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A fair and balanced competition. The EU is about to act.

Written by Adam Brogden.

“A fair and balanced competition is a competition in which everyone that participates has an equal chance of winning and is treated in the same way without discrimination”.

This is taken from the latest study to be released by the EU into the governance of sport, and actually raises more issues than it answers.

For instance, consider seeding for the champion’s league or the different national rules governing third party player ownership.  Or consider local tax legislation on sports persons and the differing financial positions of the various clubs competing against one another.  Or indeed the differing standards in officiating from one club to another and from one official to another are just some occurrences that prove we don’t have a fair playing field across football.

With the European Union actively involved in trying to determine sports’ specific nature we can be sure of changes happening within football for many years to come, but what direction are we being steered?

If we consider that every side should be able to compete for the title in their respective league then we can definitely state that football is not competitive nor has it ever been. Only a select few clubs can win their league and the only surprises we face nowadays are the clubs that slightly over achieve.

The rise and fall of clubs through the pyramid system has been the accepted method across Europe for decades.  However in today’s footballing world we see wealthy owners willing to by-pass the hard work method and throw money at a club which can then purchase its way up the pyramid effectively nullifying the pyramid system and creating an elite league.

In 1994-95,e 5,735 transfers took place involving €402,869,000. Yet during 2010-11 we see 18,307 transfers worth a staggering €3,002,198,000 across Europe.   And do remember that transfers involving a fee are the minority as most transfers worldwide involve no fee at all.

To break this down further we can view countries as importers, exporters or both, of footballers and some others as intermediaries used primarily as a stepping stone to the big five leagues.

Exporting countries such as Sweden, Slovenia, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Hungary mainly export their footballing talent with a few footballers who use these destinations as a stepping stone to bigger leagues and wages, usually via a private scouting network and agent. The positives for these countries are that money is entering the country as a transfer fee and wages if the player/s returns home.

Importing countries such as England, Spain, Italy, Germany and France (which make up the big five) offer the highest wages so are the end goal for professional footballers wanting their big move and pay day.

The only problem with this model is the money is normally one way, leaving the country in the form of a transfer fee and at a later date when the foreign player leaves the country to return home with his wages usually after avoiding paying his share of tax. To keep this model going we need the constant injection of TV monies.  If this stops so do the transfers.

We then have the intermediaries such as Portugal and again France.   Portugal acts as an intermediary between Brazil (where TTPO’s are the norm) and the big five whereas France is responsible for the African drain.

Holland and Belgium are also found somewhere in the middle as both Importers and exporters of footballers acting as a stepping stone in to the big five.

So how do we address the imbalance in European football?

At the moment we don’t for the gulf is ever growing.  Could Manchester city have broken in to the elite clubs list without the added income from their investors? The obvious answer is no. Same for Chelsea and PSG (although given time they might have done), so the EU are aware of this elite imbalance and wish to address the issue (as we have been warned).

Indeed they specifically mentioned PSG, Chelsea and Manchester City and the destabilising effect they have had on the industry as a whole, raising the question: how to stop newcomers from attempting this approach in favour for a longer business plan with local training at its heart.

So this latest report can be seen as the first shot across the bows of the elite super clubs of which Arsenal is part of. What the EU have in mind, I’m not sure but one of the things brought up was training payments for under 23 players moving from club to club.

At the moment the elite clubs get more for their youngsters than the smaller clubs, and I believe the EU wish to change this but we have to wait and see. Personally I believe an elite club should be made to pay a premium rate for taking a youngster from a lower league club or should automatically have sell on percentages attached to the movement of the player regardless of contractual obligations until the age of 23. This will ensure more money is moving down the pyramid and will in effect reward those lower league clubs that wish to produce their own local footballers. Will this infringe on their rights to free movement, no as we have these payments in place already but they are back to front.

The footballing industry has already been given the green light by the EU to restrict a sports person’s movements between employers by only allowing transfer during windows and protected periods of contracts (the first three years of a contract signed by an under 28 or first 2 years signed by an over 28).

The biggest change the EU could insist upon is the banning of third party player ownership as this opens clubs up to possible corruption as a person with an interest in a player or multiple players could effectively tamper or influence the outcome of a game or competition.

