By Tony Attwood
It is interesting that, although it is not full steam ahead for football in Germany, France, Switzerland and multiple other countries, there is a clear pathway being set out in relation to the future of football. Even League Two in England has managed to see its way forward.
But the Premier League? The arguments are still raging. Which makes it a reasonable question: why? What makes the Premier League so different from all the other leagues which are slowly finding their way out of the mire? Why is top level football in England in such a mess while the rest of the world recovers?
It is not a question that the media are seeking to tackle very much at the moment, which gives one a bit of a clue – maybe the media is part of the problem rather than helpful message-carriers that could become part of the solution.
As I have tried to show day after day through this crisis, the media in the UK takes a particular position – one that tends to ignore specific topics and news from outside the UK, and thus is unable to give a broader picture. In short, because of its inward-looking approach it is itself a problem, rather being a helpful element in searching for solutions.
But it is not just the journalists and those they choose to work for who are to blame, because there is another, and indeed bigger force that is working against a solution: the agents.
I have written before on the subject of how agents have extended their power by becoming involved in the financing of deals. The agents are not just representing the players’ interests they are also the bankers, arranging loans for clubs who seek to buy or sell players.
And indeed the banks themselves can be compromised, as we saw in relation to yet another Fifa tax evasion case. (carefully not reported in the British media, but reported across the rest of Europe).
At the same time, the agents are encouraging the players they represent to keep moving in order to bring themselves more money because every transfer is more in their coffers. It is interesting that this is one of the topics that our media refuse to get very involved with, so it becomes an issue like so many others, in which one has to plough through lots of news media from around Europe to try and find out what is going on.
However, a simple insight can be established by doing rough comparisons between countries. We can see for example that in Portugal the agents seem to be pretty much running the show. In Germany, far less so.
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The situation in England is complicated however because of the split in power between the Premier League, the FA and the other leagues. As a result whereas in many European countries a single authority has stepped in and taken control, this cannot happen in England. There is a fractured system in which each party is fighting its own corner, and no one is strong enough to come in and bang heads together.
What makes it worse is that the media in many ways has a vested interest. Sky and BT Sport are football news media, but also highly influential players in football, because of the money they contribute each year – money that the clubs depend on. So Sky and BT Sport’s coverage is going to be horribly biased because they are reporting on something that they themselves are at the heart of.
Worse Sky and BT have a vested interest in the rest of the media in seeing issues in football as they see them, so they pump out vast amounts of news which is picked up by other media outlets, who propagate the Sky/BT vision of what are the issues in football.
Even the BBC, although with a much longer established news-gathering media, is compromised (although to a far lesser degree) when it comes to reporting on football because it is a funder of football through buying the rights to Cup matches and for League games through Match of the Day and its radio coverage.
These powerful forces explain, for example, why no one other than Untold raises the issues of just why there are so few referees used by PGMO compared with other European leagues or why Liverpool keep getting the same referees over and over and over again.
A further difficult factor is that another player in the affair is the Professional Footballers Association – the players’ trade union – which has been beset by controversy in recent years including the PFA charity being under investigation over serious concerns in the way it is run, demands for the head of the organisation (Gordon Taylor) to resign, and a review into the association’s finances. It is crippled by controversy
What this means is that every single organisation that might be able to pull football together in order to take a lead on the current difficult issue of how to finish the current season and how to get ready for the next season, is compromised by being part of the problem.
Add to this the fact that the clubs have, in many cases, been running up huge debts by gambling on “rising to the next level” and we have a situation that means that football is not only in a dire mess at every level, but that every organisation that could take football out of this mess is itself compromised by its own position and/or past behaviour.
In short, there is no organisation that can take control, bang heads together, enforce change, or argue with a clear and firm enough voice, unencumbered by its past misdemeanours or self-centred approach to do anything.
English football will probably find a way to muddle through, but in doing so will be incredibly weakened, and won’t have resolved its fundamental structural problems. It might come through the crisis but will emerge still standing either in the sinking sand or on the edge of the precipice – whichever image you prefer.