July 26, 2003

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water……..

Until last week there has been little of note in the summer transfer market in Europe. As I have pointed out before, clubs Europe wide are starting to feel the pinch financially and this has curtailed spending substantially. Indeed, the only major transfer of note was that of David Beckham to footballs version of the Harlem Globetrotters, Real Madrid. What other transfers there were, had been for vastly reduced prices – a throw back to the early 90s even…when ₤5m could buy you a world class player. This in fact the price of Harry Kewell as he joined Liverpool from Leeds

This week that all changed with Chelseas takeover by Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich. Suddenly Chelsea are the new “big thing”. They have money to spend and who can stop them? Already they have bought Glen Johnson from West Ham for ₤6m, agreed a ₤7m fee for Wayne Bridges from Southampton, paid another ₤7m for Real Madrid’s Geremi and agreed an astonishing ₤17m fee for Damien Duff with Blackburn. We are also led to believe that European champions Milan have turned down a ₤35m fee for Alessandro Nesta. That’s offers of ₤72m for just FIVE players, only one of whom could be put in the “world class” bracket.

It appears that Liverpool have an absolute bargain. When you compare names like Duff, Bridges, Geremi and Johnson to Kewell you can see why. If an 18yo full back (Johnson) is worth ₤6m, Kewell must surely be worth close to 10 times that much. Bridges may well be a current England international, but that is a sorry reflection of Svens England rather than his own ability. Again Kewell must be worth 10 times his ₤ 7m fee. Similarly Beckham was sold for ₤25m just ₤8m more than Duffs fee. Man Utd must be kicking themselves. Had they held on for another month they could have sold Becks to Chelsea for twice that fee.

Where is this going?

Well clearly, football has become just another play thing for the rich and famous. Fed up with yachts and race horses the worlds richest are buying football clubs and ruining the game in the process. The Berlusconis and the Abramovichs of this world are merely playing games with us. And the players and the fans are just pawns in the process.

Do Chelsea fans really identify with their team anymore?

Are they still the Pensioners? The Blues?

Do they have favourite players? How can they when they know that this time next season that player may well be gone to the next highest bidder.

Despite their abundance of the best world football has to offer, Real Madrid lost the Champions league title this season and it took them until the last day of the season to clinch their domestic championship. Chelsea may well find that 11 expensive players does not a team make.

The selling clubs now have a choice. Do they continue this transfer stupidity? Or do they consider themselves lucky and pay off some of those debts, thus easing the financial burden?

Lets hope common sense prevails …..and no more Leeds Uniteds surface.


Oceania, Basil & All That

July 12, 2003

No prizes for guessing what this weeks topic is about. There is only one topic that matters in New Zealand footballing circles at the moment – FIFAs surprising but nonetheless predictable about face regarding Oceanias world cup spot.

What a shameful farce this issue has turned out to be. Not surprisingly, there are a number of suspects queuing up to apportion blame for this fiasco. Among them are of course Sepp Blatter, who has blamed New Zealands Confederations Cup performance coupled with the current chaos within Soccer Australia, as reasons to withdraw the spot. That’s the same Sepp Blatter who said that the decision to award Oceania a spot was “fair, just and well overdue”. And that was just 7 months ago. But 7 months is an awfully long time in football….as it is in politics.

However the blame for this fiasco rests solely with one person….OFC head Australian Basil Scarcella. Think back to 2001 and the vote for the 2006 world cup venue which ultimately led – unfairly – to the resignation of Charles Dempsey as OFC head. Scarcella wasted no time whatsoever in putting his name forward as successor. His credentials? Oh, he was once head of Soccer Australia – surely the most inept run federation in all of FIFA. Between then and December 2002 Scarcella was rarely heard of as he elected to run Oceania through anonymity rather than action.

However once Oceania was awarded the coveted spot, Scarcella was out in force taking all the praise and kudos. Praise which should have been directed at Dempsey since it was his brave politicking and abstention which ultimately led to the spot being awarded.

Whether we like it or not FIFA is run by politicians not footballers. From the day Oceania was awarded its direct spot there was always the probability that that spot would come under fire. The South American confederation complained immediately that four spots was not fair on them. And they are right. Africa 5 spots, Asia 4.5, South America 4? Ludicrously unfair. Even more so when one considers that at the last world cup Conmebol not only supplied the winners but also had 4.5 places!! They won the cup but their places decreased? Incredible. Immediately Conmebol put forward the proposal that the world cup be increased to 36 teams in order to rectify this anomaly.

