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The Elimination of Juventus from the UEFA Champions League Reflects the Results of the Uncontrolled Corporatization of Football in the Globalized Era

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By now, many are familiar with Juventus’ elimination from the UEFA Champions League at the hands of Real Madrid after a heart-breaking last minute penalty allowed the Spanish side to pull one back and deny the Italians an epic comeback and a place in the semi-finals of Europe’s premier club competition. Despite losing 3-1, the Spanish side went through on aggregate (4-3) after their 3-0 defeat of Juventus in Turin during the first leg.

While the last minute decision by referee Michael Oliver to award a penalty to Real Madrid—which was subsequently converted by star Cristiano Ronaldo—seemed normal to Ronaldo (who “didn’t understand Juventus’ protests”), the same could not be said for Juventus’ talismanic goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon. Buffon himself had some choice words for the referee, pointing out that:

 

I know the referee saw what he saw, but it was certainly a dubious incident. Not clear-cut. And a dubious incident at the 93rd minute when we had a clear penalty denied in the first leg, you cannot award that at this point. The team gave its all, but a human being cannot destroy dreams like that at the end of an extraordinary comeback on a dubious situation. Clearly you cannot have a heart in your chest, but a garbage bin. On top of that, if you don’t have the character to walk on a pitch like this in a stadium like this, you can sit in the stands with your wife, your kids, drinking your Sprite and eating crisps. You cannot ruin the dreams of a team. I could’ve told the referee anything at that moment, but he had to understand the degree of the disaster he was creating. If you can’t handle the pressure and have the courage to make a decision, then you should just sit in the stands and eat your crisps […] It’s an issue of sensitivity. It means you don’t know where you are, what teams are facing off, what players are involved. It means you’ve understood absolutely s—.

 

While it is unclear what Buffon’s expletive of choice was here—I have seen other outlets referring to another four-letter word which begins with “F”—what is clear is that the referee’s decision here is emblematic of something much bigger than football. While it may not be quite as simple as Juventus President Andrea Agnelli’s assertion that UEFA’s referees are “against Italian clubs”, that a kind of implicit bias is in play seems to be very plausible. Indeed, one look at UEFA’s 2018 report on European club Football—which highlights “how UEFA’s Financial Fair Play regulations have created a more stable and sustainable financial position for European top-division clubs”—has some clues as to what the bias against Juventus might have been (For those interested, the report is available for download here; it makes for fascinating—yet depressing—reading).

Despite the innocuous-sounding headline—using words like “stable” and “sustainable”—UEFA’s report is, in reality, just an in depth look at how the globalization of football has created vast amounts of inequality within European football (just like cultural and economic globalization has created vast amounts of inequality in the world). Indeed, it seems as if the football world serves as a microcosm of the globalized world we all live in. A few of the charts in UEFA’s report show just why the referees may have—implicitly even—held a bias in favor of Real Madrid and against Juventus in this particular Champions League tie.

 

Attendance:

The first chart shows “The Top 20 European Clubs by Aggregate Attendances (2017). Interestingly enough, the first three—FC Barcelona, Manchester United FC, and Borussia Dortmund—are all out of the Champions League. Real Madrid—on this chart—is ranked fourth with an average attendance of 69,426. Juventus FC is nowhere to be seen on this chart; neither is AS Roma which—in an unexpected result—knocked out FC Barcelona on 10 April 2018. Perhaps UEFA could not stand losing another Spanish team in the quarter finals to an unprecedented comeback?

