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Football democracy

It’s been over three weeks now since the announcement of the ill-fated European Super League.

The following clubs, here listed alphabetically to avoid treading on thin fan-infused ice, are AC Milan, Arsenal, Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Chelsea, Inter, Juventus, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Real Madrid and Tottenham Hotspur under the helm of Mr. Agnelli (disclaimer: I’m an unequivocal Interista but also a passionate Alfista), decided after some three years of threats to take the plunge and announce the launch of this new league.

Why now? As with anything which is happening to this generation, the timing can be pegged to the current pandemic and its disastrous effect on the big clubs’ cashflow and profits.

Most readers know the details by now and the resistance and backfall being shown by fans and pundits; and as of the time of writing only Barcelona, Juventus, and  Real Madrid have not backed out of this no longer so ‘Super’ League.

With JPMorgan Chase apologising for backing the move, and, Juventus’ stocks plunging by 12% after the initial euphoric rally fizzled away, this is a disaster, and still in the making as UEFA and the nine clubs that walked out of the Super League agreed on financial penalty settlements while the remaining three risk sanctions possibly even being banned from the Champions League.

All this spells more financial woes for the big 13.

The effect this will have on the clubs’ brand, with their glorious history and large fan bases will be possibly minimal, but the marketability of the business model itself, principally of entities managing football clubs as pure investments or of individuals as seeing them as billionaire pet hobbies, is coming to a colossal clash with some of the founding principles of football.

Modern football kicked off thanks to the Industrial Revolution in Victorian England.

It started off as a game of the workers. Football is what got us the two-day weekend with Saturday for football, Sunday for church in order to help men move away from their vices and the infamous ‘Saint Mondays’, where men used to work up till Saturday, go to church on Sunday morning and start revelling, (mainly drinking their heads off), soon after walking off the church parapet, and per consequence not reporting for work on Mondays.

The compromise came with church people promoting football as a counter to revelling for young men, and when football was at a clash with Sunday church attendance, church ministers successfully lobbied for an off-work day on Saturday too. Thank God for Fridays; but thank Football for Saturdays.

In the meantime, football spread like wildfire from England into the rest of the British Isles, forging its way through the continent from Italy to Spain to Germany and France, eventually spilling to the rest of the world.

The first, and still running, football club in the world was established in 1857 – Sheffield FC, and just 33 years later, on the other side of the continent, St George’s FC became Malta’s very first football club.

Now this is the beautiful part.

Both Sheffield and St George’s, over more than a century since their foundation, can have a shot at playing on the world’s biggest club football stage – the European platform, albeit a very long shot one has to say, but the mechanism is there.

This is what this whole football project is all about. That chance, that small possibility, of taking it to the top. This is what makes fans love the game.

In late April, minions Newcastle scored in the last minutes of injury time to take two points from defending Premier League champions Liverpool.

This result put the recent European champions in a difficult position where they could possibly miss a berth in next season’s Champions League.

On the other side, in Italy, while Inter won the Scudetto 4 games in advance, AC Milan’s recent loss of form including a loss to Lazio, could potentially break off any chances for the former to get into next year’s Champions League.

Ronaldo’s Juventus, a machine built specifically to win the Champions League trophy, have been pushed out of the world’s top league by third liners in the form of Lyon and Porto in each of the last two seasons.

Now were would these emotions fit in the European ‘Super’ League? Where is the universality? The democracy of it all?

The Governance Formulae

“No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

Well, it is not me who is saying this, but none other but a bulwark of democracy, Sir Winston Churchill, soon after the world edged towards the possibility of a fascistic future.

And the same can be said about FIFA and UEFA and their version of football democracy.

The fraud, the mismanagement of funds, the fact that in 2021 it is still primarily a boys’ game, leaving women, that are more than half of the world’s population (in business spiel: a big opportunity loss) out of the top tier game, as well as the conservatism in the approach to any tendencies of evolution in the game, leave much to be desired.

Well to be fair, on the last points, UEFA and FIFA, thanks to changes in their leadership, have in the past decade updated quite a number of policies and rules, and we are seeing also more investment and promotion of the women’s game; but much more can be done.

It is not the first time that higher powers tried to and influenced the game.

In Mussolini’s Italy, in 1929 Inter had to remove the ‘Internazionale’ from their club’s name only because it didn’t evoke the ‘patria’ first.

Much more tragic is the story of one of its great coaches, Árpád Weisz, a Hungarian of Jewish heritage, who got La Beneamata to win its third Scudetto in 1930.

He and his wife, his son and daughter were murdered in Auschwitz in 1944. Thankfully we are far off from such scenarios, but it’s worth mentioning how meddling with the governance formulae, both within and outside football, has led to grave consequences.

This brings us to the basics. We need the universality and democratisation of football to remain.

As in the free world, with the right set-up, we believe this can be fuelled, and not restrained, by capital and free market. But let’s not turn the scenario into a fascist one, especially when considering where the current threat came from. Because what is particular this time round is that the enemy came from within.

The way forward now is for UEFA to listen to the clubs, the clubs to listen to the will of the fans, and find a way where football business can live side by side with the essence and the reason of its being; nothing less but the beautiful game.

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