Now, to a person with even a modicum of intelligence, a 36 team world cup is a rather stupid idea. Too many teams, too hard logistically to run. FIFA, to their credit, thought the same. But also to the average person, that proposal signified serious unrest in the camp of the second strongest confederation. And who were they most likely to next turn their guns at??? Well the weakest enemy I thought. And that’s Oceania. This they did quite simply, co-opting UEFA to support them. Africa, Asia & Concacaf, all worried about their own spots were quite happy to see Oceania lose theirs if the South Americans left them alone and so they all voted that way. That’s not fair but that’s politics.

And Basil? Well Basil had the temerity to suggest that he had no idea that the OFC spot was on the agenda. Eh? Dempsey knew. But Basil said that Dempsey couldn’t know. Dempsey knew because whatever else is said about Charles Dempsey one must admit he has been for Oceania a superb politician. He could see the threat coming. Rather like the rest of us I might add. A competent leader would have seen the battle coming and done something about it. A competent leader would have approached FIFA and tried to ensure that the Oceania spot was not under threat. A competent leader would have approached Conmebol and attempted to persuade them that an attack on Oceania’s spot was unjust. A competent leader would have traveled through Asia & Africa garnering support. A competent leader would have pointed out to federations like Europe how poor Asia’s world cup performances have been – coupled with the results of Oceania nations of late – remember Tynecastle & Upton Park? A competent leader would have shaken hands and done deals to ensure that Oceania had the necessary votes to retain its spot.

Basil Scarcella’s lack of political nous, his lack of foresight, his lack of intelligence has cost New Zealand the chance of appearing in Germany in 2006.

Basil Scarcella? Basil Brush is more competent than him.

Its time Mr Scarcella. Please go quietly and please go soon.

Football Finances

June 6, 2003

I’ve written before in this column of the dangerous state of football finances around the globe.

This week we have news from France where AS Monaco have been relegated to the French second division following their recent financial problems. Monaco are a club that bring back fond memories – they are the side that Wynton Rufer scored against in the 1992 European Cup Winners Cup Final.

Though Monaco have appealed their de-motion, it seems that that appeal will be fruitless. France – like Italy amongst other countries – have strict guidelines concerning the financial management of their clubs. The FFF are to be applauded for their strong stance, as are the Italian Federation who banished Fiorentina to the lower reaches of the Azzuri football pyramid last season.

However the very fact that those federations have had to make these tough decisions is a major worry. Sadly it’s a world wide problem. In Australia the champions Perth Glory, despite their huge crowds (38000 last week!), regularly lose in excess of a million dollars per season. In Scotland the SPL clubs together are in debt to the tune of GBP165 million, though admittedly half this figure is owed by one club, Rangers. In fact just this week Rangers were forced to turn down the chance of buying Jardel – former Golden Boot winner and Brazilian international – because Sporting Lisbon wanted TWO million GBP and Rangers could only afford 1.5. This just two seasons after they spent 12 million on Tore Andre Flo!!!!

In England, Leeds United’s financial problems resulted in them being within two matches of relegation to the first division, whilst first division Ipswich have sold their golden boy Matt Holland to Portsmouth for just GBP750,000. In Spain Real Madrid are regularly bailed out by the Spanish Government. I wonder if they would do the same for Barcelona? But that’s another issue.

Football has serious problems and one can’t help but think that the players & clubs have killed the goose that laid the golden egg. How we laughed as Rugby League has found more and more ways of cutting its own throat and yet here we are taking the same path. How much do Campbell, Keane & Beckham earn again?

And what chances are there that they may agree to cut their wages in order to ensure longevity at their club? Or indeed for clubs lower down the pyramid?

Not much I’d say. Lets take as much as we can and sod the rest, right?

Michel Platini – Saving Football?

May 4, 2003

I wonder if Michel Platini reads this column?

No sooner had last weeks comment on the G-14 gone to print than a report appears that Platini – now vice-president of the FFF and one time close associate of Sepp Blatter – disapproves of the way the European game is heading. In fact he is quoted as saying that should he ever become president of UEFA he will abolish the Champions League.

What a wonderful and refreshing statement from a well respected and intelligent man. Not forgetting of course what a sublime player he was. I recall in the 1986 Mexico World Cup the sight of Platini and Karl Heinz Rummenigge casually having a conversation on the pitch prior to the start of the semifinal between their countries. A Frenchman and a German conversing in the tongue they were both fluent in – Italian. Platini of course was at Juventus at the time, whilst Rummenigge was playing with Inter Milan. How strange life is that these two individuals should end up on opposite sides of such a potentially important division.