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Image Courtesy Of: https://www.uefa.com/insideuefa/protecting-the-game/club-licensing-and-financial-fair-play/news/newsid=2529909.html#/

 

Revenue:

The second chart shows “The Top 30 Clubs by Revenue”. Here, again the top three are Manchester United, FC Barcelona, and Real Madrid. While Juventus is on this chart—coming in at number 10—a look at their revenue shows the amount of inequality in European football. While Juventus’ revenue in 2016 was 341 million Euro, Real Madrid’s was 620 million Euro—almost double that of the Italian side! Given that the top two revenue makers (Manchester United and FC Barcelona) have already been knocked out of the competition, along with numbers five, six, and eight (Paris Saint Germain, Manchester City, and Chelsea FC, respectively)—and that number 7 (Arsenal FC) did not even qualify for the Champions League this season—it means that Europe’s richest clubs were not very successful on the pitch this season. Indeed, the unexpected elimination of both FC Barcelona and Manchester City FC by AS Roma and Liverpool FC on 10 April 2018 changed the financial make up of the Champions League Semi Final. Perhaps, due to this, one more upset—in this case Juventus over Real Madrid—was just not acceptable.

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Image Courtesy Of: https://www.uefa.com/insideuefa/protecting-the-game/club-licensing-and-financial-fair-play/news/newsid=2529909.html#/

 

2018 UEFA Champions League Quarter-Final Matchups
(Listings According to Revenue: Richer Teams on Left):
Team Country Revenue/Growth Rate Team Country Revenue/Growth Rate
FC Barcelona Spain 620M Euro/11% AS Roma Italy 219M Euro/21%
Manchester City FC England 533M Euro/16% Liverpool FC England 407M Euro/5%
FC Bayern Munich Germany 592M Euro/25% Sevilla FC Spain N/A (Not in Top 30)
Real Madrid Spain 620M Euro/7% Juventus FC Italy 341M Euro/5%
Note: Winner in BOLD Italics

 

Popularity:

The third chart shows the popularity of club websites (in September 2017) according to millions of viewers. Here we can clearly see that Real Madrid’s website is, far and away, the most popular website. The Spanish side attract more than 8 million views, compared to just over two million for Juventus; in effect Real Madrid’s website is four times as popular as Juventus’.

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Image Courtesy Of: https://www.uefa.com/insideuefa/protecting-the-game/club-licensing-and-financial-fair-play/news/newsid=2529909.html#/

 

Followers:

 The fourth chart, which shows the number of followers on social media of major European football clubs and players, is perhaps the most telling. From the graphic, it is clear that both FC Barcelona and Real Madrid have far and away the most followers on Facebook and Twitter. Indeed, the club’s two star players—Lionel Messi (FC Barcelona) and Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid—are more popular than most European clubs themselves! As UEFA’s report notes, “Cristiano Ronaldo, the most popular player, has more Twitter followers than Real Madrid and FC Barcelona combined (65.3 million) and more fans on Facebook than any of Europe’s top-division clubs (122 million)”. Given this information, it is not hard to understand why Juventus might have fallen victim to a refereeing decision in Madrid; UEFA’s hallmark competition simply would not have been able to do with a tournament absent of either of modern football’s most popular players.

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Image Courtesy Of: https://www.uefa.com/insideuefa/protecting-the-game/club-licensing-and-financial-fair-play/news/newsid=2529909.html#/

 

Please keep in mind that this is in no way a “scientific” study; there are no claims for causality. Rather, this is an attempt to show just how some factors—mainly financial—could lead to implicit bias on the part of officials and, of course, the higher-ups in UEFA. This short explanation is to show how just as inequality in the world has increased due to globalization, so too has it increased in world football. And, in order to further this inequality, it means that the referee–in the case of Juventus’s match–had to ignore an historic comeback and instead put an end to it by calling a dubious penalty. Given the context of the match, it was certainly a horrendous decision. Sadly, in an age where money has taken a front seat and humanity has taken a back seat, it is not altogether very surprising.

While few in the mainstream media are willing to ask the tough questions, it is up to us—as independent writers, researchers, and thinkers—to ask the tough questions. In an age where corporate greed has allied itself to high ranking individuals in both non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and governments, the news media is far from free. This is why bloggers (like myself) and independent scholars play an important role in provoking thought that is independent of financial interests.

