Mike Gibbons

Mike Gibbons is an aspiring young journalist from the UK who has followed the World Cup with passion from an early age. He will share his views about the past, present and future of this event.

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The G14 and the threat to international football

    Hmmm, the 2002 World Cup. Not very good was it? I enjoyed it of course in the way I enjoy all World Cups, and there really is nothing like a condensed month of pure football being watched by almost everyone in the world. Yet again though, for the second tournament in a row, it seriously lacked what has always been its most vital ingredient – good football. Ronaldo and Brazil did light up the tournament intermittently, but these were mere embers of a fire that has been out for some time.

    It really is excruciating to watch the greatest sporting tournament in the world suffer a slow and agonising death, but that is what we are witnessing. Think about it. There hasn’t been a great game at the World Cup finals since Romania overturned Argentina 3-2 in USA 1994. No one player has really caught the imagination since Maradona in 86. All the magic of the World Cup seems to have abruptly run dry. Why? Well let me help you by pointing an accusing finger in the direction of what is fast becoming footballs new governing body, the G14.

    For your information, the G14 are Manchester United, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Liverpool, Borussia Dortmund, Bayern Munich, Ajax, PSV Eindhoven, Paris St Germain, Marseille, Inter, Juventus, Milan and Porto. Of the last 32 European Cups, this lot have won 26 of them, and hold the contracts of the likes of Zinedine Zidane, Luis Figo, Ronaldo, Roberto Carlos, Oliver Kahn, Michael Ballack, David Beckham, Rio Ferdinand, Michael Owen, Rivaldo, Ronaldinho etc.

    The G14 started life as an informal talking shop of the big teams to drain maximum profits from the once glorious European Cup, way back in 1991. Under the leadership of the ubiquitous Silvio Berlusconi, they soon influenced the creation of the Champions League. There was one small problem – with several of their membership from the same country, they couldn’t all play in it. This obstacle was removed when it was decreed you no longer had to be champions to play in it, and in came lucrative league stages to bump up the revenue at the expense of the old cup format.

    So far, so bad. Having helped prostitute the European Cup to any club with a fistful of dollars, the G14 had created a problem – more and more games were being played in European competition, and there were worries from within the game about fixture overload. After they were officially created in 1998, the G14 threatened UEFA with a breakaway in a row over Champions League TV rights (i.e. they wanted lots more money). To appease them, a second league stage was added to the champions league and it’s entrants swelled to 32 clubs, along with preliminary qualifying rounds. All more steps down the yellow brick road to the ultimate aim of the G14, a European Super League.

    To calm the furore over fixture overload, the G14 leant on FIFA and influenced proposals to enforce an international footballing calendar, to help prevent any of their employees jaunting off to play in anything as trivial as the African Nations Cup or an international friendly. The stage has been reached where international friendlies are now a joke. Any England friendly now involves substituting the whole team en masse at half time, to keep the clubs happy. How on earth are the team supposed to function as a cohesive unit under such circumstances, or build a rapport with eachother before a major tournament? This is after players have been pulled out of the squad due to injury, before mysteriously reappearing for their club in rude good health three days later.

    That was the situation for most nations before this summer, leading directly to the lacklustre show in the Far East. Brace yourselves though, as it could get worse. The previously spineless UEFA, having watched its premier club competition degenerate into a bloated sham of its former self, finally took a stand against the G14 this summer, announcing their intentions to cut down the number of games in the Champions League, starting with the second round of group matches. The response? The G14 are demanding a cutback on the number of international matches.

    Franz Beckenbauer (how I wish he’d put the G14 in a bag and hit them with a stick) once made the grim prediction that international football tournaments would very soon be replaced by huge club competitions, and international football and the World Cup would go the way of the dodo. Is he right? Would FIFA really let their grand old tournament go to waste? Personally, I doubt it. If any event is watched on television by a global audience of almost three billion it has huge marketing and revenue possibilities. Don’t be kidded into thinking they’d make a decision for football reasons. These are business people and they make business decisions.

    I doubt we will ever see the death of the World Cup as a tournament, but we may see its death as a spectacle – we are in the throes of that right now. As Matthew Monk has recently pointed out on this site, for players of the G14 clubs, the best players in the world, the World Cup just means another big game, and there will be big games next season as well. Those games in the European Champions League carry massive incentives for victory, hardly surprising when the bounty available for the winners is at least thirty million pounds, enough for another world class player. The rise of the G14 has directly mirrored the decline in standards at the World Cup, and this is no coincidence. France 98 and Japan/Korea 2002 have been pale imitations of their predecessors.

    Maybe the decline in standards will carry on apace, we could even reach the stage where nations don’t even send their best squads to the finals. If the G14 do breakaway and form a Super League, they might not release their players for the competition. If you think the idea of a prestigious international football tournament being watered down with under-strength squads is too fanciful, you obviously haven’t seen the South American Championship in recent years, a tournament older than the World Cup itself.

    So if the players aren’t that bothered anymore, what message does that send out? Argentine TV once caught a glimpse of a ten-year old street urchin playing keepy-up in the slums of Buenos Aires. In the interview he did, he revealed his two dreams – to play in the World Cup, and to be champion with his team. That boy was Diego Maradona. It used to be that the World Cup was the ultimate, you saw great players and great games, and it inspired boys the world over to play the game. The generation that grew up watching Maradona’s heroics in 1986 still believe in the magic of the World Cup, but what of future generations? Well they will hear fat old men like me blather on about how brilliant the World Cup is, then watch something of a similar or less standard to 1998 and 2002, and wonder what all the fuss is about.

    From where I am sitting, international football is fast becoming a meaningless exercise, which is bad news for the World Cup. The G14 has already helped strip all the gloss away from the European Cup, and the World Cup is next in line. It is a contest between what we hold most sacred in the great game of football against economic might. If the European Cup is anything to go by, the end result is depressingly obvious.



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