In the ‘European Club President’s Debate’ on the 2nd day of Leaders in Football, two leading European heavyweights engaged in a frank discussion which led inevitably to wide media coverage.
Andrea Agnelli, President of Juventus, and Unal Aysal, Chairman of Galatasary, spoke very candidly about the state of play in their respective countries, Italy and Turkey. Agnelli was highly critical of developments – or the lack of them – in Italian football. He said: ‘….our country has made no progress for years….’. He bemoaned the fact the one of Europe’s greatest footballing nations had become ‘a transit destination’ for the best players.
The Juve President felt strongly that the clubs must be involved much more effectively with the governance and organisation of the game in Italy. Agnelli had a lot of time for the ‘Ten Year Plan’ that the Germans had put in place so effectively.
Though his own club, Juventus, had abandoned their old, entirely unsuitable, out-of-town, Stadio Delle Alpi, a few years back, and built Italy’s first privately-owned football stadium in downtown Turin, there has been little movement elsewhere. As a result, Italian clubs have very weak commercial revenues (compared to the Premier League) and remain almost entirely dependent on TV revenue.
Agnelli also bemoaned the lost opportunity for staging Euro 2012 in Italy. ‘We should have staged it; it would have stimulated the building of new stadia…Serie A has subsequently lost its drive, and we spend most of our time talking about the distribution of money, instead of more important issues. Football could have been in a leadership role, helping the regeneration of the Italian economy.’
In contrast, Galatasary’s Chairman, Unal Aysal, could only dream of such TV revenues as Juve enjoys. In a game where corruption has been endemic at some top Turkish clubs, to great damaging effect, Aysal railed against the way Champions League revenues are distributed, claiming ‘they simply don’t reflect realities’.
Many in the audience at Leaders in Football were clearly stunned when Aysal revealed that, after both Galatasary and Juventus reached the CL quarter final stage, Galatasaray earned a mere €5.3million (£4.5million) in TV payments, whilst Juve received €44.8million (£38million) for reaching the same stage – something that clearly infuriated Aysal.
It triggered a significant attack on the Turkish FA and on Uefa. Aysal said that he would prefer to operate independently of the TFA and that maybe the big European clubs should act independently of the European governing body too. It is more than a decade since the ‘breakaway European Super-League’ was being talked up, but Aysal insisted it was back on the big clubs’ agenda.
He said: ‘It’s not yet totally elaborated and prepared and put on the paper. But it is a concept that is under discussion for a few years. It is not a new concept, but we favour it…..The first 15-20 big clubs of Europe all agree with this – nobody will say no. Manchester United, Paris St Germain, Real Madrid….There may be one or two exceptions for local reasons, political reasons, and I will understand, but as the future for European clubs and the future of football, nobody can say no to this…..At the moment, it looks like a dream, a vision. I am sure, sooner or later, in a maximum of five years’ time, it will be a reality.’
Agnelli also talked up the prospect of a European Super-League: ‘If one was to break out of the system, probably the best competition that could follow is a closed competition with the 20 best European clubs,” he said. Agnelli even suggested a structure to include many more clubs, with a Northern and Southern ‘Conference’ in Europe. There would be no promotion or relegation, very much on the model used in American sport, though he admitted that the players wouldn’t be eligible to play for their countries.
The European Club President’s Debate at Leaders in Football certainly set the media agenda for the day. Aysal remained adamant in later interviews, but Agnelli rowed back a little, insisting that he had been speaking hypothetically.
Meanwhile the European Clubs Association (ECA) immediately distanced itself from Aysal’s comments, saying: ‘This was never discussed by the European Club Association.’
Once more Leaders delivered the goods.
Dr Rogan Taylor is the Director of the Football Industry Group at the University of Liverpool. He is also a writer and broadcaster, with five football books and numerous radio and TV contributions. He has acted as a special adviser to The FA, The Premier League and Premier League Clubs.