To prove to you that the EU will do what they need to I will use the “English National Investment Company” (ENIC) as an example. This company held shares in 6 European clubs all competing in UEFA’s competitions, they (ENIC) appealed to the EU to overturn UEFA’s stance on multiple club ownerships.

The EU found in favour of UEFA and upheld their rules on club owners having an interest in other clubs specifically relating to the competitiveness and integrity of its competitions. So ENIC group have to stick to owning just one club, Tottenham Hotspur.

So we now know that the EU want to undo what they effectively started with the Bosman and Webster cases (the Webster case is discussed below), but are also aware that we cannot return to old ways either. With the introduction of “the specific nature of sport” introduced in to EU legislation it gives the EU leeway to counteract their past decisions and push the industry forwards.

With the aid of bad decision making within the EU we have witnessed the rise of agents whose only goal in the industry is the extraction of personal wealth; a good honest agent is hard to come by. Which brings me back to third party player ownerships. Poland recently joined England and France in banning TTPO’s so we are slowly seeing changes but for me the outright banning of TTPO’s EU wide cannot come soon enough, and as I have shown above the EU will uphold Uefa’s rules if Uefa can convince them that the integrity of football is at risk. Which we all know it is when a person outside a club owns part or all of said player’s future transfer rights.  Personally I cannot see this not happening.

Another thing the EU should insist upon is a limit on agents earnings from a sports person’s contract say 2% over the contract and 5% of the transfer fee.  At the moment what some agents are taking out of the game could educate a whole generation of kids!

One thing the EU will not address is the free movement of EU citizens within the EU.  At present 55% of all footballers in England are foreign nationals, which you compare with the national work force average of 4.4% of foreign nationals.  So beyond doubt football in England is a multinational industry and it’s no wonder that clubs have lost their local identity and in some cases are failing in their responsibilities to the local communities.

After all, football is still a sport of location and should always remain so even in today’s global market but how do you retain local ties when no local lads are making the grade? We in England pride ourselves on fair play and honour yet you don’t have to look too deep to realise that that “local” attitude is of a past era (and in many cases is mythical) and we are surrounded with negativity, greed, swindlers and cheats yet for some reason we want our football pure and true, (which is not a true reflection of Society).

I think football today with its cheats and overpriced superstars is a real reflection of what Britain has become and that needs to change, and if it takes the EU to push us in that direction then so be it.

Before people berate me for being pro-Europe please remember this; if a player in France or Germany has a dispute with their employers, they can take them to a local/civil court whereas in the UK footballers do not have the same rights as we, as they have to go through a sports arbitrations court.

This is not too much of a problem if you’re a top flight footballer but what of those who ply their trade in the lower leagues on the same amount of money as you and I? We can sue an employer, they cannot, so are we equal? People need to remember what is given is also taken away. I can change employment when I like, footballers cannot (the protected period works both ways and was initiated to protect the clubs). Add to that a clubs willingness to sell a player’s future transfer rights (outside of England, France and Poland) then a person has lost control over ones future. So it’s little wonder that the wages have gone through the roof.

Which brings up back to the Webster case.  Now players can terminate their contracts outside of the protected period but in doing so could face sanctions, compensation and even be forced to fund a replacement for the club which they’re leaving.  Indeed CAS (court of arbitration for sport) has imposed all of these before on players who have terminated their contracts without “just cause”.

Also remember the £14.3 million compensation package imposed on Adrian Mutu.  It was upheld and he has to pay Chelsea the full amount even though it was slightly different circumstances.  So a player who is transferred is liable for the transfer fee if he walks away from his contract. Is it any wonder that wages have gone through the roof? Could you envisage yourself handing in your notice and being told you have to fund your replacement and the extra wages and pay a fine?

I know some players get paid a fortune but most don’t but they still lose a lot of their rights. So I’m not going to shed too many tears (none in fact) but some things we take for granted are not available to sportspersons (not just footballers) and vice versa. This is why people need to support the changes that are coming, read up on what the EU is up to because every change that’s happened over the last 15 years has been instigated or influenced by the European Union. Keep informed and who knows you might have the answers.

