Football was hit by some shocking and totally unexpected (ahem) news this week, as it was revealed that the previously beloved and completely trustworthy FIFA organisation may have some elements of corruption. While nobody could possibly have seen it coming that the football powerhouse that is Qatar didn’t win the World Cup vote fairly, many people reacted to the news by urging UEFA to break away and form their own organisation.
Of course, bringing down FIFA would be a desirable outcome for many, and there is no denying the look on Sepp Blatter’s face would be priceless. However, it is foolish to believe that UEFA taking control of the global game would be any less of a disaster than the current situation we find ourselves in. I’m going to start with three actions taken by UEFA in the past year which show they are just as pathetically mismanaged as Blatter’s FIFA, and then move on to some of the possible, no, probable, consequences should Europe be left in charge.
Serbia vs. Albania
To say Serbia and Albania don’t get along very well doesn’t really cover it. There has been years of turmoil between the two nations, leading to the kind of hatred which makes Feyenoord and Ajax look like best mates. I don’t even need to provide a political example of the hatred between the two, as there is a recent example from the world of football.
A member of Delije (Red Star Belgrade’s most fanatical supporters) was murdered in Istanbul this season in a cowardly knife attack from behind. The attack was condemned by supporters around the world, with sympathy banners displayed everywhere from Russia to Australia. Everywhere apart from one country, where Albanian supporters posed with flags saying ‘Good job Galatasaray’ and ‘Burn in Hell Marko’. Clearly, these are two countries that should not be meeting each other any time soon in a game of chess, never mind the volatile atmosphere which is a vital European Championship Qualifier.
Naturally, UEFA did not quite agree. When they made the draw for the latest edition of the qualifying tournament, they announced the teams that could not meet each other. That’s right, you guessed it…Spain and Gibraltar. Yes, in their infinite wisdom, the bigwigs at UEFA decided that Serbia vs. Albania and Romania vs. Hungary was totally ok, but there was simply no way they could risk inflicting the vicious Gibraltar ultras on Spain.
It’s not hard to work out why. Spain make UEFA an incredible amount of money with their high profile and easily marketable players, while they can’t make anything like as much cash from these other nations. Predictably, Serbia vs. Albania erupted into chaos and was promptly abandoned, while the clash between Romania and Hungary was also extremely violent. With UEFA being this ignorant about issues in their own continent, just imagine how they would handle having to run games between African or Asian sides?
There are few things which get me angrier than racism, and I believe it is one of the most serious issues that football faces in 2015. Time and time again, UEFA has proven itself to be utterly inept at dealing with this most serious of issues. There are many more I could talk about, but let me start by talking about the one I was actually there to witness.
Feyenoord met Roma in the last 32 of the Europa League this season, a fixture which was always likely to be a bit mental. 8,000 Feyenoord fans travelled to Rome for the first leg, in what is certainly a strong contender for the craziest European tour of the season. After the Italian police instigated some pretty severe rioting, there was considerable pressure on UEFA to throw Feyenoord out of the tournament. They didn’t do anything due to the rules which state they can only investigate incidents inside the stadium, but they would still have their revenge.
I don’t want to sound like one of those deluded “THE REF WOZ AGAINST US!” bloggers which Twitter has far too many of already, but the decisions of the referee in the second leg were questionable to say the least. Feyenoord were denied what looked like a certain penalty, Roma were awarded a number of soft free kicks in dangerous positions, and two Feyenoord players received the most ridiculous red cards I have ever seen in my life, having watched hundreds of live matches in my time. Bad referees happen, and I could have written it off as one of those nights you complain about in the pub for a few months if it was not for what happened next.
Feyenoord supporters have taken inflatable bananas to big matches for as long as most people can remember, with it generally being agreed that this tradition was inspired by the scenes at Maine Road when Manchester City used to do the same. However it started, it certainly has no racist undertones. I stand in one of the most hardcore blocks at De Kuip, and there are people of every race to be seen wherever you look. Black, white, Asian, Hispanic or anything else, it doesn’t matter as long as you’re Feyenoord. Once again UEFA had not done their research, and stopped the game when one of these bananas landed on the pitch next to Gervinho.
