The Politics of Football: The Premier League Against UEFA and FIFA
In 1863, the laws of the game of football were created in England. As the sport expanded overseas, mostly as a result of Englishmen introducing the game to countries around the world such as Brazil, Argentina, Spain, etc, England ever-so slowly lost their grasp on the game as the dominant footballing power.
Jump to 2008 and for the first time in the history of the Champions League, one country has managed to field four clubs in the last eight in the quarter-finals of the major cup tournament: England.
Let’s not jump to any conclusions yet. After all, even with four English teams in the last eight, there’s no guarantee that an English side will win the cup. But it’s an appropriate time to contemplate how the dominance of the Premier League in Europe (and around the world as an entertainment product) affects the balance of power and the quality of the sport on the field.
Without a doubt, the amount of money flooding into the Premier League due to TV rights deals worldwide has created — for the most part — a league with several all-star teams. The top four are able to attract some of the best players in the world to play together. As a result, club sides now have more flexibility to attract the best players — something which national sides are unable to do as they’re limited to athletes who qualify to play for their country.
What it means for the sport is that teams such as Manchester United are able to field teams that are, in my opinion, better than national sides. Consider for a minute how a Man United side playing at its peak would fare against an England national side. Depending on the circumstances, the Red Devils would have an excellent chance of winning the match.
I wouldn’t go as far as saying that the Premier League has the possibility of becoming bigger than the World Cup. Even if the league becomes even more deeply ingrained amongst viewers in all corners of the globe, there’s still something very magical about Copa Mundial. It’s not so much the football anymore (the quality of play each tournament seems to lessen). It’s a gathering of the tribes descending on a country. If anything, the tournament is more about the fans than the football. Whether it’s the fans uniting in neighborhoods around the world to watch matches, or the passion on display by the lucky fans who are able to attend matches in person.
With the rising power of club football and the dominance of the Premier League, we can already see what impact this has had on the Champions League. The European cup tournament faces the challenge of being controlled by English clubs. Not just this year, but year after year.
The point can be made that the Premier League, by dominating the Champions League, becomes bigger than the European cup tournament itself. No wonder UEFA and Michel Platini is worried about the power that the Premier League holds and will continue to achieve in the future.
At the same time, especially after the 39th Game proposals, it’s plain to see how worried FIFA is too by the power the league holds. FIFA President Sepp Blatter is continually saying how the Premier League needs to enact stricter laws to limit the number of foreigners on each team. Herr Blatter’s plans are not about saving the English game or trying to promote the usage of English players. It’s all about a power struggle. FIFA and UEFA don’t want to usurp power to the Premier League.
We’ve already seen UEFA and FIFA flexing its muscles just this week. FIFA voted against the use of goal-line technology — which has been experimented on by the Premier League to some great expense. Blatter, protecting his own interests, lashed out against the Premier League’s 39th Game proposal again earlier this week.
The rise of the Premier League is fascinating. There are two schools of thought in play. The first is the “win at all costs” idea, which puts the focus on winning matches no matter what the display is like on the field. In this regard, the Premier League excels and, to me, is the best in the world.
The other school of thought is the quality of play on the pitch and whether the Premier League sides deserve to be acknowledged as the best in the world. Without a doubt, here’s where the Premier League is lacking the most (other than the top-heavy league where only four teams have a chance of winning the division). The play on the pitch, at times, can be entertaining to watch but the overall quality is lacking compared to other countries. It’s more controlled and reserved in many ways, which helps English sides maintain their edge in games. The alternative is a more open, attacking style of play which is pretty on the eyes but can create holes in the back for opponents to penetrate.
The power struggle between the Premier League, UEFA and FIFA is far from over. The Premiership will continue to grow its business overseas, resulting in even larger amounts of revenue generated for its twenty clubs. Platini and Blatter, meanwhile, will continue to chip away to limit the power of the league.
To me, the interesting test will be to see what happens this summer in the transfer window. With the Premier League’s increasing power, will we finally see a summer where A-rated players will move from Spanish and Italian clubs to England? Will David Villa follow Fernando Torres? What about Kaka, Pato, Robinho, Buffon, Eto’o, Messi and others? If the Premier League sides can lure some of those players (as well as more top managers), the Premier League will be able to lead the world in quality on the pitch as well as off it.