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Sepp Blatter, Fifa’s president, has launched a hard-hitting attack on financial excess in football, warning that new money in the game threatens to suffocate the sport. The head of world football says Fifa will not sit by and see greed rule the game.
Mr Blatter has promised a new Fifa task force to “deal with” the excesses and has invited questions from FT readers on what action he should take.
Mr Blatter and David Owen, FT sports editor, answer your questions below.
Would you consider to follow the example of US professional sports to introduce a salary cap for club teams? Some of the problems you mention in your article would be tackled if the amount a team can spend on players’ salaries would be maximised. And it would force managers to make choices, and the best managers could prove themselves by doing the right thing in stead of burning as much cash as they can.
Jochem van de Laarschot, fan of PSV Eindhoven, the Netherlands.
Sepp Blatter: I do not think that a salary cap is the right approach because it would be regulation forced upon the clubs and also against EU provisions. What is more, there would always be clubs and players to find a way around the cap and the problem would still be there.
What is needed is a mentality change at all levels, players, clubs, coaches, agents, you name it. The game as a whole needs to rethink its priorities. These are some of the issues we have identified and which we will now tackle with the Fifa Task Force “For the Good of the Game”.
David Owen: To be effective, this would need to be accompanied by further reform of the transfer system. Otherwise a salary cap - even assuming it could be made watertight - would simply prompt the richest clubs to bid up transfer fees. This happened in reverse after Bosman, which is believed to have had an inflationary effect on salaries.
After reading Sepp Blatter’s article on greed, I have one main question: When addressing this problem, I assume FIFA needs to find support of national and international public authorities, such as the European Commission. Considering the fact that Fifa (and also Uefa ) are not always on the same line with authorities when it comes to rules governing sports, what steps will you take to come to a fruitful cooperation?
Rik Servais, Belgium
Sepp Blatter: Fifa has a good relationship with the EU authorities. After all, in 2001 we managed to agree on the revised international regulations for transfers which are a milestone and which put to some extent an end to the post-Bosman chaos. I am in favour of dialogue and not confrontation but it is obvious that 25 member associations of FIFA (whose countries are EU members) cannot solely determine all relevant decisions for the game which includes 207 country members and more than 250 million active participants worldwide.
Chelsea’s start to the season has naturally concerned many that they will dominate the Premiership, perhaps for many years due primarily to the vast sums of money at their disposal. To me it seems if you were designing a tournament in any sport or pastime you would not think it desirable to give one team more money than the rest put together. Would you agree such disparities are unhealthy, and if so do you think anything can be done about them?
Sepp Blatter: Such disparities are indeed not only unhealthy but in the long run they undermine the sport because the competitions will lack attraction due to their predictability. However, it should not be a governing body to dictate a levelling in terms of resources or funds. Such a move must come from within, from the clubs at the top. They should realise that a healthy competition is needed to keep interest alive. No interest = less revenue. That will hurt them most.
David Owen: Yes, I would agree this is unhealthy, even if the richest club does not invariably triumph. The present situation would, of course, self-correct if Roman Abramovich walks away. Until then, the most effective - but draconian - remedy would be for associations to impose equal budgets on clubs in any given division. Tweaking the distribution formulae of TV and other money would make little difference when a club has a benefactor as deep-pocketed as Chelsea’s. Trouble is, there’s no chance of Chelsea’s main rivals accepting the principle of equal budgets unless relegation were also abolished.
What is your take on rich Lithuanian businessman Vladimir Romanov coming to takeover Hearts?
Steve Collins, Scotland
Sepp Blatter: The taking over clubs by foreign investors is just one of the problems we will be dealing with in the Task Force “For the Good of the Game”. This may also have an effect on the case you are referring to.
