Football and democracy
Written by: Aleksandar Krzalovski
It is Christmas today (and I congratulate all those who celebrate it), according to the Gregorian calendar (which is used in most of the world, and we use it, except for the religious – more precisely the Orthodox holidays, which are celebrated by the “old”, that is, the Julian calendar), and almost a month of holidays (which ends with Vodici (Baptism of Jesus) on January 19) begins, so I think it is a good time to get away from daily political topics, constitutional changes, presidential candidates, or as the humorists from the Monty Python group say: And Now for Something Completely Different!
The different topic, this time, will be football or sports in general, and in order not to be without politics at all, I will try to relate the main story of this text to democracy.
Namely, as a passionate sports lover, football especially, I often try to use the experiences from sports fields in everyday life situations, especially in managing the organization I work for. So, one of the eternal dilemmas is “the coach or the team”, that is, whether the coach is the key to the success of a team, or, not really. For example, Pep (Josep) Guardiola is one of the most successful coaches in modern football, who won 14 titles in four years in Barcelona, among which the most valuable one – the Champions League twice. But then for three years in Bayern Munich although he managed to be a champion of Germany, he did not take them to the crown of Europe, and also for the two years in England with Manchester City, although he came once to the championship title, he has not brought them far in Europe, so the comments about his competence become more frequent, to relativize his successes with Barcelona with the thesis that “with such a team, any coach would be the champion of Europe”.
The case of José Mourinho, who was sacked last week from Manchester United, has been current these days as the club has made the worst start since the foundation of the Premier league in 1992 (although they are sixth on the table in half of the season, it is a big failure for a club with such a reputation), but even more that with his style of defensive game he “killed” what the “red devils” were famous for – attacking, daring football, with many goals, and in the end, the fans themselves openly called for him to be sacked. And so, the “winner” Mourinho failed to leave a deeper trail in Manchester, although he won three trophies in these 2.5 years as a coach (manager) there. Interestingly, immediately after his departure, the team won the first match with 5:1, making the biggest victory since their legendary coach Alex Ferguson left in May 2013. In doing so, they demonstrated in some way that the team had the potential, but the coach failed to manage it in a way that would bring better results.
When speaking of famous coaches we mentioned Ferguson, who in his 26 years on the Manchester United bench, won 38 trophies, including 13 championship titles in England and twice the Champions League. For his merits in sports in 1999 he received a knighthood by Queen Elizabeth and won the title Sir. However, it is interesting that in the first six years as manager of the club, he did not win any England championship title (only one in the Cup) and under today’s standards (when most coaches do not survive three years at the head of a club if they do not win a trophy), he would have been fired long ago and the above mentioned success would never have happened!
However, for this article, I wanted to look at another topic in the sport, or rather football, the top one – the idea of the few of the biggest clubs in Europe to form the so-called Super League, in which only they would play (with small complements from other clubs each year). The motive for this, of course, is the money, that is, the earnings that the more frequent mutual meetings of the best clubs would make for themselves, and related to the expected ratings of such matches by the global audience. It would be an alternative to the current Champions League, organized by the Union of the European Football Associations (UEFA), so it is understandable why they are cruelly against one such idea for the European Super League.
It went that far that the directors of 11 largest clubs gathered in London 2-3 years ago to discuss this and try to realize the idea. At the alleged meeting (it was not confirmed that the meeting had been held at all and that this had been the topic, but photos of all 11 were taken in the same hotel the same day) there were representatives of 6 English clubs (Manchester United and City, Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham) and 5 clubs of the other four most successful European football leagues: Real Madrid and Barcelona from Spain, Juventus from Italy, Bayern Munich from Germany and Paris Saint-Germain from France. The five “European” clubs (that have been champions in their countries for many years without serious competition “in sight”) reportedly tried to convince English clubs (from the Premier League) to join them in the formation of the Super League. Their logic (and need) was clear – in domestic championships they are dominant, they most often win the matches and win the titles, but the visit to the stadiums decreases, as well as the ratings of their matches on television. Consequently, their revenues from their leagues decreases, so they see “salvation” or further development in many international matches with opponents “on their level” (Super League).
But the problem in the conversation was – what is there for the English clubs? Namely, their Premier League is the most-watched in the world and thus they earn more revenue from the home league itself than from participating in international competitions. Stadiums in England are full, more or less at every game, regardless of it is home (against any club) or international. Why is that? The main reason is that the Premier League is highly competitive! Although at the end of each season the six most commonly mentioned are in the leading six positions, it is possible that each of the teams beat any other club (here is an example from last week – Arsenal, after 19 games undefeated, lost 3-2 from Southampton, which had no victory in three months). Also, a club-outsider, Leicester, turned out to be a champion two years ago (the odds at the start of the season were 1: 5,000). Because of this, the matches are visited by a large audience (usually almost to the full capacity of the stadiums – the average attendance is 36,000 spectators) and because of this, people around the world mostly want to see the Premier League matches (it is aired in 212 countries, 643 million subscribers and potentially 4.7 billion viewers). And because of that, the biggest revenue from TV rights end in that league (about 2.7 billion Euros in the last season). And that is why – English clubs do not need a Super League – in a way, they already have it in the face of the Premier League.
And again, why is that so – why is the Premier League competitive (and the others are not)? According to experts, this is mainly because the distribution of TV rights revenues (measured in billions of Euros) is much more balanced than the other leagues. Even here, normally, the most successful receive most of the “cake,” the distribution is much “more equal” and all clubs receive the same fixed amount of around £35 million and, additionally, about 5 million from joint marketing, as well as 39 million of international broadcasts. Depending on individual ratings, they collect between 12 and 32 million, and for each place higher on the table they get another 2 million pounds (the last gets about 2, and the champion – almost 39 million pounds). All in all, the “poorest” club last season (Sunderland) won 93 million pounds, and the champion Chelsea about 150 million. For this more equitable, or in other words, more democratic redistribution of funds, the teams are more competitive and the circle closes – the league is more interesting, the ratings grows, and thus the revenues from TV rights.
And, let’s go back to the title – what is that got to do with democracy? I think it is clear. When someone dominates (like in most European leagues), it becomes financially more powerful, thereby acquiring bigger rights to dictate conditions, thereby increasing its power, with a tendency to become an autocrat…and if it is not recognized and it is not acted democratically (to leave room for others, even at a price to lose sometimes), the result leads to its own damage and losses.
I am talking about Juventus, not VMRO-DPMNE or SDSM, and you assess whether any similarities are coincidental or not!
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