As if echoing my thoughts, Platini says that “European football is a closed circus. The more matches there are, the more certain it is that the big clubs will win. Clubs such as Bayern Munich should also play in countries such as Malta and Andorra”. Platini advocates one massive 256 team European knockout competition. Its not as silly as it sounds. To get to the final a team would play 14 matches. That is 2 less than this years Champions League finalists will play.

He recognises the importance of the G-14 but like many feels that they are too powerful. And who can argue? The wonderful cyclical nature of football has been put at risk by the forces which drive the G-14. Can clubs such as Celtic, Liverpool, Marseille or Benfica just to name a few, ever be serious about being European champions again? I don’t think so. The cash flows associated with football in the 21st century are going in one direction…into the coffers of the clubs in the G-14. In Europe, at least, those clubs above are merely making up the numbers mainly because they missed the boat when the high finance age started in football. Football as we all know is no longer a game…. it is a business. Profits and cash flows are the market forces that drive our game now, not fan base and passion.

Of course going public with such thoughts will no doubt cause Platini problems. The G-14 will no doubt voice their discontent as Platini continues to rise through footballs power hierarchy. Potentially the G-14 have a lot to lose. Simply, they cannot afford to have someone controlling football that does not see eye to eye with them on the way the game should be run.

Platini’s successful organisation of the 1998 World Cup in France has seen him tipped as a future leader of both UEFA and FIFA. I may not be in Europe but if I was he would certainly have my vote. He shows a love for the game…not a love for money.

G 14 …. Taking over Football?

April 27, 2003

Sadly the G-14 are at it again. Agitating for more money for their select band of footballing mercenaries.

The G-14, you will recall, are the self appointed elite of European football – the 14 clubs who consider that the European game should be continually redesigned and remodeled to suit their interests. In truth the G-14 does include a who’s who of Europes giants – Barcelona, Real Madrid, Milan, Juventus, Bayern Munich etc but their attitude and control over the game is very worrying.

The G-14 are precisely the reason that the champions league has become the oversized and largely uninteresting competition that it has. Certainly by the time it gets to the last 8 the champions league is superb – exciting, skillful, full of thrills, the worlds greatest players all on the one stage – but in the early rounds it is oh so dreary. And is it any wonder? Champions league? Well firstly its not a league but a series of mini leagues ending in a knockout. A shock first or second round elimination can cost a club millions and of course shocks are far less likely in group situations than in knockouts. Besides even if a top club does go out they will have had at least 6 income generating matches.

Secondly they aren’t even champions. In order to sustain the requisite cash flow to employ the worlds greediest players, the G-14 successfully agitated enough to have the 2nd, 3rd and even FOURTH teams from Europes best leagues allowed to enter. The reason of course is that no top club can afford to not be in the elite tournament. How can Milan, Juventus & Inter all be in the European Cup if only the champions are allowed in?

This week G-14 spokesman Karl Heinz Rummenigge has argued that clubs should be reimbursed players salaries when those players are on international duty. And yes he was serious. “Somethings wrong when you have a world cup worth millions but the clubs don’t see a cent and even make losses ” he said. “Compensation could be paid to the clubs from prize money and appearance fees routinely paid at such tournaments”, he went on.

Now pardon me for asking but exactly what do clubs have to do with the world cup? Surely any “prize money or appearance fees” should be distributed throughout any of the national associations and reach areas such as development of juniors, referees, coaches, facilities etc, long before the clubs get so much as a sniff.

The G-14 are a blight on the beautiful game. If they are allowed to continue along their money making path they will ultimately cause the death of international football. Already Manchester United and Arsenal caused the recent England v Australia match to degenerate into a farce. Their complaints about releasing players caused the England manager to select two entirely different teams – one for each half. How sweet it was that Australia won and convincingly too.

I fear it is only a matter of time before G-14 clubs start objecting to their players playing in world cups…. after such long hard seasons competing against Europes other elite clubs the players will surely need the rest…….


April 20, 2003

Exactly what is going on in Scotland?

As those who follow the Scottish game know, after 33 rounds the SPL breaks into top and bottom halves. Six teams in each half, who meet the other teams in their half once more, thus completing a 38 round season. The logic behind this rather bizarre system is to generate interest in matches at the tail end of the season…. after all what better than to have the two teams fighting to win the league play each other in a crunch match. Similarly those clubs fighting to avoid relegation, or indeed to qualify for Europe also meet each other – winner take all encounters.