Would you consider outlawing loan transfers? The current laws on loan transfers allow a few very rich clubs to build vast squads, with the players that they sign comfortable in the knowledge that even if they fail to make the first team at the club to whom they are contracted, they may still enjoy first team football at another club via the loan transfer system. A complete ban on loan transfers may cause less transfer activity but would lead to a wider distribution of talent among all clubs in a league. It is absurd that under the current regulations, the success of a ‘smaller’ club may have more to do with that clubs’ ability to sign loan transfer agreements with the rich clubs than developing their own squad of players.
David Owen: I agree. To appreciate why this practice should be stopped, all you need to do is think of what happens when the club to which the player is loaned comes up against the club that employs him. Either he doesn’t play - unfair and unsatisfactory; or he does play and risks having his motivation questioned should he play particularly badly or well. The Cup competitions mean this problem does not just apply to clubs in the same division.
If the practice were banned, however, I don’t think it would automatically have the consequences you mention. Chelsea, for one, would probably still be able to hang onto many of the affected players, fielding them in more reserve and third-string fixtures, instead of farming them out, to keep them match-fit.
Sepp Blatter: You need to look at this complex issue from all sides. Complete bans of anything are hardly ever beneficial. The situation rather calls for well-thought adjustments and a change in the attitude of the clubs who should, as you suggest, concentrate on growing their own squad of players.
The English FA have introduced parachute payments for clubs being relegated from the lucrative premier league but this doesn’t seem to be decreasing the divide between rich and the poor clubs. What, if anything, can be done as a global scheme to prevent this gap from growing wider?
Richard Knights, London
Sepp Blatter: It is up to the associations and clubs to make sure that in the long run everybody remains viable for competition.
David Owen: To achieve anything more than tinkering - and parachute payments have increased substantially in recent seasons - I think you would need to abolish relegation. Top club executives would be much more inclined to contemplate more equal budgets if they knew their place in the league was not in jeopardy. Of course, you might see that as throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
How can you stop people like Abramovich owning football clubs? Most clubs in the UK are owned by wealthy individuals. How can you stop people entering the game just because they have no history in it?
Ben French, UK
Sepp Blatter: Wealthy individuals have traditionally played an important role in the English game and around the world. For FIFA it is not so much to stop individuals or prevent them from investing in the game. What our Task Force will endeavour to do is help authorities identify the sources of the funds and seek to provide the highest level of transparency possible to the benefit of fans and society as a whole. A perfect example for a quality investor is Reading chairman John Madejski, who has contributed dramatically to the good of the game. People of his calibre must always be welcome because they love the game and offer opportunities to the youth.
How can Fifa stop a club having many nationalities in its team? Is it a bad thing anyway? In Europe free movement of labour laws mean that it will be very difficult to restrict the number of nationalities, though an emphasis on clubs having good academies is important, but what can Fifa do to encourage this?
Terry Palmer, Durham
Sepp Blatter: This is a very topical question and one which concerns Fifa and of course Uefa directly. I have severely recommended the introduction of a cap with reference to foreign nationals playing in the starting and playing 11 of any club anywhere in Europe (which is where the problem arises). I believe that a five+six rule (six nationals and five foreign players) would be a good idea. Needless to say that the freedom of movement act in the EU may or may indeed not collide with this suggestion. We have taken steps to identify solutions to this obvious problem and I am confident that through dialogue a favourable solution can be found over time.
Why can’t there be substantial changes in the rules? Wouldn’t it be best to pool the earnings from the Uefa Cup and Champions League and divide them between the participating teams. Or even one step further, divide them between the participating countries which then have to divide them between their entire league?
Sepp Blatter: I cannot speak on behalf of Uefa, but your proposal has some merit. You may wish to submit this proposal to the CEO of Uefa. At Fifa we feel that the revenue must be shared in a manner to help all associations and football as a whole to benefit, which is why we re-invest 75 per cent of the overall revenue into development programmes, financial assistance and youth competitions, etc.