Never mind that the banana had actually come from the hands of a black supporter, UEFA had everything they needed to punish Feyenoord. As well as a hefty fine, the next time Feyenoord qualify for Europe they will play a match behind closed doors, and face suspension from the competition altogether if anything happens again in future.
Ok, it is understandable how UEFA might not know about this tradition, and it is a sad fact that bananas are linked with racism for many people. However, what justification is there for UEFA not to take action against the Dnipro supporters who displayed white power flags at a number of matches throughout the competition? One of these flags was clearly on show during the pitch invasion following their victory over Napoli, but no action was taken, and no investigation is planned. It concluded a shameful season for UEFA in the way European competition was handled, starting with Legia Warsaw’s punishment against Celtic when they were kicked out on a technicality despite winning 6 – 1.
No action taken by UEFA for this flag
Then you have CSKA Moscow, punished three times for racism in five years with meagre fines and ‘closed’ stadiums which saw most of the ultras present anyway, leaving Manchester City and Bayern Munich’s away supporters the worst affected, unable to watch the game despite many of them having already booked flights and accommodation.
It’s not just racism where UEFA have failed to take appropriate actions. It’s the organisation which fined Dundalk FC for flying a Palestine flag, but takes no action when Tottenham Hotspur or Ajax fans fly Israel flags. Of course, neither flag should result in punishment, but why is one deemed illegal and not the other? How many more fans have to die in Istanbul before something is done about Galatasaray and their knife culture? Speaking of Turkey, the country is riddled with allegations of match fixing, yet still no serious action has been taken to rectify the problem. I could go on and on about their ineptitude to deal with the serious issues the game faces, but I think I have already made it very clear – UEFA simply does not know what it is doing.
Only one of these displays received a punishment from UEFA
Financial Fair Play
European Cup winners in the 90’s:
AC Milan x 2
Red Star Belgrade
In ten years, the biggest prize in European football was won by nine different clubs. While some of the names remain huge clubs to this day with a chance of winning the tournament every season, there is simply no way that Red Star Belgrade, Marseille or Ajax would have a chance of even reaching the semi-finals in the current climate, while Milan and Borussia Dortmund also have a slim chance of being there anytime soon.
Financial Fair Play was set up by UEFA to ensure that the top clubs remain the top clubs forever. The European Cup semi-finals these days are Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, Barcelona and a guest appearance from someone else. At least one of these clubs have featured in the final ever since 2008, and you imagine it’s not a pattern that will change anytime soon.
PSG and Manchester City are high profile examples of clubs which have been punished by FFP, and it is unlikely that many people will shed a tear for them. However, what about clubs like Swansea City who have enjoyed such success in recent years? They’ve gone from being Conference bound to finishing in the top eight of the Premier League, but FFP means there is no way they can take the next step and challenge for Champions League contention.
Look at Sevilla, the club which dominates the Europa League but has very much found their level and can’t compete in the European Cup. Valencia, Bayer Leverkusen, Deportivo La Coruna – all three of these clubs came very close to European glory in recent times and provided a real challenge to the establishment – FFP ensures this will never happen again.
But perhaps the saddest story of all comes from Italy and the historic club that is Parma. The club has been in financial crisis for some time, but upset the odds last season to finish in 6th place (above Milan and Lazio) in what should have been a European qualification place. However, their debts meant they were rejected for a UEFA license and missed out on the additional income they so badly needed. Imagine the difference sold out games against the likes of Liverpool, Besiktas, Tottenham, Feyenoord, Ajax, Celtic, Everton, Roma or Sporting could have made? They never got the chance to find out, plummeting further into crisis and being relegated in last place this season. UEFA did not kill Parma by themselves, but they pulled away a lifejacket from a club that was drowning in debt.
UEFA being in sole control of football will ensure the rich get richer, while the less glamorous clubs fall further and further away from being to compete. Make no mistake, FIFA has left football in intensive care and in serious need of reform. However, let UEFA take control and you might as well take it off life support and put a bullet between its eyes – because it’s all over.
The World Cup. The unique passion and madness of African football. The Copa Libertadores, the greatest cup competition not just in South America but the world. The fantastic emerging football culture in Australia and Indonesia. Do we really want to lose all of this to get back at one man, no matter how terrible he might be? I don’t know what the answer is when it comes to fixing football, but I know that it isn’t UEFA. Let’s save the game, not sacrifice it.