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May 2020
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In a year, football could be unrecognisable

v   By Christophe Jost

Football has a fundamental problem of leadership for one very simple reason: all of its “leaders” have vested interests, which are very clearly defined.  And yet at the same time, each of the different entities that is trying to have a say in the future of football, knows that they are in the same boat.

In the end, football organizations such as leagues, are really trying to guess an outcome without really knowing how it can be achieved.  What is needed now is a solution that saves time and gives certainty, so that the plans can be implemented.

But how much longer can they wait? This crisis shows how fragile these bodies are and how lacking they are in terms of a clear vision of the future.  Each organisation is pushing its own individual agenda while refusing to collaborate.  Thus each organisation acts according to its own interests while trying to convince journalists, publishers and editors to support their cause.

And of course, there is still money at stake. The goal is to avoid losing everything. Players, for example, do not want to cut their wages, despite the fact that there are no matches so almost no income.

But given the nature of the industry, with no income, whether it is in Switzerland or England, it is almost impossible to cover the costs. Especially since the clubs live disproportionately from the income derived from the games.

The result is that many players reject change, while the period requires a fundamental shift in attitude and organisation.

In France, the decision to stop was taken by the state, because the different actors failed to have a joint proposal. This created a lot of misunderstanding and could push some club presidents to go to civil courts, which is not a good idea. Football has already tried this path, unfortunately, in other cases, such as the Bosman judgment.

On the other hand, Germany is showing its willingness to resume as soon as possible, with a solid medical protocol.

But there is an unasked question in the midst of all this: do we really need to resume competitions at all costs?

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In fact, what I don’t understand is the eagerness of clubs resume. Of course, it is indirectly dictated by UEFA’s desire to finish the championships so that European competitions can take place next season and start as quickly as possible as if nothing (or almost nothing) has happened.  But it’s a mistake.

The challenge today is not to determine who is right or wrong in the next four weeks. It’s about defining what makes sense for the long-term football ecosystem. If we weaken the domestic championships, we will in turn weaken European competitions. And once we have done that we run the risk of seeing certain entities benefit from the situation. That is to say: if the domestic championships are not played, the European championships will not resume either.

The danger is that the very big clubs could decide to organize a tournament, instead of waiting.  But the danger then is that public opinion might not accept this eagerness.  Why should the Bundesliga use 20,000 coronavirus tests that the public or a medical service may lack?

And at the laboratory level: what justifies a priority for football-related tests when capacities are limited? Resuming competition is necessary, but it football needs to explain its usefulness to the community.   Convince society that it has utility for post-Covid world and then it’s ok.  Otherwise…

Club presidents do have to get along for there to be competition in a league.  So on paper, Bayern Munich hates Borussia Dortmund, but that has not prevented Bayern, in the past, granting Borussia an interest-free loan …

Tottenham argued long and hard against Arsenal being given permission to move from Plumstead to Islington in 1913, but that didn’t stop them inviting Arsenal to play a pre-season friendly at White Hart Lane on 22 August 1914 – one year on from the big argument.  13,564 turned up.

This makes the point, even if the clubs get angry, they have to move forward together.  But it must be recognized that structures are weakened by the fragmentation of institutions. The time has come to think about a platform that would bring together the different parties with leadership that assimilates the challenges of the ecosystem and in which we would find more independent people to generate a slightly more innovative vision when making decisions.

Football will have to resume at some point or another. And the more quickly the conditions for dialogue are created, the greater the chances of building a solid future.

Football has never faced such big problems. There is no point in waiting in a vacuum or struggling to set random resumption dates. Football has been used to living in the moment.  Winning the next game was all that mattered.

Now football must lift its head and think about a future one year, two years or ten years away. And not least by questioning its economic model.

For the past decade, the sole objective has been to increase revenues, mostly by conquering new markets.  But from now on, football will have to think about how to rationalize the costs in order to generate a more stable cash flow which will help to absorb the hard times.

This is an opportunity to refocus on the sporting aspect by offloading a share of the business which was only aimed at earning more, far from the spirit of the game. In the economy in general, many companies use the crises to undergo a stress test and redirect their strategies. Football has never had time to do it.

Is this realistic? I am optimistic. We went through the first phase of panic. We are in the process of leaving the second phase which wanted us to play again as soon as possible. We are entering the third period which will be that of reflection.

And if we do not reflect, at the next crisis very few clubs will rise. They are being forced to redefine their priorities, such as their involvement in regional society or the promotion of their training centres to refocus their horizons on the fringes of international business.

But what could compel them to do such introspection? The general environment!  Let me offer an example.

Imagine that a biological passport is held by each footballer, so that each foreign player who arrives at a club must spend two weeks in quarantine.  And imagine that because of the collapse of the airline industry plane tickets are now astronomically expensive, such that it won’t even be worth hiring foreign players anymore. In this case, you might as well turn to a local player and try to really develop your youth team.

That’s how it could be.

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