David Owen: I certainly think the unwieldy format of the Uefa Cup is unsatisfactory, although it does play a part in ensuring that clubs from less wealthy countries can participate in European football beyond the start of the season. But aspects of the Champions League also rile me. The name is marketingspeak at its worst: it is not really a league and not exclusively for champions. The timing of the preliminary rounds also means that some clubs (such as Celtic this season) face arguably their most important matches of the season way too early.
Good on Sepp Blatter for highlighting some serious issues for world football. I look forward to seeing your proposals for combating the greed that is turning some off the beautiful game. Your problem is that Fifa does not control the big clubs directly. How can you stop large amounts of money being showered on relatively few players when you have to deal through so many different country associations?
Sepp Blatter: Thank you for your comment. Fifa and other football bodies cannot go against the forces of the market of supply and demand. It will need a change in attitude on the part of those in charge of clubs or owning them. They have to and will realise that in the long run they have embarked on a route that may ultimately prove their undoing. Just look at the number of clubs under administration or that have gone bankrupt, in England and elsewhere. The writing is on the wall.
Why do clubs pay for agents fees? Surely if a player wants an agent he should pay for that person out of his own income.
David Miller, West Sussex
Sepp Blatter: According to the regulations, it is the player who must pay his agent and not clubs. We are aware that there is misuse in that area. The question should be: Why do clubs continue to pay agents when there is no necessity or obligation to do so.
With referees facing enormous pressure in international football these days, how do you view the introduction of technological innovations as a help and support to referees? In particular I’m thinking about systems to determine for example off-side and/or whether the ball has passed the goal line.
Soren Nikolajsen, London
Sepp Blatter: More than a technological help for referees it is important that in professional football referees also become professionals. Then they will be considered by the players and the technical bench as equals. It is a very psychological factor.
On the other hand, our game of association football must maintain its human face with human errors by referees. Never mind those by players, coaches or chairmen.For technology, tests with goal-line technology are under way but not yet concluded.
David Owen: Under present rules, offside is partly a judgement call, so I don’t think technology would be appropriate. For line decisions, I’d be very much in favour - provided the technology was reliable and the information could be relayed to officials within a few seconds of the event occurring.
In England, the involvement of supporters’ trusts in running their football clubs is already proving that stable financial management, community and grassroots initiatives and success on the pitch are not mutually exclusive. Do you envisage a greater involvement of supporters in the running of clubs, and also the wider game?
Kevin Rye, Supporters Direct, London
Sepp Blatter: It would certainly be most desirable if there were a greater involvement of supporters. After all, they are the real members of the club and the most faithful followers of the game. As you mention, especially in England the trusts play a crucial role in bringing clubs in dire straits again on an even keel, on many occasions with much personal commitment and sacrifice. At world level, Fifa does not yet have a counterpart for this but we will certainly take these interests into consideration in our Task Force.
As well as the individual club benefactors which Mr Blatter refers to in his article, isn’t one of the real catalysts behind football’s money the amount that Television is now paying to show an ever increasing number of matches live? The game as a whole in this country is in crisis, whilst vast sums of TV money are being poured into it. Is Fifa seeking to take a more active role in regulating the distribution of this wealth?
Sepp Blatter: No, we cannot interfere with this as leagues are members of their respective associations and should be governed by the latter. The associations in turn are members of Fifa. So there is a pyramidal structure with players and clubs, leagues, associations, confederations and ultimately Fifa.
Fifa leads by being a model. In terms of revenue distribution we have a two-way model based on performance and solidarity. Performance-based means that the 32 finalist teams of the 2006 FIFA World Cup will receive a total sum of CHF332m.
Solidarity-based means that from the overall revenue of Fifa over a four-year period, 75 per cent is re-invested at grassroots-level through development programmes such as GOAL or the Financial Assistance programme (see also http://www.fifa.com/en/development/index.html ) and via the Fifa competitions of which there are now a dozen (http://www.fifa.com/en/mens/index.html and http://www.fifa.com/en/womens/index.html).