Of course the fixture list cannot be drawn up until the top 6 and bottom 6 are known and this is where the problems arise. This week the fixture list was announced and of course all eyes turned to the championship decider and when it was. April 27 is the big day. Rangers v Celtic @ Ibrox. The winner almost certainly the champions. So what?

Well, April 27 is just 3 days after Celtic meet Boavista in Portugal in the semifinal of the UEFA cup, so the Parkhead club have their two biggest matches of the season inside 72 hours. A crunch weekend if ever there was one. But isn’t playing big games in a short period of time the price of success? Well, usually, yes but no not in this case. The decision to play this match on that day gives an overwhelming advantage to one side. Celtic will either have to lift themselves after a depressing low, or more likely, have to lift again after coming down from a huge high. Further there is also the prospect of extra time, penalties and injuries to take into account. Meanwhile Rangers will have had a nice wee 8 days rest since their previous fixture, to get over those niggly aches & strains and prepare to win at all costs.

In England, Manchester United have had a similar horror run. In the space of 18 days they will have played Real Madrid twice, Arsenal (1st), Liverpool (6th), Newcastle (3rd) and Blackburn (7th). But the difference here is that those EPL fixtures were randomly set at the start of the season. In Scotland, this fixture is neither set at the start of the season, nor is its date random. It was set in the full knowledge that one side had a huge match three days earlier.

Already Celtic manager Martin O’Neill and chief executive Ian McLeod have come out and publicly accused the SFA of bias. And why wouldn’t they? The SPL have 5 possible dates for this crunch match. Four of those dates would satisfy both clubs, one of them is clearly advantageous to one of the two teams. And what date is allocated this match? The one date preferred by Rangers. Rangers manager Alex McLeish has come out and said that he wishes his club were in Celtics position. Short memory Alex? It was only 3 years ago that the SFA postponed a Rangers v Hearts fixture to assist Rangers who had two midweek champions league matches in a short space of time…and that was in October long before any match could be deemed crucial!

Celtics accusations of SFA bias towards Rangers are longstanding. And sadly not without foundation. Believe it or not but in the past they have had to

***play a league match the same day as returning from Russia after playing in the European Cup,

***play TWO league matches on the same day (they won both)

*** looked on whilst the SFA did nothing about a rival club who for over 70 years operated a sectarian signing policy

One also recalls the disgraceful scenes at Celtic Park in 1999 when Rangers clinched the championship amidst controversy. Referee Hugh Dallas awarded Rangers a series of odd decisions most notably an obscure penalty and a bizarre sending off. Three weeks later the two sides met in the SFA cup final. Who did the SFA appoint to control the match? 3 guesses. And who subsequently won the cup? Space doesn’t allow me to go through the huge number of similar decisions of the SFA which always seem to go in one direction.

The last time a Scottish club reached the UEFA cup final was 1987 when Dundee Utd lost to Gothenburg. Given the time span between successes (16 years!!!!) you would think that the SFA would be doing whatever it can to assist its clubs in Europe. Clearly not. Clearly the SFA are more interested in ensuring Rangers regain the SPL title.

Sadly, that is what is going on in Scotland.

The English Disease

April 13, 2003

As if to accentuate the boredom of the premiership. Englands football followers appear to have resorted to their age old, tried and trusted ways of finding entertainment at the football.

Footballs coming home? It is indeed.

Not content with embarrassing themselves in – of all places – Liechtenstein, on the weekend, Englands fans have run riot through the streets of Sunderland in midweek. Nearly 100 fans were arrested as violence flared before the crucial European championship match with Turkey. Not one of them was Turkish. Even I must admit to some surprise here. Europe has long since become accustomed to the English fan creating havoc abroad, but rarely does it happen at home …well not in recent times and certainly not at England internationals.

Ironically Englands recent matches have been somewhat exciting. Who can forget how Australia tore England apart at Upton Park in February? And the Turks are an exciting team to watch as well – finishing 3rd in last years world cup. This tie was great in prospect and indeed proved to be an entertaining match.

Sadly the violence happened inside the ground as well, with fans invading the pitch and attacking Turkish players. On that basis alone you would think that UEFA have no choice but to ensure that England play the rest of their qualifying matches away from home….if they don’t disqualify them altogether.

Rather ironically England have still to travel to Turkey….. to of all places Galatasarays ground (remember that Leeds fans?) Now how many English fans will be brave enough to go there after this weeks events????