Sunday 6 July ~
The G8 group of industrialised nations are meeting this week at a remote mountainside venue in Hokkaido, Japan, with over 20,000 policemen being deployed to keep protesters at bay. There are unlikely to be angry crowds picketing the inaugural meeting tomorrow of the European Clubs Association (ECA) but its existence should be a cause for concern for football followers around the world. The ECA has the appearance of being a democratic organisation. It has 103 members, at least one from each national association, with the three top-rated countries in UEFA's annual ranking system providing five clubs each. In England's case this means the current big four plus Newcastle. At its first meeting the ECA will appoint a 15-man board that is expected to include Rick Parry of Liverpool and Peter Kenyon, chief gopher for Roman Abramovich.
In January, the ECA succeeded the G-14 group of wealthy European clubs that had modelled itself on the G8. The latter agreed to disband, having reached agreement with UEFA and FIFA over compensation payments. This means that clubs will be paid up to €4,000 per day for every player who participates in the finals of a major tournament. It is not clear where this money will come from but it is reasonable to assume that none of the clubs receiving the payments will have real need of them (which might have been the case, for example, had the money been set aside for the clubs who developed the players up to a certain age). This is to do with clubs asserting their primacy in relation to international bodies.
As is the case with one of the other principles agreed upon – that Europe-based players should only be permitted to play one friendly match outside the continent during the European club season. This is aimed specifically at players from South America and Africa and can only have a damaging effect on the development of non-European national teams, leaving national coaches will little choice than to only call upon the Europe-based players for major qualifying fixtures. The big European clubs will continue to have no compunction, of course, in taking those same players halfway around the world at the end of the season to play tour matches in the US or South East Asia.
The ECA has also declared that one of the issues it wants to examine is the staging of the biennial African Nations Cup, which is currently held between January and March. The European clubs would like the tournament to take place in the summer, and ideally to run concurrently with the European Championship, that is every four years rather than two. The world must dance to Europe's tune.
Karl Heinz Rummennige of Bayern Munich is to the first chairman of the ECA. He thinks that the organisation should be learning lessons from England: "The money generated by the Premier League is fantastic," he says. "Look at how they have done business in the international markets." The business model popular in the Premier League involves new owners, attracted by worldwide TV revenues, putting clubs massively in debt to fund their takeovers. It is not currently possible to do this in Germany where laws prevent football clubs from accumulating debt. But Rummenigge's Bayern are actively lobbying to have such restrictions removed. Anyone who thinks the Premier League is an example to be followed is the last person who ought to be placed in charge of an organisation that purports to represent the interests of all clubs big and small. They'll need a police cordon one day.