Just look at the recent World Cup qualifiers in Africa: four new teams, Ghana, Togo, Ivory Coast and Angola have made to Germany, not the powerhouses like Nigeria, South Africa or Cameroon. Why? Because Fifa is not globalising the game, it is making it universal and helps the smaller countries to grow as well.
Although I agree (wholeheartedly) with Mr Blatter’s comments. I cannot see a way in which the present situation can change. How can we ask people that are paid £120k a week to reduce this to an acceptable standard?
Neil A MacKenzie, Scotland
Sepp Blatter: It is not those people we need to ask. What we need to do is to change the system.
Why hasn’t there been any independent interviews with any of the Glazers and therefore why aren’t the British press chasing them around the world as they do to other deserving cases? Why has David Gill been given such an easy ride after all he said about the problems he thought the takeover would bring?
David Owen: I can only speak for the FT. We have certainly requested interviews with the Glazers, but have yet to be granted one. Regarding David Gill, one of our primary focuses when assessing management performance is shareholder value - yes, even in an industry as emotive as football. By that yardstick, Gill actually did rather a good job.
As a Manchester United fan, I find it disappointing that the Football Association will not allow my team to train young players who do not live within a 90 minute drive of the club’s academy. Why shouldn’t a parent be free to choose the best footballing education for his child? The likes of Bobby Charlton and David Beckham would have been restricted, so why do the FA persist with this rule? I am sure FIFA would agree with the principle I have put forward.
Richard Shaffer, Manchester
Sepp Blatter: England of all countries has some of the best youth academies around. The abundance of opportunities especially for young players would allow most youngsters to find appropriate technical and education grounds to further their skills within a short distance of their home. I am certain that the FA will gladly advise you on opportunities available in your region.
At first sight it would seem that the Glazers have taken over Manchester United just at the wrong time. The Premiership bubble is well and truly deflating. But isn’t the European Commission’s threat to BSkyB TV’s rights to exclusive coverage of the Premiership, playing right into the Glazers’ hands? It could give the Glazers the ability to breakaway from the rest and sell the rights to Manchester United games to whoever they please. If this were to happen then the Glazers could be on their way to paying off their debt mountain. But the rest of the premiership would suffer. Individual TV rights are what they need - it could ruin the smaller Premiership clubs - but what would the Glazers care?
Billy Brayshaw, FC United fan, Manchester
David Owen: I’m inclined to agree with much of what you say, Billy. As I’m sure you know, the pure collective selling model has already been abandoned in some leading football countries. I think what may save the day in the forthcoming auction of Premier League rights is that the competition to BSkyB looks much more serious this time around. This may enable the league to maintain the value of its rights even if it has to compromise with Brussels. DO
I have supported my local team, Wimbledon, for all my adult life. Following their relegation from the Premier League in 2000, the club teetered on the brink of bankruptcy was effectively saved in 2003 by relocating 50 miles north to Milton Keynes. Most fans opposed this move and called it franchising - what is your view on this case the general issue please?
Sepp Blatter: This is a very English phenomenon which I have not encountered in other European countries so far or to this extent. It also represents a rather rare case from which I do not think one should or could deduct future developments. Therefore I would prefer not to comment in more detail as I believe English professionals and experts are better suited to do so.
Can Mr Blatter please explain why he feels Fifa should not insure players on international duty thereby providing compensation to clubs and supporters who pay their salaries in the first place - I speak as a grumpy Arsenal fan whose team has recently been deprived of the services of Henry, Campbell and Cole due entirely to injuries collected playing in the Fifa World Cup.
Chris Thomas, Million-2-1 Ltd
Sepp Blatter: First of all, players must be insured by their associations under Fifa World Cup Regulations. However, as we know that not all associations are rich, we will keep back 5 per cent of the prize money for the teams at the World Cup to compensate clubs for players who may sustain an injury during Germany 2006. Besides that, there are presently talks in progress how to further improve the situation for clubs and players in terms of insurance and medical care.