The 25 Things I Would Fix About the Beautiful Game, Part 3 – The Competitions

PART THREE
THE COMPETITIONS

Our third set of changes revolves around footballing competitions.  Some of these competitions have been around for decades; take for instance the F.A. Cup, in England — it officially began in 1871!  The following proposals are designed to reduce or streamline all the various types of footballing competitions that are, in my opinion, damaging the game of football today.

For purposes of simplifying this section, we will use England’s Chelsea Football Club and Fernando Torres as the recurring examples.  If Chelsea have a perfect season, they could be eligible to play in the following competitions:

  • The Barclays English Premier League
  • The Football Association Challenge Cup (or F.A. Cup)
  • The Football Association Community Shield
  • The Football League Cup (or Carling Cup)
  • The Europa League
  • The European Champions League
  • The European Super Cup
  • The Intercontinental Cup

As a Spanish international player, Fernando Torres could also participate in either of the following competitions (depending on year of competition):

  • The European Championship (or Euro)
  • The World Cup

The following are my recommendations for the only competitions that should be held:

CLUB COMPETITIONS:

11 – The Domestic League

The domestic league is the main club competition.  It would continue to be held in each country, but my recommendation is to reduce the number of teams competing in the various divisions of the domestic league. 

For example, there are 20 teams in the current edition of the English Premier League.  My recommendation is to reduce that number to 16 teams, thus reducing the number of matches in the league by eight per season. 

Not only does this alleviate the issue of player fatigue, but by reducing the number of teams, one could argue that the quality of the remaining teams would increase.  One could also argue that with less matches, the quality of the play would also increase due to reduced player fatigue.  

Less teams per division means potentially more divisions (or skill levels, if you will), and thus, more competition within each division, all the way down to the amateur level.

12 – The Domestic Cup

Most countries have a football association knock-out (or cup) competition in addition to a league knock-out (cup) competition.  Why have two similar competitions?  Which is more important?  Which gives its winner the most bragging rights?  I say eliminate the league cup altogether.  Typically, this cup is reserved for a team’s… reserves, anyway.  We’ve already addressed the issue of substitute and reserve play in Part Two.

A cup competition is important, however.  Unlike the league, which typically rewards the best and most consistent teams in the land, the cup competition is a knock-out tournament; the nature of it dictates that on any given day, any one team can upset a major squad on the pitch.  This makes the cup competition almost as important as the domestic league, especially for the smaller or lower-division clubs.

The domestic super cup is typically a one or two-match contest between the winner of the domestic league from the prior season, and the winner of the domestic cup from the prior season.  It is usually considered the first match of the season, and since it only involves two teams, I believe it should be continued.

13 – The Champions League

Currently, the top teams of each nation can qualify to participate in one of two main continental-wide club competitions. In Europe, for instance, these are called the European Champions League, and the Europa League. 

The first is the upper echelon of teams – typically the champions from each country plus one or more top finishers, depending on the country’s coefficient (a measurement of a league’s competitiveness – the better your league, the more teams that can qualify).

The Europa league is a second, lower-tier competition that is reserved for the lower-class leagues in the continent, plus some of the better teams which did not qualify for the Champions league, or were perhaps knocked out of the Champions League in the early stages of that competition.

My suggestion is to eliminate the Europa league altogether.  Instead, increase the number of clubs that participate in the Champions League and turn it into an actual league!  Basically, we should have four or eight groups of sixteen clubs each, each containing teams from the full spectrum of caliber – from small country champions, to large country top teams and champions as well.

After one round of play, where each team plays every one of their league opponents, the top four clubs would advance to a knock-out stage similar to today’s competition.

This approach not only rewards consistent teams, but also allows lower-tiered teams to face potential powerhouses at least once!  That means more ticket sales, merchandising income, etc.  Win-win.  The number of additional matches in this new continental league would be offset by the fewer number of matches in domestic play, which in total would still be fewer than in the current structure.