 

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Legia Warsaw’s Fans, in an August 2014 Match, Send a Message UEFA Would do Well to Take Heed of. Like FIFA, UEFA Is Not the Fairest When It Comes to Balancing Corporate and Fan Interests. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.ultras-tifo.net/photo-news/2741-legia-warszawa-fk-aktobe-28082014.html

 

Author’s Note: Please, if you are interested in sharing any of this information—or using any of these ideas in your own work—please remember where you got it from. I have had unpleasant experiences with unscrupulous news outlets like The Guardian who have unabashedly stolen my work without giving credit to where they got it from in the first place. As I was filing my taxes today, I winced at the figure which showed how much money I had earned this year. Indeed, it was not a pretty figure for me to see what a year’s worth of work amounted to in US Dollars. Needless to say, I do not make a lot of money, and that is OK. But this is why I do not ask for money; rather I ask that—when and if you do find anything of interest in my writing—you at least acknowledge where it came from. Like so many other independent writers, I live with—and on—hope.

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Football and Geopolitics: The International Aspects of Domestic European Football

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In the wake of a “Catalan referendum” on November 10, 2014 where 80 percent of the two million voters voted for Catalan independence from Spain in what was a symbolic vote, The Guardian’s Sid Lowe asked a pertinent question for those of us interested in football and politics: Where will Barcelona and Espanyol play if Catalonia gets independence?

This is, of course, a complicated question. Former Barcelona coach and player Pep Guardiola cast his vote, along with Barcelona players Xavi Hernandez, Sergi Roberto, and Martin Montoya. Barcelona’s past and present presidents, Sandro Rosel and Joan Laporta, also did their civic duties. As Mr. Lowe outlines, the situation regarding the two biggest clubs in Catalonia is complicated:

“While Barcelona’s commitment to political Catalanism is more shifting and nuanced than is sometimes imagined, the two clubs’ histories and identities are different. Soon after the civil war, Marca wrote of Español as a club run by people ‘well known for their [Spanish] patriotism’ and of Barcelona as an institution that ‘used sport as a mouthpiece for an insufferable region.’ But Espanyol, whose name, contrary to the usual assumptions, was not chosen as a Spanish rejection of Catalanism or Catalonia, have used the Catalan spelling for almost 20 years and insist that if Barcelona is more than a club, so is Catalonia. Yesterday, their president Joan Collet voted too. During their game against Villarreal there were Catalan flags at the stadium. But there were Spanish flags too, and possibly more of them.

He goes on to explain:

“Barcelona [has been put] in an awkward position, one that forces them to confront uncomfortable issues. So mostly they have chosen not to confront them at all; the difference between the current board and that led by Laporta, whose convictions were far clearer, is striking. There has been silence, a veneer of apoliticism, an implicit wish that the trouble would just go away. It took the club a long time to publicly back the Catalans’ right to have the vote. And a week ago, Barcelona refused to authorise the unfurling of a banner that declared Catalonia Europe’s next state.”

But he points out clearly that “the sponsor on their shirts and all over the stadium reads ‘Qatar’. Their focus is increasingly international; both in terms of signings and supporters.” This is the most important point.

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Image Courtesy of: http://gulfbusiness.com/2013/09/united-arab-bank-signs-three-year-fc-barcelona-deal/#.VNP_r5XRe0s

 

Barcelona are now an international team, attracting supporters from all over the world, like their rivals Real Madrid. Perhaps this explains the odd situation where Spain—a country that arguably experienced the worst of the European Economic crisis—is home to both of Europe’s richest football clubs: Real Madrid is worth 3.44 Billion USD, Barcelona is worth 3.2 Billion USD. Of course this belies Spain’s economic state. Meanwhile the largely uncompetitive nature of the rest of La Liga—even making an exception for Atletico Madrid (who are also internationally sponsored, in this case by Azerbaijan, by the way)—is full of dull matches between the haves and have nots.

