by Tony Attwood
There is not too much talk of it on TV, for the simple reason that when TV discusses football it is never neutral. TV buys in football, and anything that threatens its position as the dominant distributor of football is an absolute no-go area.
Thus discussion of something being wrong with referees, or with the Football Association, or with Uefa, or with Fifa – it is all hidden away until it can’t be hidden anymore. And then suddenly it is announced as “breaking news”.
Meanwhile the FA has always, and will always, bend the knee to Uefa and Fifa, no matter what they do, no matter how much money is wasted on bidding for competitions in processes that are fixed, no matter how financially and morally bankrupt the FA itself becomes.
So, don’t expect to hear too much on TV about the European Super League, but it is the dominant discussion point among members of the European Club Association at the moment. It is a topic that has risen up before, and each time the clubs have been bought off with promises of more money from Uefa.
But a mixture of the corruption scandals at the top of Uefa, the recognition that football associations will tie themselves to Fifa, no matter what revelations comes out, declining viewing numbers for the Champions League, and the fact that all of the last seven Champions League finals have involved at least one of the big three (Real Mad, Barcelona, Bayern Munich), thus limiting the variety of performance, (and with two of those three having been found guilty of child trafficking), has had its effect.
Uefa is now preparing to sell the next round of TV rights for the Champions League, but there is a problem – viewing numbers are dropping dramatically. Add to that the fact that a lot of the group stage matches are less than interesting to anyone other than already committed supporters of the teams, and that is a bigger problem.
So the top clubs in Europe are once more considering their 20-team Super League, with all the Super League teams being automatically in the Champions Leagues group stages. The second tier clubs of course don’t like it any more than Uefa likes it, but if the clubs do form their league, there will be little that can be done about it by anyone else.
Uefa is now desperately trying to come up with a new formula that would buy off the top clubs once again. There is talk of an extra knock out round before the group stages, so that the weaker teams would not play their six group stage matches and only pick up a few points.
But there is a further problem which is worrying the top clubs in Europe like mad: China.
When China reforms it doesn’t do it in the style we are used to in the west. It doesn’t dip a toe in, pull back, look around, watch the other guys… China has plans and sees them through.
So for years it had a plan to boost academic performance in Chinese schools, and it has done that, getting Hong Kong as the second most successful “country” in terms of school performance in the world while the Programme for International Student Assessment recognised Shanghai schools as the most academically successful in the world.
Except that China has found that with an endless push for academic success you inevitably build in something else: wholesale mental health issues and a complete lack of physical fitness among young people. So time to change the system again.
And part of that next round of change is to get rid of all the past corruption and embrace football.
Jackson Martínez has been transferred from Atlético Madrid to a club in China for £31m. China now owns around one third of Man City and a whole chunk of Atlético Madrid , and is starting to pull strings in both. Alex Teixeira has just gone to China for £38.4m. And the transfers continue – the transfer window not closing until the end of February.
Ramires of Chelsea has just been signed up for £25m and José Mourinho has been filmed in China taking it all in, and celebrating the signing up of new partnership agreements and further transfers. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is said to be ready to move.
Meanwhile the TV rights agency Infront, owned by Philippe Blatter (most definitely a relation) has been bought by a Chinese start up. It is I suppose one way of getting rid of that wretched family of corruptors.
Thus the model in China is always the same: bring in foreign companies and foreign labour. Teach local labour the skills needed. Do it. Edge out the foreigners.
I still have the memory of my time in China and being taken on a tour of a city the name of which I am embarrassed to say I have now forgotten, and having the tour guide on the bus say something to the effect, “this is the mobile phone sector of the city – it employs about half a million people”. The completely modern industrial complex went on as far as the eye could see. Two miles down the road we came to the river which divided the city in two. Wider than the Thames at Westminster, the guide pointed to the bridges. “As you can see we have seven bridges across the river, and there are eight more under construction. Three for rail, three for cars, and two which are double decker carry both rail and car transport.”
Yes, they were building eight bridges across the river, simultaneously. I don’t think appeals against the planning authority were allowed.
With football it is the same concept. Have the plan, do it. The aim is first to boost the national league. Then to host and then to win the World Cup, which is why there are now rules in place encouraging but limiting the number of foreign players in each team. The investment in football in China by the state in the next ten years is around £500,000,000,000. (That’s 500 billion if you got lost in the zeros).
But hang on, you may say, China’s growth is slowing – I heard it on the news. And yes that is true. China’s economy grew by 6.9% in 2015, its slowest growth in a quarter of a century. In the UK it is just over 2%.
So China is ready to pour money into European football as well as take European footballers to China for unbelievable salaries and huge transfer fees which no European club can match. Crowds are on the up with several clubs now having average gates of over 40,000 and the numbers growing fast.
And back home… Champions League TV figures have gone down and down even though more games are available free-to-air. The average audience is now just around 200,000 per match. I blame Lineker, but that’s probably just my prejudice.
And so Uefa wants a different deal for football on TV for 2018‑21. But with the top clubs in Europe now ready to pick up their cherished aim of a European Super League, and Chinese clubs showing that, although they had a false start in taking Anelka and Drogba to China a while back, the league now has itself sorted out and can pick and choose the players it wants, plus with Uefa being utterly discredited in terms of controlling racism and mired as corruption as Fifa, everything is up for change.
There’s no doubt that many in the FA, in Uefa and of course in the TV organisations that keep them afloat, will be in, and will remain in, utter denial. But history shows us that when change happens (as with the Premier League breaking away from the football league, with the support of the FA), it happens fast. And the consequences are never, ever what people imagined.
Arsenal Anniversaries (more on the home page)
- 11 February 1888: Contrary to reports the first match at the Manor Field (later the Manor Ground) and home of Arsenal until 1913 was not on this day but against Millwall Rovers on 30 March 1888. The game on this day against Millwall was played at the Sportsman Ground, Plumstead.
- 11 February 1905: Debut of Andy Ducat v Blackburn. He won caps for football and cricket, and was eventually sold to Aston Villa in 1912 for £1000, as part of the cost-cutting measures as the club prepared to move to Highbury.
The Untold Books
The latest Untold book is Arsenal: The Long Sleep 1953-1970 with a Foreword by Bob Wilson, available both as a paperback and as a Kindle book from Amazon. Details of this and our previously published titles can be found at Arsenal Books on this site.