NATIONAL TEAM COMPETITIONS

14 – The Continental League

Every four years, national teams across the world play qualifying matches for their continental championship.  In Europe, this is called the European Championship, or Euro.  The competition is made up of several small leagues of five to seven teams, and the winners (and runners-up) qualify for the finals to determine the continental champion.  These tournaments alternate every two years with the World Cup (more on that below).

My suggestion is to simplify the process and improve the quality of the football in the final tournaments.  Instead of having several small “leagues” which qualify for a finals tournament, I suggest several divisions based on team quality.  The top 16 teams would be in division one, the next best 16 teams in division two, and so on and so forth.  Similar to domestic leagues, the bottom 3 or 4 teams from each division would be relegated to a lower division, in exchange for that division’s top 3 or 4 teams.  This ensures that we, the fans, don’t have to suffer through qualifying matches with 11-0 results (a recent example of this was just last week, where the Netherlands defeated San Marino by just such a margin!)

This also eliminates the need for a finals competition after league play.  The champion is determined by the first division’s winner – its prize won by skill and consistency over the course of the last two years of competing against the best teams in the continent. 

Now that’s fair!

15 – The World Cup

The World Cup format cannot be changed.  It works, the viewership loves it, and frankly, it is grossly engaging.  However, my suggestion is a simple one.  Instead of going through the painful qualification process (very similar to the continental championships described in 14, above), I suggest we pick the top tier teams in every continent’s first division!  We can start with a large number of clubs (say 64), and the qualifying would entail knocking that down to 32 teams. 

The finals format would be exactly the same as the current World Cup finals.  But a significantly less number of matches would be played, and the quality of the World Cup finals would improve drastically.  The reason the last few tournaments have been so boring to watch is because the lower-level teams know they cannot compete with the Germanys and Brazils of the world.  As such, they play a strictly defensive game, in the hopes the opponent will make a mistake.  I like to call this “parking the bus”.

32 strong teams go all out, all the time.  Bring back the beautiful game, people!

And so it begins…


Proceed to Part Four – The Administration

Go back to Part Two – The Regulations


SERIES GUIDE:

Part One – The Rules
Part Two – The Regulations
Part Three – The Competitions
Part Four – The Administration
Part Five – The Finances

The 25 Things I Would Fix About the Beautiful Game, Part 4 – The Administration

PART FOUR
THE ADMINISTRATION

Our fourth set of changes revolves around the body of government that rules over the sport of football – FIFA.

The following are my recommendations for changing what’s wrong with the current administration:

16 – Reorganization

 After the most recent allegations of fraud and deep-rooted corruption within the FIFA organization, it is clear that something must be done to shed football’s governing body and start anew.

The whole organization is a group of good ol’ boys; it is a closed organization of tight-knit individuals who will hold onto power (and the money associated with it) for as long as they can.

Take for instance, President Sepp Blatter’s brilliant attempt to tell the world that he will “root out all corruption from FIFA before his last term is finished.”

Just for you folks, I’m going to translate that last quote:

“I will erase all records of my own wrongdoing, and throw other people under the bus to divert attention from myself before my last term is finished.”

Listen… no one is buying this garbage.  I’ll give another example of just how foul this group of racketeers is:

FIFA, led by Blatter, appointed an outside ethics committee to investigate the corruption allegations that raised their ugly heads in 2011.  Oh… and the ethics committee will report all its findings to… the FIFA board.

Nice.

In 2015, when I run for FIFA President, I will ensure that the entire board and all its representatives are removed (forcibly if needed), and that they all be replaced with competent individuals who do not have any knowledge of where all the FIFA skeletons are hidden.

17 – Representation

Speaking of competent individuals, we need to address the issue of representation.

All countries associated with FIFA have representatives on their committees.  I suggest that these officials (including the President him/herself) be chosen from within each country’s football federation.

But I have one very important caviat: these officials must be true football personalities; no lawyers, accountants, owners or sports agents should ever be allowed to run for office.  You know… the sharks.