 

 

After reading Mr. Lowe’s article I decided to do some research on a topic I am familiar with, and the results are worth sharing. What many readers may not know is that Europe is full of clubs playing in leagues outside of their home countries. Some clubs are well known, others are minnows, but the concept of playing domestic matches “internationally” is hardly unprecedented, especially in Western Europe (as Mr. Lowe mentions, there is a provision even in Spain for clubs from Andorra to play in the league system: Sixth tier FC Andorra take advantage of this).

 

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Seen Here Lining up During the 1999-2000 Season in a Striking Umbro Kit. Image Courtesy of: http://www.fotoequipo.com/equipos2.php?Id=736

 

 

Perhaps the most well-known of the European clubs playing in a foreign league is AS Monaco, the “French” Monegasque side that has won seven Ligue 1 titles and were runners up in the 2004 European Champions League. The team hails from the Principality of Monaco, a minute city-state on the French Riviera home to 36,371 residents packed into just 0.78 square miles. As a sovereign state Monaco has been a member of the United Nations since 1993 but there is domestic football league so the team plays in France. The principality has been ruled by the House of Grimaldi since 1297; the family own 33.33 percent of the football team as well (The remainder is owned by Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev, one of the many examples of the rising internationalism of the football business that frees teams from the constraints of political boundries to some degree).

 

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We’re Serious—We May Play in France But We’re Not French! Image Courtesy Of: http://www.dmarge.com/2014/05/monaco-fc-reveals-201415-home-kit.html#show_image=1

 

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Of Course, We’ll Still Use the French (Monegasque) Riviera as a Backdrop. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.footyheadlines.com/2014/05/new-nike-as-monaco-14-15-kit.html

 

 

The United Kingdom is full of examples as well. The most prominent sides that come to mind are current English Premier League members Swansea City and former members Cardiff City. Swansea City have played in the English League system since 1913 and reached the Premier League in 2011-12—the first Welsh team to reach the top flight since the top flight’s rebranding in 1992, as well as the first Welsh club to represent England in European competition after winning the 2012-13 Football League Cup.

 

SSC Napoli v Swansea City - UEFA Europa League Round of 32

Swansea City Line Up to Represent England in the Europa League With International Finance Company Goldenway’s Backing. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.fiveyearplanfanzine.co.uk/features/5129-eye-on-the-opposition-swansea-city-a-29-11-2014.html

 

Cardiff City from the Welsh capital is currently in the second tier but remain the only club from outside England to have won the FA Cup (the triumph came in 1927)—the entity is named Cardiff City FC Limited, a member of the Football Association of Wales.

 

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Cardiff City and the FA Cup. Image Courtesy of: http://www.historicalkits.co.uk/Cardiff_City/Cardiff_City.htm

 

The third Welsh team playing in England’s top four leagues—therefore under the jurisdiction of the English FA for disciplinary and administration purposes—is Newport County AFC, playing in the Football League Two. See More about their history in this interesting blog, The Beautiful History.

Wrexham, Merthyr Town, and Colwyn Bay are the other three Welsh sides currently playing in the English league system. Since they are currently outside of the top four leagues they are under the jurisdiction of the Welsh FA but are eligible to play in the (English) FA Cup. One little fun fact: Chester FC’s Deva Stadium, the first British stadium to fulfill the Taylor Report’s safety recommendations following the Hillsborough disaster, is located in two countries! The pitch is in Wales, the club offices are in England (and the team plays in the English League system).

 

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Image Courtesy Of: http://stadiums.football.co.uk/NonLeague/Deva-Stadium.htm

 

 

Outside of these well known clubs there are still other examples in Europe. Some stem from geography, others from politics. Liechtenstein is one of the world’s smallest countries and therefore has no domestic league. Teams from Liechtenstein compete for a national (Liechtensteiner) championship by playing in the Liechtenstein National Cup (The winners qualify for European competition), but they play their league football in the Swiss Football League. The most famous of these clubs is FC Vaduz, currently playing in Switzerland’s top flight, the Swiss Super League, but they cannot qualify for European competition via the Swiss League System.

