There’s never a dull moment where football is concerned.
For the past couple of days, some of the game’s most influential people have gathered at the NH Collection Grand Hotel in Amsterdam for the 44th ordinary UEFA Congress.
Earlier this week UEFA president Aleksander Čeferin spoke earnestly on the problem of racism and diplomatically on a looming ban for Manchester City.
He suggested that football was a ‘social movement’ that had to be separated from the pursuit of financial gain.
“No football administrator, no matter the size of ego, should think we are the stars of the game because we are not. We are the guardians of a legacy. We are guardians, here to protect the game, its players and its history.”
Those remarks were taken as a veiled reference to Gianni Infantino, the FIFA president, who was sitting in the front row.
Even if that was not the case, the two bodies are at loggerheads over the reshaped international calendar.
FIFA have recently contracted American financial advisory firm The Raine Group to support its quest for US$1 billion in funding for an expanded Club World Cup, the first 24-team edition of which will take place in China in 2021.
Earlier attempts to push through an external investment model were rejected by the FIFA Council who cited worries over a loss of control.
UEFA appear to be unhappy because of the obvious threat to their Champions League competition, and won’t be happy to note that Liverpool, Juventus and Barcelona representatives met with FIFA to discuss a joint venture involving the European Club Association (ECA).
It would give the big club teams the opportunity to generate and exercise some leverage
“The football pyramid is delicate and must not be knocked off balance,” said Ceferin in Amsterdam. “Certain projects, some devised on other continents with the backing of governing bodies, are particularly worrying.
“If our success enables us to ward off threats that appear on the horizon, we can be proud. These threats are alarming. And we need to anticipate the worst if we are to prevent it. When purpose over profit becomes profit over purpose, it is time to raise the alarm. Football is not simply a business like any other.”
Private equity and venture capital provide the likeliest financial basis for any breakaway European Super League, a concept that has come to the fore as UEFA tries to rebalance its club competitions.
It has sought to protect its wider national membership, underlined by creating a third-tier continental club tournament, the UEFA Europa League Conference, from next season.
Both men have noticed the wave of private equity investment coming, but broader questions about relevance, power and wealth need answering.
The Nations League was designed to expand UEFA’s presence in the national team game, building a viable commercial product that could sit between its major championships. Its sponsorship strategy has become more global in recent cycles, and for FIFA, a bigger Club World Cup might achieve a similar objective in the club game, UEFA’s home territory.
The prospect of a turf war is just as palpable in women’s soccer. UEFA has been encouraging its Women’s Champions League and Women’s Euro towards commercial maturity; Infantino responded to the success of 2019’s FIFA Women’s World Cup by suggesting that tournament might happen every two years.
Leaders of other confederations are bound to get drawn into this kind of thing because they all walk down the same corridors.
It is hard to gauge just what response to expect from the rest of world football at this point. If the standoff deepens, they could join the defence of a game where existing competitive and administrative structures are intact but where power, wealth and talent continues to accumulate back in Europe.
Alternatively, they could support slightly accelerated globalisation but in a form where the critical decisions are made by someone else.