by Madrid and Barça that aims to abolish the open format of the Champions League to form a tournament analogous to the NBA, continues to be the secret objective of the most powerful clubs, represented by the European Association of Clubs or ECA.
“UEFA is kidnapped by this elite that runs the ECA, and the ECA says that it represents the clubs but does not allow the majority to have the right to vote,” Tebas concluded. “Why can’t clubs be governed with a one-club/one-vote regime?”
The ECA is the only organization officially recognized as the clubs’ interlocutor before UEFA. It is chaired by Nasser al-Khelaifi, who in addition to serving as president of Paris Saint-Germain is the top executive of Bein Sports, a company that owns the audiovisual rights to a large part of the football competitions around the world. “The conflict of interest is clear!” says Dennis Gudasic, president of Lokomotiv Zagreb and president of the UEC. “How do you explain that the ECA and UEFA have formed a joint commercial alliance to sell the rights to the competitions?”
“We,” concludes Gudasic, “see ourselves as the defenders of the founding values of UEFA, which has succumbed to the pressures of the richest clubs, which seek an NBA model. This model would ensure the privileged position of the large companies and prevent the development of the medium and small ones. Phenomena like Porto in the 80s or Ajax in the 70s would be unrepeatable.”
The Brussels meeting was received with horror at the ECA leadership. The official club organization issued a statement denouncing the UEC initiative as a product of “increasingly extremist individuals” focused on “destabilizing the entire football governance structure.”
A spokesperson for the ECA stated yesterday that his organization does not intend to reproduce the Super League, nor establish different, more or less watertight categories within the European competitions, as the UEC suspects. “That’s nonsense,” he judges, on condition of anonymity. He adds that the “one club/one vote” formula is not the only way to structure a democratic order. According to this source, the ECA is governed by a “proportional system” in which clubs are grouped and vote for their representatives in subsections according to the coefficients that UEFA assigns to their national federations. The clubs of the six most powerful federations – England, Germany, France, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands – are represented by 12 members on the ECA steering committee, the same number represented by the remaining federations. Al Khelaifi is not voted but “appointed by the board of directors”, and, according to the ECA, he does not occupy an executive position, but rather an almost “ceremonial” one.
Madrid and Barça
”The proof that the most powerful clubs cannot hijack football as Tebas says is that Madrid and Barcelona had to give up their position in the ECA to try to found the Super League,” indicates this spokesperson for the employers’ association. “Within the ECA they would have no support.”
The ECA’s arguments do not convince everyone. Together with other delegates from 90 medium and small clubs, Guasic, Lambert and emissaries such as Steve Parish, president of Crystal Palace, or Fran Canal, general director of Osasuna, went to Brussels to express their concern about an incontestable reality: the competitions reflect what which seems an unstoppable gap between the rich and the modest. According to data presented at the conclave, in England, Spain, Germany, Italy and France the clubs of the top three They win more games than ever. Clubs that do not belong to the five major leagues have progressively been left out of the Champions League round of 16: from 31 in the period 1993-2002 to only 7 in the period 2013-2023. The income generated by the ten richest clubs in Europe has gone from representing 15% of the total in 1992 to almost 30% since 2016. The income distributed by the Champions League represented 6% of the wealth produced by football in 2009 and now they cover 16%. Between 2015 and 2021, European clubs increased their income by 9% on average; but the ten richest clubs – Chelsea, PSG, City, Bayern, Barça, Madrid, Liverpool, Atlético, Juventus and Dortmund – increased their income by 48%.
“The impact of small clubs in decision-making is non-existent because the influential group of the ECA is the big teams,” said Fran Canal. “No small team is part of the UEFA executive council. “A possible and easy solution to restore balance is to put a salary ceiling.”
Javier Tebas against Nasser al-Khelaifi make up an explosive confrontation. Symptom of an industry in a permanent state of tension even though the value of the product it offers continues to rise. An ecosystem, as Lambert said, threatened by the concentration of power.
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