Instead, a country should choose managers, sporting directors, or club presidents that have the best interest of the players (and clubs) at heart when it comes to making the important decisions – especially monetary ones (more on that in Part 5 – The Finances).  Preferably ones who are not, nor have ever been tied with corruption, scandals, or bribery, as has been the case with club presidents from Juventus of Italy, F.C. Porto of Portugal, and pretty much every Turkish club known to mankind.

Once the right candidates are brought forth, elections should be held in a fair and equitable manner.

18 – Elections  

There was widespread international condemnation of the Fifa presidential election earlier this year, when it emerged that Sepp Blatter had triumphed over nobody (that’s right, he had no opponents) to win football’s top job by a margin of 186 to 17.  Besides the obvious question, “Who did the 17 vote for?”, there is another, more important query: “How can an organization as large as FIFA hold elections when there was only one viable candidate with absolutely no competition?”  This is just another clear-cut example of corruption cover-ups within the organization.

Elections to FIFA’s top positions should always have multiple, competent candidates.  Not giving someone the opportunity to run as opposition is a grave sign that something is rotten from within.  I suppose even Kim Jong-Ll of North Korea would say, if asked about these elections, “Sepp Blatter is giving fraudulent, unopposed dictatorship a bad name. He should be ashamed of himself.”

The cream of the crop should be easy to find.  FIFA should always have at least three or four candidates for each of the top positions, so that fair elections can be held.

The time for dictatorships is over.

19 – Term Limits and Restrictions

The old corrupt guard is gone.  New blood has been chosen from each represented country in FIFA.  The top brass has been appointed.  They are now ready to do their job.

I have one more rule: members at the very top within FIFA should not be allowed to stay in office for more than two years.  That’s right.  They should be appointed after each World Cup, and removed after each Continental Championship.  Then the next officials would be elected, again, until two years later.

When an organization is as vast as FIFA, and with so  much money flowing through it, one cannot be given the opportunity to learn all its secrets; to find all the little loopholes.

This is how fraud and embezzlement occur.  This is how corruption fosters.

On top of this term limit, there is one more important restriction: former officials should not be allowed to run for FIFA office again.  Period.  There are millions of competent individuals involved in the business of football.  The pool is vast; we don’t need the same individuals coming back, regardless of how well they have performed while in office. 

The way this works in the real world is with… transparency.

20 – Transparency

 The best leaders are transparent ones.  Why hold onto a  good leader for an extended period of time, when you can learn the lessons from that person, document them, and make them absolutely transparent, for everyone to see?

Giving someone the opportunity to linger opens them up to becoming comfortable; once someone is comfortable, they become even more accustomed to a situation.  Pretty soon, the fine line between good and bad becomes harder to define and interpret.

Good people who have power go bad.

That is why all decisions within FIFA should be broadcast openly, and documented thoroughly.  All decisions, especially financial ones.

Has anyone actually gone in and audited all of FIFA’s financial records?  How money is earned?  How it is invested?  Where it is spent?  Who benefits?

I’m scared to think that the answer is no, though I figure it likely is.

Football is a multi-billion dollar industry, yet, every day you hear of professional clubs going bankrupt, with no protection from FIFA or its federations.  You hear of professional players going unpaid for months at a time, yet there is no insurance coverage for this sort of thing.

Make the books transparent, and put the money to work where it makes the most sense.  But I’m not going to get into finances here.  You can find that in Part Five – The Finances.

And so it begins…


Proceed to Part Five – The Finances

Go back to Part Three – The Competitions


SERIES GUIDE:

Part One – The Rules
Part Two – The Regulations
Part Three – The Competitions
Part Four – The Administration
Part Five – The Finances

The 25 Things I Would Fix About the Beautiful Game, Part 5 – The Finances

PART FIVE
THE FINANCES

Our fifth and final set of changes revolves around the economics of the sport of football. Money is king.  There are billions to be made in the world of football these days, yet, I don’t think that the money is going where it is needed at the professional level — this is my focus for today’s article — the amateur level will be addressed some other day.

The following are my recommendations for changing the way some of the money changes hands in the world of footy!

