December 7, 2013
207 Englishmen, 359 foreigners
Winter or summer controversy starts
LONDON — There were only 207 English players and 359 foreigners on the books of the 20 Premier League clubs as the 2013/4 season is about to start. A limit on foreigners was never imposed, although it was talked about, but not by the Premier Division clubs.
As mentioned before, the Premier Division has done a lot of damage to English soccer as a sport as its clubs have got richer and more popular, while others have got poorer. Their purchase of so many foreign players has left England’s national team with fewer players in top class soccer to pick from and made it weaker — only 36% of them can play for England. On top of that, it is fairly monotonous with only four of the richest clubs — Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal and Chelsea — winning all the titles since its inauguration in season 1992-3, with only one exception. This was Blackburn Rovers and that was done with a large influx of cash also.
The Premier League is the most watched world-wide, but although a lot of money was spent during this close season, there where no real household names among the newcomers, most of which (13) came from Spain which, together with France, has most players (32) in the Premier League, even outnumbering Ireland (29), Scotland (24) and Wales (21). There are players from 67 countries and Fulham has only four English players on its books.
WINTER OR SUMMER. Some time ago, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, the former German international who is chairman of the 207-member European Club Association, said it makes no sense to play soccer in winter when it is cold and snowing, making it uncomfortable for players and spectators, while matches often have to be suspended because of ice. Actually, Germany’s championship does have a short mid-winter break, although with the weather so upside down now the break does not always coincide with the worst of winter.
Soccer’s international body, FIFA, and that governing Europe (UEFA) had been seriously thinking about the idea of a shake-up with a season from January to October with national team tournaments such as the World Cup and continental cups at the end part of the season. Tradition is strong however, specially in England where the traditional summer game is cricket. Argentina’s season used to be played like that but changed, according to the Argentine Football Association (AFA) to give clubs a chance to play European clubs — a quite unnecessary change as hardly any clubs took advantage.
But now the question has come up again in view of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar which was scheduled to be played in Qatar’s hot summer which is winter in Europe. Apart from the suspicion over Qatar being chosen as the World Cup venue, FIFA chief Joseph Blatter insisted all along that the tournament would be held, as originally scheduled, in summer. It is difficult to know what Blatter is thinking these days — if he is still thinking clearly. After this year’s Confederation Cup and the street riots in Brazil, he was having second thoughts about the country having been chosen as next year’s World Cup venue — too late, of course. He may soon have second thoughts about the 2018 World Cup in Russia if that country’s ban on banning gay athletes escalates. Now, after being adamant earlier, he says FIFA will have a meeting in October to decide about the 2022 World Cup. Qatar originally said they will be cooling the World Cup stadium and certain walk-ways. Perhaps that did not quite work out.
Now UEFA has shown its opposition to playing the 2022 World Cup during Europe’s winter. All the major European leagues oppose it. There has even been talk about legal action if protests are not successful, although England’s Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore said he would not back this. But even before FIFA’s announced October meeting, European league’s say that playing in Qatar’s summer heat and disrupting their season is just not on.
FINANCIAL FAIR PLAY. UEFA’s Financial Fair Play plan which would prohibit clubs who spend more than they earn from participating in European international club competitions is an excellent idea to level the playing fields, but it is also running into difficulties. In any case, it would be difficult to comply with completely as clubs can cook their books — and one can be fairly sure they will — but they are also not taking it lying down. A lawyer who was involved in the landmark Bosman ruling in the 1950s (which gave players more, perhaps too much, liberty), asked a court to overturn UEFA’s attempt to limit the spending of European clubs with its plan. The lawyer asked the court to examine UEFA’s plan to see if it can be applied legally. He argues that it contravenes the European Union’s competition law, including the right of free movement of workers, services and capital.
Rich clubs were mentioned earlier, but they also owe money due to their buying at continually increasing transfer fees and salaries. Statistics show that salaries in the English Premier League have increased by 1,500% — much more than inflation — in the 21 years of its existence and many are in the red, although their mostly rich owners guarantee the debt. This however would not be good enough for UEFA who would ban them from European competition for owing money. This has already been done with Spain’s Málaga.
(The Bosman ruling, for those who do not remember it, was a case brought by a player of that name who himself finally gained no benefit from it, but it ended national league limits on foreign European Union players and also allowed them to sign for other clubs, without a transfer fee, at the end of their contracts.)