 

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FC Vaduz Lift the 2013 Liechtensteiner Cup. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.uefa.com/memberassociations/association=lie/news/newsid=1947329.html

 

Despite having its own league (The Campionato Sammarinese di Calcio), the small nation of San Marino boasts one representative that plays in the third tier of Italian football, the Lega Pro: San Marino Calcio is the only Sanmarinese club to play in Italy.

 

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Probably Not a Coincidence That Club and Country Share the Same Colors. Image Courtesy of: http://www.taringa.net/posts/offtopic/18439109/Me-voy-a-San-Marino-y-te-cuento-porque.html

 

In Finland and Sweden there are also a few examples of teams plying their trade in leagues from across their borders—the Finnish side Lemlands IF currently play in the Swedish seventh tier as they are from the Åland Islands—an autonomous region of Finland with an ethnically Swedish population. For more examples from outside of Europe, please see Wikipedia’s page.

 

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Who Knew They Played Football Here? Image Courtesy Of: http://truthfall.com/oceanx-team-new-expedition-to-the-baltic-anomaly-sets-sail/aland-islands-baltic-sea/

 

 

In the Republic of Ireland there is the example of Derry City FC, a team that plays outside of their home country due to domestic political problems; the well-supported team currently play in the Republic of Ireland’s Premier Division but it wasn’t always so. Despite everything the very fact that the team still exists almost one hundred years after their founding in 1928 should give faith to those worried about Barcelona and Espanyol. For more than forty years the team played in the Northern Irish league, even winning a title in 1964-65, before political developments literally tore the team away from the city (Derry or Londonderry?).

 

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There is alot In a Name. Image Courtesy Of: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Derry/Londonderry_name_dispute#mediaviewer/File:Signpostinstrabane.JPG

 

At the start of the Troubles the republican areas around Derry City’s Stadium, Brandywell, fell victim to the violence and unionist teams did not want to visit. The Royal Ulster Constubulary, Northern Ireland’s police force, deemed the area around the stadium unsafe meaning that the team had to travel thirty miles away to play home matches in Coleraine. The arrangement lasted a year before dwindling crowds and increasing violence forced the club to apply for a return to Brandywell. The proposal went to a vote among fellow Irish league teams and it fell by a lone vote, forcing the team withdrew from the league on 13 October 1972 since they effectively had no home stadium.

From 1972 to 1985 the club suffered through “the wilderness years” without a senior club or a league to play in as their continuing applications to use Brandywell as a home ground were rejected. Many believe these rejections stem from the club’s identity as a nationalist/Catholic team coming from a nationalist/Catholic neighborhood of a mainly unionist city. With re-admission into the Northern Irish league looking unlikely the team applied for admission to the League of Ireland (the name of the Republic of Ireland’s league) and were accepted as semi-professional members of the first division in1985. Success came quickly and, in 1987, Derry City won promotion to the premier division where they have been ever since. The team has seen some success in the Republic’s football structure, winning the Premier League title in 1988-89 and 1997-97 as well as four FAI Cup titles in 1989, 1995, 2002, and 2006.

During the team’s time in Ireland financial struggles have been ever-present, with the team being expelled from the League of Ireland in 2009 due to large debts. The team has since been reformed as a “new” Derry City, entering the First Division in February 2010 and winning promotion back to the Premier League in October of the same year. Interestingly when the threat of bankruptcy loomed in 2003 it was, among others, FC Barcelona who came to the rescue by arranging a friendly so as to provide much needed cash for the struggling Derry City. Recently, on February 5 2015, the Londonderry Sentinel reported that the former leader of the Ulster Unionist Party Tom Elliot suggested that Derry City return to the Irish League in Northern Ireland. Carál Ní Chuilín, the Minister responsible for sports in Northern Ireland, stated “it is up to Derry City where they play, who they play with and who they play for.” It is certainly a development worth following in terms of the Republic’s relations with Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom.