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Beautiful football combined with grit and determination when needed

By Walter Broeckx

The Sunderland – Arsenal game was a rather important game. Well they all are important in this phase of the competition.  But with the spuds already having won the early kick off and Chelsea having a more easy game it was important to keep as close to those teams as possible. So only a win would be enough.

At first my compatriot MIgnolet was having another fantastic game. He usually has against us. So my message to him is : “Kaan het get mienjer mesjeen de naoste keijr”.  That’s even in his local dialect so he will now know that a bit less is better.

But let us start with the team. All different notices flying around before the game. Kos played, no he will not, he will play and at the end of the day…he didn’t play. Not fit enough. All kinds of changes and this meant that only one player was playing in his normal position: our new signing Nacho Monreal at left back. And well even for him in a new team and a new league one could say a completely new back 4.

Now you might say that Per was in the centre. Yes he was but he was playing on the left side of the centre and not his usual right side. Sagna as the second central defender on the right side and Jenkinson as the right back.  This was the first time these players played like that. So well not really to look forward to when going to Sunderland as that is usually a tough away game for Arsenal.

Up front Podolski was on the bench-beach (copyright Billy) so not really upfront. And Ramsey came in the team but in midfield. And Cazorla was more on the left flank.  The first thing I noticed was the ref. In my preview I hoped for an unbiased ref. I must confess that my stream wasn’t the best ever but I think the unbiased part of the ref will have been visible when my stream jammed for a few seconds on too many occasions because when it worked fine I couldn’t see him.

To put one thing straight: I have no complaints about the two yellow cards against Jenkinson. I think Carl is sometimes too much thinking as a fan and should sometimes think less as a fan. As a fan you might think: trip him when he goes past you. But on the field it is sometimes better to let him run if you know there is cover. The ref was right to take out the cards on both occasions. He was too late and caught the player and stopped a promising attack. So that was fine from the ref.

The kicking of Wilshere in particular was not. During this game I was back thinking that it might end up in another broken leg sooner or later. In the end Sunderland managed to kick Wilshere off the field.  Ref Taylor was complicit in this outcome.

But let us forget about the ref. Let us look at the goal. A fine run from Wilshere, a little run from Walcott and laying the ball off to Cazorla who scored with a low shot. 0-1 for Arsenal and before, after and in between we managed to miss a few chances. Or Mignolet making a few great saves. I think Ramsey will have been disappointed not to have scored today. He should have scored. That is the only bad thing I have to say about him. In fact will say more good things later on. If I don’t forget it.

So the disappointing thing was only being up 0-1 at half time. When Wilshere went off we weren’t as dominant as before.  And when Jenkinson was sent off we knew we would have a difficult finish of the game.  On moments like that the players have to rise to the occasion. And rising they did.

Szczesny with a few super saves showing Mignolet that he also is rather a good keeper.  Sagna who was heavily criticised the last weeks by the noisy part of the not existing you know ho. I bet they never know that a player coming back from a severe injury can struggle after playing a while.  And when a player has to come back from two the same severe injuries he can certainly have a dip of form. But what do we do when this happens to a player? We get behind him and cheer him on.  And today both Szczesny and Sagna showed them that they are not as bad as they make them look at times.

Nacho Monreal had a bit of a shaky start in this game. I hope the noisy part of the not existing you know who will not start getting at him from now on.  But gradually he became better and also joined more in the attack at times.  The Big German playing against his foot but being his calm himself and there when we needed him. And Jenkinson who I feel needs a bit more confidence in some situations to try and go past his man and not always turn back to his own goal.  Now he is a bit too predictable.  But I guess that will come with time and more experience and more confidence.

But two weeks in a row now no goals let in and that with a different and experimental defence is rather encouraging.

One bad thing was we missed too many chances. We should have made the game safe before the sending off and that is something we must do better. We should have made sure that there would be no sitting on the edge of our seat last 20 minutes. But on the other hand a hard fought 1-0 win against the Stoke tugs, now a hard fought win against the Sunderland. At the start of the season we couldn’t win those games and had two 0-0 draws.  We showed character and determination and that is part we sometimes missed.