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Football’s integrity is on the ropes over Der Spiegel revelations

To describe the allegations streaming forth from the European Investigative Collaborations and Der Spiegel as explosive, doesn’t quite seem to do them justice.

The gravity of the alleged misreporting and financial foul play behind the scenes at Manchester City and PSG are the most serious indications yet, that the integrity and fabric of the game may be well beyond repair.

Another body blow for the beautiful game came from additional allegations of clandestine meetings and club directors posturing towards the formation of a European Super League. It confirmed what many had already feared. A breakaway league with the top clubs on the continent creaming off the profits is unpalatable by the vast majority of supporters. However, the leaked documents suggest that the decision may have already been made.

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With so much hostility towards a breakaway league and the cynicism towards PSG and City, it is hard to see a way past this current malaise. Yet a future could still be possible for the clubs left behind, by this chocking cloud of corruption and power-grabbing, as hard as it may be to see past it.

Breach

The revelations stemming from these reports paint a pretty ugly picture. The French and English champions went to some effort to fight and undermine the new Financial Fair Play regulations when they came into effect in 2013.

Using cloak and dagger tactics, it’s alleged the clubs reported millions of pounds of cash injections from their ludicrously wealthy owners as organic revenue. The cover-up at City was even given a code name; Operation Longbow.

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Ingenious schemes look to have been hatched by the directors of the East Manchester club, as they evaded the new regulations put down by Michel Platini. Manchester City player’s image rights, for example, were sold to a mysterious third party marketing firm; Fordham Sports Image Rights Ltd. This conveniently created £30 million of club revenue. However, the financing of this group was revealed, via internal emails, to be backed by The Rowland Trust, a father and son organisation bankrolled by Abu Dhabi and Sheikh Mansour.

Manchester City’s grand project would have faced severe impediment had they tried to live within their means, as their competitors had to.

Weak

UEFA’s suspicions were drawn to a crazy sponsorship deal reported on PSG’s books in 2013. The French club documented a deal with the Qatari Tourism board worth an unprecedented £215 million a year.  It was a deal that smacked of phoney reporting and the cover-up of a wealthy owner pumping in vast sums.

However, despite their suspicions and findings of serious wrongdoing, UEFA failed to apply the correct punishments and ultimately wilted to pressure and threats made by the higher echelons of PSG’S Qatari owners.

Ultimately both City and PSG were forced to pay fines which added up to mere pocket change for such wealthy establishments. Their splurge on top talent was allowed to continue. Their alleged fraudulent reporting and flouncing of the FFP rules were pretty much ignored and the gap between the two clubs and their domestic competitors widened.

Elite club

Der Spiegel’s leaks allege that the head of Bayern Munich’s legal department; Michael Girlinger had made enquiries in 2016, regarding the legality of the club leaving’s its football association.

Girlinger had also been in touch with American sports guru, Charlie Stillitano about the foundation of a new European Super League.  Leaked documents have shown that these talks have progressed over the past couple of years and reached a point were an 18 team league has been proposed – with no relegation for 20 years. Clubs like Manchester United, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Juventus and a whole host of other massive teams, would break off from the domestic obligations to contest this new tournament.

The documents also have proposed deadline in November 2018, for club directors to sign on the dotted line. This new league could be in place by 2021, and would effectively seal off the richest clubs.

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How it would function is still not entirely clear, but the tournament would lack real credibility if indeed there was no promotion or relegation. There would be a title to play for and little else. There would be some interesting clashes on paper, but would the novelty wear off after a while? Surely the Champions League model offers enough regular competition between rival clubs already? Then again, this is clearly more about money, than football mechanics.

Left behind

There is no denying, this would be the single biggest shake-up in the history of organised football. Traditional leagues would be left gutted and diminished by this wrecking ball of power and greed.

Football clubs which were once part of the very fabric of their communities would be effectively ripped out and sealed off from many loyal fans. There could even be an exodus of traditional supporters as they are left behind by the relentless greed and growth of the game’s big clubs.

However grim this reading has been, there could yet be a few green shoots of optimism for those left behind. There is no doubt that the integrity of a Premier League without Liverpool, Arsenal, United, City, Chelsea and Spurs is seriously diminished and less attractive to sponsorship, but it may prove to be the jolt that the rest of the clubs need.

Start over

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Der Spiegel’s leaks show just how far the wealth of Manchester City has propelled the club away from it’s domestic rivals.  Yes, the television revenue has helped clubs like Crystal Palace and Fulham spend sums they never thought possible. But even with £100 million spent on their current squad, Fulham sit bottom of the Premier League. City could theoretically spend £100 million on one player, such is their disproportionate wealth. What hope do some of these other clubs have of seriously competing with that?

As it currently is, the rest of the Premier League clubs are cut off from long-term serious competition. Teams like Burnley and Bournemouth may well have seasons where they push for a top seven or eight spot, but they don’t have the resources or power to sustain that success. Even Leicester City’s miracle in 2016 proved to be a flash in the pan, as they were overtaken by the top six.

If the big clubs engineer a breakaway, the rest of the Premier League teams could ultimately try and kick on without them.  There would be plenty of clubs ready to fill the void and it could have the effect of levelling the playing field for those left behind. The issue of TV money would have to be addressed as a vital revenue stream could all but vanish overnight, leaving some clubs in serious trouble. Surely if this was the case, the breakaway clubs would have a moral obligation to pay into an emergency fund of some description.

The proud history of domestic league football in Europe would be tarnished, but the game may well be able to absorb such a blow. It would be forever changed and could even enter into an economic decline, but it has survived many crises in the past, you’d like to think it would be able to rise above the greed which has engulfed and corrupted it.

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