21 – TV Rights Reallocation

The Premier League sells its television rights on a collective basis. This is in contrast to some other European Leagues, including La Liga, in which each club sells its rights individually, leading to a much higher share of the total income going to the top few clubs.

One need only look at the greed in Spain to realize how screwed up the system is, how unfair it is to most clubs, and how it contributes to a greater and greater divide between the top two and everyone else in the league.  And Spain is not alone.  Italy, for instance, has the same approach to tv rights distribution.

Let’s focus on the English Premier League.  In the EPL, the money is divided into three parts:

  • Half is divided equally between the clubs;
  • One quarter is awarded on a merit basis based on final league position, the top club getting twenty times as much as the bottom club, and equal steps all the way down the table;
  • The final quarter is paid out as facilities fees for games that are shown on television, with the top clubs generally receiving the largest shares of this.

Of all of the major European leagues, this is the fairest allocation of tv rights by far.  I still think that the final quarter (facilities fees) should be allocated equally amongst all clubs.  That is the perfect model.

In contrast, the Spanish giants Real Madrid and Barcelona get the Lion’s share of the money, which they use to buy better and better players, thus turning the Spanish La Liga into a slightly more exotic version of the Scottish Premier League, where only two clubs exist. 

Contrast that to the English Premier League, where many clubs are financially stable, and where folks tune in for a better chance of watching something other than the routine destruction of less well-resourced clubs.

FIFA need to take measures to fix this globally.  My model is the way to go, or competition will eventually die, as is happening in Spain.  You can’t get me to watch anything but El Classico, and you know my feelings on that too!

22 – Feeder Club Compensation

 Important note:  Feeder clubs are not allowed in most football federations.  I am stealing the term because it is an easy concept to follow.

Let’s take a specific player as an example: Cristiano Ronaldo.

Ronaldo’s first club was Andorinha, as a youngster.  He then signed with Nacional, another Madeira, Portugal club.  Then he went on a three-day trial at Sporting Lisbon, where he was signed and placed at their famous football academy (you may recognize other players bred here: Luis Figo, Ricardo Quaresma, Simão Sabrosa, and Luis Boa Morte, among others).

As a professional, he was then transferred to Manchester United, and most recently, to Real Madrid.

The concept of “feeder club compensation” is basically this:  whenever a player is transferred, his previous clubs should be entitled to a cut of the transfer fee, say, 10%.

These payments, often called solidarity payments, are fair because of the player’s development at those clubs. Fortunately, most current contracts have a “sell-on” clause which stipulates that moneys should be shared on all future transfers of a player.

In this hypothetical example, if no money was exchanged between Andorinha and Nacional, then no payment would be necessary.  However, when Sporting purchased Ronaldo, his previous clubs should be entitled to 10% of the transfer fee – let’s assume that was $125,000.  Nacional would get 10%, or $12,500, but would need to pay Andorinha $1,250.00 (their 10% share).  When Manchester United bought Ronaldo from Sporting for $20 million, the fair breakout under my proposed rule would have been:

$18 million to Sporting; $2 million to Nacional; and $200,000.00 to Andorinha, since all three of these clubs had a hand in the development of Cristiano Ronaldo.

Doing this across the board would assure these smaller clubs a more equitable share of the resources, which they could use to continue to develop great talent.  In the long run, all clubs would benefit from such a strategy.

23 – Capped Salary Spending

UEFA President Michelle Platini already declared his intentions to passing a sort of salary cap for all European clubs.

In essence, clubs would only be allowed to spend as much as they earn – no longer can they finance dozens of millions of dollars in transfers with debt;  if they didn’t earn it, they can’t spend it.

This has the great advantage of keeping clubs “out of trouble”, so to speak.  With so many clubs near bankruptcy these days (take Portsmouth’s troubles a couple of seasons ago, for example), this rule would just make sense.

I say implement it globally. 

The downside is that rich clubs, financed by multi-billionaires (Chelsea, Manchester United, et all) will always find loopholes to spend money on the best players.  There are rumors that Manchester City has been selling their trees to investors.  I suppose that can be considered income, and why not spend it on players like Sergio Aguero and the like?

