Keeping it in the family

Only recently formed, the ECA already faces the daunting task of taking on football’s leading organisations in an attempt to increase fairness across the board. Steve Menary reports

When is enough really enough? For Europe’s biggest clubs, seemingly never. The formation of the European Clubs Association (ECA) was supposed to end the selfish lobbying of the big clubs but, having turned European football into a cash cow, the continent’s leading sides are now targeting the money FIFA makes from the World Cup and distributes to member associations.

“Everyone is so busy in securing additional dates for this or that competition,” said ECA chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge. “A harmonised calendar and a clear insurance policy will be one of our main goals and this could help further to harmonise the relationship between club football and national team football.” But who will pay for that insurance? Probably not the ECA, which replaced the old select G-14 lobby group – a sort of Bullingdon Club for the biggest European sides – in 2008 with a larger and supposedly more inclusive body representing clubs from all 53 UEFA members.

With 63 new clubs joining last season, the ECA has 103 full members and 94 associates. Membership could not be more diverse, from Man Utd to SP Tre Fiori, a part-time side from San Marino. Escaping the shadow of the G-14 is difficult, however. Recently, the ECA voted in a new executive board of 11 members that includes the Lithuanian Ausrys Labinas of FK Ekranas, but other members are more familiar, such as the Bayern Munich chairman, the aforementioned Rummenigge, and Sandro Rosell, president of Barcelona, who is the ECA vice-chairman. Both clubs were in the G-14.

Other members of the ECA board include David Gill of Man Utd, Real Madrid’s Florentino Pérez, Jean-Michel Aulas of Olympique Lyonnais, AC Milan’s Umberto Gandini and Ernesto Paolillo of Internazionale. These five clubs were also in the G-14, which comprised 18 teams from seven countries and, before disappearing, ensured that a bumper deal was secured for this choice band.

In the last UEFA distribution of cash, the six English clubs playing in the Champions League and Europa League in 2008-09 shared €155.1 million (£135.4m). Of those other clubs from ex-G-14 member countries, Italy pocketed €121.8m followed by Spain (€116.6m) and Germany (€112.4 m). Those four plus France, Portugal and the Netherlands – the old, supposedly defunct elite – shared nearly three quarters of the €881.4m distributed by UEFA.

With the bigger clubs dominating UEFA’s cash distribution, the ECA is now targeting FIFA’s largesse. National associations are easy targets to criticise, but the FA, for one, spends £1m a week on grassroots football. The FA also has cash-rich sponsors to help offset new costs, but not all countries are so fortunate.

“I do not see us as being able to insure our players further than we do already,” says Omar Smarson, media officer at the Icelandic FA, the KSI. “Let’s say two of our players were well-paid professionals at high-level football clubs, earning tens of thousands of pounds every week. Then those two players are injured on national team duty and are out of action for weeks, even months. The KSI can’t pay their wages, simply can’t afford it. If such a rule goes ahead, then the smaller associations would have to have some kind of special dispensation.”

UEFA will not comment on the ECA’s divisive plans but FIFA point out that a deal was reached on compensating clubs over two years ago. “According to that agreement, the clubs will receive from FIFA, via their national associations, $40m (£25m) in 2010 and $70m in 2014,” says a FIFA spokesman. “The European clubs who had players taking part in South Africa this year all signed that agreement. Among other things, the agreement states that the clubs agree to make no claims in relation to the cost of insurance of players, or any other matter relating to the release or participation of players for representative teams against FIFA and/or our confederation or any other member association.” That, however, is not enough for the ECA.

From WSC 285 November 2010