Thursday 22 April 2021

Thoughts on ESL (3): the future and other observations

That was 2016, the first year of the Yokohama era. Torres was long gone. I had many other possible choices especially Ivanovic and Hazard, but I chose Torres without any hesitation. The reason is simple: Champions League is the highest platform and the CL semi-final is the best tie in the world. Torres scored the critical goal in the best tie in the world, in 2012. 


The ESL did not appear just because of American capitals. UEFA and their cups have to take a big part of the blame. In fact, this is not the first time that the big clubs came together and tried to form a group out of the FIFA/UEFA framework and that was the G14 scandal 20 years ago. Only this time they came together in the form of a new football league overriding CL, hence a much sharper conflict.

UEFA has been known to be fully corrupted. Platini's attempt to "promote beautiful football" by suppressing Barca's opponents is by far the most iconic scandal. Their Nations League and the expanded CL were made to raise more money without bear the responsibility of taking care of those really exhausted players. They are unfair on the matter of financial fair play (FFP) and they never make clear about their financial situation. Perez made a good quote out of that: "I know the salary of LeBron James, but I have no idea about the salary of the UEFA president."

For owners of the big clubs though, whether players were forced to play 70 games per season or were treated unfairly on the pitch is of secondary concern. Their ultimate goal is to squeeze more money out of the club, and this is a common goal among the 12 clubs joining ESL -- and this is their only common goal.

The big clubs of course do have different considerations. United, Arsenals, Liverpool and Milan who are owned by American capitals together with Perez's Real Madrid, is trying to introduce the American model into football (just listen to FP's talk about shortening match duration and so on). Clubs like Barca, Juventus, Chelsea (and City) takes it as a leverage against UEFA. Clubs like Atletico, Spurs and Arsenal are not the best among the big names, so they feared to miss out the chance to earn big in ESL. With different motivation behind, it's hard to expect them to unite strongly against the expected pressure around the globe.

When we say that everyone involved in football (except the owners) opposed the idea of ESL, we also have to admit that sometimes the opposition of football fans (plus pundits and coaches and players...) does not mean much to the higher ups. Arsenal, United and Newcastle  fans have been shouting Kroenke, Glazer and Ashley out for years and oh they are still leeching the club. They are not leaving because fans wanted them to leave (probably not this time though). 

Just look at big6's reaction against FA, EPL, ECA and UEFA's condemnation. It was expected that ESL will not be liked by most people. What they did not expect is that the fan's violent reaction triggered strong responses from the governments: Tories and Labours united in UK and Macaron standing for PSG's decision. City's legal team might be better than UEFA's, but they are nothing against government's policy. Once Boris Johnson mentioned working visa everything is over -- that is out of legal action's reach. Considering how hard is getting a working visa for a footballer in UK after Brexit, there are so many ways to stop foreign players to play for ESL in UK. For those who shorted United shares when BJ stood out and talked about ESL congratulations you know football (and stocks market) really well (that should have been 10% profits in two days!).

And the future. What is good for the industry and the teams? Clearly the CL expansion is a big no and that should be retreated. This is however technically hard as it just went through as a response to ESL. I think there are alternatives even if we have to adopt 36 teams in CL -- for example just put them into 9 groups of 4, and 4 worst runner-ups will have to compete for the two final seats in the last 16. They really need to control number of matches played by the teams strictly.

UEFA already promised to increase the CL bonus. Some even says they paid the English clubs secretly to lure them to withdraw from the ESL. This is great to the teams, but it also implies that UEFA actually hid their profit from the participating clubs. They need to be more transparent financially.

And 50+1? I know many agreed with the idea and praised the German League especially Bayern, but honestly I don't agree. Competitively it is not so great inside the league and all other teams are like served Bayern to be the giant representative. They are not even close to their successes in Europe like back in 2012-15. Teams other than Bayern failed to do well in both the domestic league and the European cups. Even with EPL's commercial success I heavily doubt if the League is good enough to breed 6 big teams under the 50+1 system. Implementation of the system is technically hard too. 50+1 means fans need to buy the shares from the current owners -- and that would be billions of dollars under current market value. The league must go on without interruption -- you can't really stop City or other teams from playing the just because she's not turning into 50+1 quick enough. There are also comments on Reddit suggesting the use of shares of different classes (with different voting rights) but bare in mind that it still costs unrealistic amount of money and, shares of different classes is still not a thing in Europe (soon in London, but whether or not that applies to unlisted company is another thing).


Finally below are some random observations. It is always interesting to read the event from other perspectives.

- UK government's reaction is certainly a consequence of reaction from fans plus the rest of football industry, but it is also the tradition of Britain protecting their soft power seriously. Football is one of the most important icon of England, and it would be a shame if that turns into the American style. It is an easy decision for the government to take.

- Some suggested that the EPL teams withdrew too early. They could have waited for negotiation with UEFA before and look for concession -- because this is what some teams wanted in the first hand -- if possible. I actually agree but the immediate reaction all over the world made that impossible. Look at the protests at Stamford Bridge: if the big6 didn't retreat that night, without any doubt we will see violent protests in front of (inside) the Spurs' stadium on Wednesday.

- Conspiracy theory: what we saw is American capitals entering football market trying to turn that into the American way for more profit. But what about American capitals trying to ruin football so that they can promote their American sports?

- When you look into online forums, the reaction from English based communities and Chinese based communities are completely different. Watching people grudging against UEFA so much that they wanted ESL anyhow even to the point of associating UEFA with supremacy theories is...just funny.

- FP did make a correct point of teenagers having more diversified entertainment and less are watching football. That is correct but can be salvaged by different means. Football in the past 30 or 50 years was promoted in the traditional way: local communities and traditional media like radio and TV. These are pretty much past tense and clubs/FAs/UEFAs need other ways to promote football in 2021. On reddit people gave a great example: chess. Being such an ancient and complicated game, chess received much better attention in recent years via streaming and also Netflix's movie. On the traditional sports side F1 is also doing great by promoting their sport online. I wonder why can't they do the same for football -- or that they are not willing to invest for greater good?

- There are comparisons between the ESL scandal (which survived for 2 days flat) and the hundred days revolution in China (~1910). Of course they are not totally the same (for example the difference in stakeholders that opposes the changes), but this is quite insightful actually. One lesson for FP: stop talking so idealistically and anger more people. 

And...that's about it. I never thought I would rant that much (5000 words) but that's possibly because I never write about football other than the matches themselves. Thanks for reading and I hope to write about football again when Chelsea lifts the CL this year, if that ever happens...

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