Regardless, the overall benefits outweigh the downsides, so I am all for it!

24 – Fair Play Compensation

Fair Play is rewarded by FIFA in many ways, mainly in the ability for teams to qualify to some competitions if they are deemed to exhibit the most fair play.

I say that concept to the next level:  compensate the cleanest, fairest clubs monetarily!

Think about it;  if you are a small club, with little chance of ever challenging for the title (or say, even an European spot), then what financial incentives do you have other than avoiding relegation to a lower division?

And what incentives (besides the fear of suspensions) do these clubs have to play nice?

None.

Enter the Fair Play Compensation rule.  My suggestion is to take a set amount of money, say, 10% of a league’s tv rights amount, and allocate it to the best-behaved clubs in the league.

How do you measure it?  Yellow cards; red cards; total suspension days; total amount in fines, and other measurable things of this nature.  Everything is awarded a certain number of points, and at the end of the season, the pot is distributed amongst the teams appropriately.  In England, for instance, the fairest club would get 20 times the amount of the worst-behaved club, and everyone else in between would fall accordingly on the distribution curve.

I guarantee you the quality of the game would improve.  Dirty tackles, silly yellow cards for game delays, simulation, and other ridiculousness would be curtailed, all for the love of the green stuff.

25 – More FIFA Profit-Sharing

This concept really goes hand-in-hand with the transparency concept discussed in Part Four – The Administration.

Currently, it is very difficult to determine who exactly benefits from all of FIFA’s dealings.

Once an accurate understanding of FIFA’s (and all its subsidiaries) is obtained, the administration should look to allocate their resources to all its federations, professional and amateur clubs as they see fit.

Currently, less than 10% of all of FIFA’s profits go towards its associations in the form of programs for the improvement of football.  Lord knows what that even means.

Real improvements and contributions must be identified and implemented, the most important of all, financial protection.

The hottest topic today, when it comes to football financial protection, is the concept of insurance for bankrupt clubs – it is sad to see players at lower clubs who go months without getting paid.  There is insurance that can be purchased, premiums that can be paid by FIFA to ensure no professional or amateur club player goes unpaid at the end of the month.

The money is surely available, and likely being embezzled or squandered by the folks who hold currently hold the check.  Hopefully, the organization won’t be destroyed by these people before they are exiled.

The football world needs a real FIFA.  One that works for its players, clubs, and associations… and most importantly, for us, the fans.

And so it begins…


Go back to Part Four – The Administration


SERIES GUIDE:

Part One – The Rules
Part Two – The Regulations
Part Three – The Competitions
Part Four – The Administration
Part Five – The Finances

Ronaldo and Messi Transfer to Manchester City – Biggest Robbery in History of Football

The transfer rumors keep coming.  On September 4th, 2011, it was reported in Spain that Manchester City had offered £50 million plus Mario Balotelli to bring Lionel Messi from Barcelona to Etihad Stadium.  Reportedly, Barca rejected the bid.

What makes this interesting is that week after week Manchester City continues to be linked to the world’s best players.  Whether these rumours are true or false, the fact is they are inching closer all the time!  It seems ages ago that City tried to sign a former FIFA World Player of the Year in the Brazilian Kaka.  Although they failed to sign him, £91 million for Kaka meant Man City had arrived.

Manchester City have their eyes set on two players…

Before I get to that, let me remind you that City already nicked one world-class player off Barcelona.  Yaya Toure.  That was waaay back when they supposedly couldn’t pull any big-name signings.  This transfer window saw them add to the likes of Dzeko, Yaya Toure, and David Silva with two new guns Samir Nasri and Sergio Aguero.  Other teams linked to these incredible players in the transfer window were Manchester United and Chelsea.  With all the transfer money available to these two giants of world football, City still pulled off the robbery!  And they almost pulled off the biggest robbery EVER when they attempted to lure Wayne Rooney across town not too long ago.  If anyone else other than SAF was in charge, Rooney would be wearing blue today.

