UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin has been re-elected to his position for another term in charge of Europe’s premier footballing organisation. A large part of his task over that term will be fighting off the Superleague project.
He made use of his platform to criticise the Superleague project heavily, comparing those involved with cartels and the wolf in Little Red Riding Hood, a predator ready to ‘devour’ everyone else.
Yet he also made a point of thanking Nasser Al-Khelaifi, who runs Paris Saint-Germain for the Qatar Sports Investment group, as Marca report.
“Football is the sport of the people. The privatisation of football is a myth and that must be changed. The Leagues and their competitions are the cornerstone of our project. We have the support of the ECA and we thank Al-Khelaifi. If the gap between rich and poor increases, in football and in society, the model may be unfeasible. Something must be done for the middle class. We have increased [the number of] competitions for this, such as the Conference League.”
He would go on to again thank Al-Khelaifi later on his speech, who is head of the European Clubs Association and CEO of Paris Saint-Germain.
“It is great to know that we can count on the support of the ECA. And I would like to thank Nasser for that. Thank you, Nasser, and thanks to the ECA clubs for their trust, for the cooperation and for all the good work done together.”
Ceferin’s statements that the gap between rich and poor must not increase, while thanking Al-Khelaifi, is quite the statement. Arguably no team has done more to do just that than PSG in recent years, turning Ligue 1 into a monopoly.
His opening diatribe focused firstly on the successes of smaller entities too, highlighting the good that that they bring to the game, using it as evidence of football’s health.
“It’s a microcosm of our society and we know it. It is a life lesson. And you don’t have to look far to see how true it is. Just a few examples.”
“Football is Iceland, a country of less than 400,000 inhabitants, a quarter-finalist at Euro 2016. Football is Denmark, with 6 million inhabitants, Euro 2021 semi-finalist. Football is Croatia, with less than 4 million inhabitants, twice in a row a World Cup semi-finalist.”
“Football is Villarreal, a city of 50,000, winners of the Europa League after defeating a European soccer giant owned by billionaires. Football is FC Sheriff, winner of the Champions League at the home of the most successful club in the world.”
“That’s football. That is European football. Beautiful. Awesome. But we must never forget how fragile football is.”
It is no coincidence that Ceferin highlights three international achievements and two club achievements. Shocks on the international stage are more common because the playing field is more even, where money plays less of a part. While Sheriff’s win over Real Madrid was an incredible event, it was a group stage game that ultimately meant little to Real Madrid, and brought little reward for Sheriff.
Ceferin’s statements continued to defend the game against privatisation, globalisation and investment funds.
“In recent years, we have seen the European football landscape change beyond recognition. Like a mirror of society itself. Clubs have been bought by investment funds, local identities have been lost, expenses have skyrocketed and some clubs are run in a risky, even reckless way that defies all logic and principle…”
“We are facing galloping globalisation, with all that this implies. Benefits and risks.”
“We must never forget that football is a public good, part of our heritage. It is one of the last public goods yet to be privatised. Therefore, it does not belong to anyone, or rather, it belongs to everyone. To the players, the coaches, the referees, the fans and the volunteers. It belongs to everyone who loves, loved and will love football. From generation to generation.”
While his comments are not wrong, and Ceferin makes good points about football on the whole, there is a certain degree of double standard in them. This is not to be interpreted as an endorsement of the Superleague project, which fits much of the criticism levelled at it, but again to so closely associate UEFA with PSG, and simultaneously preach about protecting clubs from investment funds is a strange to say the least.
Particularly in light of the fact UEFA are increasing the amount of games and the difficulty for smaller clubs to cause upsets in the Champions League with their 32-large league system instead of the group stages, it seems a little strange. While ‘the middle class’ receive more money, the proportion of their income continues to decrease compared with the biggest fish.
UEFA have also increased the guaranteed number of places in the Champions League in the big five leagues in recent years, sending more money to those leagues, and reducing the risk of failure for bigger clubs in the process. While Ceferin talks of a meritocracy, most clubs who win their leagues in Europe can only aspire to reaching the first round of the Champions League, rather than actually competing with those from the big five leagues.