Sepp Blatter again escapes his markers

Apart from Sunday’s crunch game in Dublin, football fans might be forgiven a small yawn at this week’s European Championship qualifiers.

Maybe the competition between Croatia, Italy and Norway in Group H could turn lively. Serbia badly need a win in Lisbon. Northern Ireland will fancy their chances against the Finns.

But otherwise it looks like being a fairly predictable week, on the pitch at least. Away from the action, among the men in suits, it is a different matter. The jostling for positions and power within Uefa and Fifa is a little like players contending for a corner, with plenty happening off the ball.

Today Uefa are holding their annual Congress in Vienna, an event meant to see Fifa president Sepp Blatter in a debate with his three rivals for the election that takes place on May 29.

For once there is a genuine football candidate, Luis Figo, in contention for the top job, but Blatter has gone presidential and sidestepped the invitation.

“We are in favour of debate in terms of how they feel Fifa should be run,” said Uefa general-secretary Gianni Infantino. “Mr Blatter made it clear he is not campaigning and therefore decided he is going to speak as president and not as one of the candidates.”

So Blatter has escaped his markers again. But waiting on the other side of the goal area is David Gill, who is making his own bid for power, not in an immediate challenge but to establish a position to challenge in the future. After some infighting, the former Man Utd boss is now favourite to win the Fifa vice-presidency.

The frustration for Uefa, and for Michel Platini in particular, is they are essentially on their own when it comes to reform, even though Europe is by far the most important component of Fifa in football terms.

It looked as though Fifa might face a serious backlash from European clubs and leagues over the 2022 World Cup, perhaps even a boycott. But peace broke on Friday when the European Clubs’ Association announced a deal that will treble the money Fifa pay out for the release of players for the next two tournaments. Clubs will now receive around €191m instead of the €64m previously allocated, and the new collaboration agreement between Fifa and the ECA means for the first time clubs will have a say in deciding the calendar for international matches.

This is a big coup for the ECA and for their chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, the chief executive of Bayern Munich, who has waged a long campaign for clubs to have more say as well as a larger share of the cake.

From a low-key start in 2008, the ECA are now a huge force, representing not just the elite, like the old G-14 Group, but many smaller clubs as well, right across Europe. On practical issues, if not policy, the clubs now have as much clout as the associations to which they belong. In the past there was talk about the top clubs breaking away, of the rich few setting up independently to form their own super league. No more. But a price has been paid. The rich are becoming richer and the distribution of TV and prize money is distorting competition.

Uefa are putting a new formula to the ECA at their conference, but it will not redress that imbalance.


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