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The Derry City Faithful in Action. Image Courtesy Of: http://backpagefootball.com/an-aussie-abroad-derry-city-fc-my-new-favourite-club/65121/

An Interesting Derry City Documentary: 

The Most Famous Derry City Song: The Undertones-Teenage Kicks:

 

In the past we have also seen teams play in the leagues of different countries, mainly as a result of international political conflicts. Most famously Germany’s 1938 Anschluß with Austria led to the Austrian league’s incorporation into the German football structure until 1944; Rapid Vienna even won the German title in 1941!

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Rapid Vienna’s 1941 Title Lives on in Sepia After the Fall of the Reich. Image Courtesy Of: http://medienportal.univie.ac.at/presse/aktuelle-pressemeldungen/detailansicht/artikel/tagung-fussball-unterm-hakenkreuz/

For more details on teams from Czechoslovakia, France, Poland, and Luxembourg that joined the German football structure following the territorial irredentism of the German Reich during World War Two please see the RSSF’s stunningly detailed archive here.

Following the installation of a military junta in Greece the concept of enosis gained followers and in a bid to strengthen the union between Greeks in Cyprus with Greeks in Greece the champion of the Cypriot football league was promoted to the Greek first division from 1968 to 1974. Before the Turkish invasion of the island in 1974 ended this practice Olympiakos Nicosia, AEL Limassol, EPA Larnaca, AC Omonia Nicosia, and APOEL Nicosia FC (UEFA Champions League participants in 2014-15) all appeared in the Greek football structure.

 

Most recently we have seen the effect of geopolitical conflict on football in Ukraine. Two top flight Ukrainian clubs from the Crimea—the territory recently annexed by Russia—SC Tavriya Simferopol and FC Sevastopol (the latter whose Ukrainian League match with Dynamo Kiev I watched in Kiev two summers ago) have been admitted into the Russian football structure’s third tier with different names (FC TSK Simferopol and FC SKChF Sevastopol, respectively) so as to, at least nominally, be different teams. A third team from the Crimea, FC Zhemchuzhina Yalta, formerly of the Ukrainian Second Division, was also admitted into the Russian third tier for the 2014-2015 season. On 22 August 2014 UEFA stated that “any football matches played by Crimean clubs organised under the auspices of the Russian Football Union (RFS) will not be recognised by UEFA until further notice.” It seems like football in the Crimea will stay in limbo for some time to come.

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Tavriya Simferopol Ultras Voice Their Opinion. Image Courtesy Of: http://z6.invisionfree.com/UltrasTifosi/ar/t28786.htm

The situation regarding Barcelona and Espanyol in Catalonia should solidify in the future, but—as can be seen—there are many other interesting cases throughout Europe that are worth keeping an eye on as well, even if they do not involve such famous clubs.

 

 

Vasil Levski National Stadium, Sofia, Bulgaria–(Bulgarian National Team): Levski Sofia-CSKA Sofia (0-3) Matchday

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Some more shots of a snow covered Vasil Levski National Stadium taken during the Eternal Derby between Levski Sofia and CSKA Sofia. Bulgaria’s national stadium hosts international matches, UEFA Champion’s League matches, and the Bulgarian Cup Finals with its capacity of 43,230. As is fitting for a National Stadium it is also very easy to access, located in Sofia’s oldest park, the beautiful green Borisova Gradina, in central Sofia near CSKA’s Balgarska Armia Stadium. Construction on the Vasil Levski National Stadium was completed in 1953 after the demolition of two former stadiums on the territory–Levski Sofia’s Levski Field and Yunak Stadium. After the destruction of Levski Field the team was given land outside of the city center where they constructed the Georgi Asparuhov. Since then the stadium as seen a few large scale renovations, most recently in 2002. This year, Ludogorets Razgrad–a team with few fans that have come out of nowhere to appear in the 2014 UEFA Champions League–are playing their European matches here (41,000 came out to see them face Real Madrid). The images are interesting in that they follow the course of events–from snow covered pitch, to cleared pitch, to the fans building up in numbers, to the developments of both teams’ choreos. Also, the way the snow rests on the branches of the trees behind the stands is purely beautiful.