Let’s get to the good stuff…

Back in June of this year, news came out that Cristiano Ronaldo was tempted to join Manchester City.  It was reported that he bragged to a friend that it might be interesting to have another go in England, but only if certain demands were met:

  • £400k/week
  • The No.7 jersey and captain’s armband
  • A guarantee that he’ll always be City’s highest paid player
  • Transfer fee equal to the record £80m Real Madrid paid for him two years ago

Ronaldo’s friend claimed that a member of the Sheikh’s family offered him this world record-breaking package and that they were prepared to go to extraordinary lengths to get him.  They even sent him a picture of a Bentley loaded with piles of cash across the back seat and an invitation to Abu Dhabi where he would be treated like royalty.  Ronaldo’s friend went on to claim that he was considering the offer.  The fact is that City denied these claims, and according to them no offer had been made with their knowledge.

All we know for sure is that when Ronaldo said that his dream was to one day play for Real Madrid, he packed his bags and left.  Like his manager at Real Madrid, Jose Mourinho, Ronaldo has always left the door open to return to the Premier League.  Not coincidentally, he still has a home in England which he rents to his former Real Madrid teammate Emmanuel Adebayor.  Since leaving Man United, Ronaldo has mentioned numerous times how he has many good friends back in Manchester and still keeps in touch with them.  One of them Sir Alex Ferguson.  If some day Cristiano does sign with Manchester City, hopefully SAF will have retired as that would surely break his heart.

Here’s my take on it.

Now that Ronaldo is living his childhood dream to play for Madrid, La Liga has developed a huge gap between the top two teams and everyone else.  Sadly for him, the level of competition is simply not as high as the Premier League where any team can get a result at any given day.  La Liga’s lower teams are terrible!  It became apparent last year, and will continue this year that Real Madrid will crush any of the lower teams 8-1.  When facing these underpaid, unmotivated players, CR7 will bag 5-6 goals per game.  He and Messi will again battle it out for top scorer except this year they’ll reach for 60 goals a piece!  These stats will look impressive on paper, but the truth is knowledgeable soccer fans will put an imaginary asterisk * next to these records.  Similar to the steroid era in Baseball, except without the actual cheating.

Manchester City Money Facts:

  • Since 2008, Man City have spent £240m on forwards alone
  • Since 2008, Man City have spent £223m on the rest of the squad
  • Grand total in transfer fees Man City have spent since 2008… £460 million
  • £460 million EXCLUDING player wages

The Truth:

  • The quality of the players Man City buys is increasing with every transfer window – Yaya Toure, Tevez, Dzeko, Silva, Nasri, Aguero
  • In La Liga, the gap between the top two teams and the rest will grow even larger
  • If the EPL continues to get richer and more competitive, more stars will leave Spain for the English Premier League
  • Man City and Liverpool have joined the likes of Manchester United and Chelsea as the world’s most powerful clubs

How impossible are these fictional scenarios…

  • This season Cristiano Ronaldo will lead Real Madrid to either a La Liga or Champions League trophy (or both)
  • Barcelona’s season will be deemed a failure by their standards
  • Ronaldo will again strive for top level competition and return to England
  • Ronaldo will have won everything with Real Madrid and sign for Man City or Man Utd
  • Messi will feel the need for a change and to prove himself in a different league and sign for Manchester City
  • Jose Mourinho will again replace Roberto Mancini as he did with Inter Milan and manage Man City
  • Mourinho will replace SAF at Man Utd when he retires

Well, maybe not.  But I know what is possible.  Manchester City will continue to push to sign the biggest superstars of the game in an attempt to buy a Premier League title.

I have two wishes.  One, that La Liga works out their financial issues and becomes the exciting and unpredictable league it once was.  They keep all their big-name players!  Two, if indeed either Ronaldo or Messi decides to give it a go in England, that CR7 chooses Man United and Leo chooses Man City!

Disagree?  Give us your thoughts by leaving a comment below.

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