UEFA: Review may 'save European football's future'

Lars-Christer Olsson has been UEFA's Chief Executive since 2004. Commenting on football problems in The Observer (UK) he challenged the big European clubs inside and outside of the G-14 group to consider the future of football at all levels:

The Champions League final in Paris had everything. Arsenal and Barcelona are probably the two most attractive teams in European football, and it's no wonder millions of people in 200 countries worldwide chose to watch such a dramatic and exciting match. However, there are serious problems in European football, and we intend - with the help of the European Union - to sort them out. For the past three months a group of European sports ministers - the brainchild of Britain's minister for sport Richard Caborn - have been conducting a timely and very useful independent review of European football.

On Tuesday Jose Luis Arnaut, the senior Portuguese politician who has headed the inquiry, will present its findings first to Tony Blair in London and then to Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, in Brussels.

We at UEFA hope it ushers in a new era of close cooperation between politicians and football's governing bodies. Like us, the politicians believe there are dangerous inequalities in football. We are all determined to do something about it.

Arnaut and his team have consulted widely in compiling their work, which we see as a blueprint for reform. Sport is not simply a business, and we hope the review leads to a new European legal framework that recognises sport's specificity - its special characteristics.

The growing wealth gap between clubs, and the resulting predictability of the league title race in so many European countries, is a key issue. If left unchecked it will kill off a lot of the interest in football, which depends on unpredictability of outcome to keep fans, TV companies and sponsors involved. Sadly, predictability is evident everywhere, including the Premiership, where only three or four teams have a realistic chance of becoming champions. We are seeing a perpetual elite emerging everywhere.

I am very concerned that what I call the entertainment part of the sport is taking off and leaving the rest behind. A few clubs in Europe's big markets - England, Spain, Italy, Germany and France - earn much more money than their rivals, which reduces competition. Many use it to buy the world's best players, which again widens the inequality, although often they have so many top stars that they leave some on the bench.

You have clubs now where the turnover is €200m-300m (£140m-205m) and they still make a loss. This is very unhealthy, and stupid. You would never be able to run any other business like that. The clubs seem to have a planning horizon of minus 10 days; we at Uefa prefer a financial plan for six years.

Chelsea have just signed Michael Ballack on £130,000 a week, even though they lost £140m last year and £87.8m the year before. Fans don't understand how that is possible. Such deficit financing is very bad for football. What happens if the benefactor who is providing all this money decides to walk away? The club would be bankrupt within seconds.

When Michael Schumacher was winning all the time, Formula One changed the rules and now it's more of a level playing field. Every team had to abide by the new rules and the sport became more competitive, more attractive.

We are concerned that football's fans are paying for the excesses of just a few clubs - those excesses include players' wages, which are generally too high, through ticket prices, subscriptions to TV companies and merchandise.

We hope the Arnaut review will lead to a situation where we, as European football's governing body, can ensure, without fear of legal challenge, that a certain number of players in any squad are homegrown. We are introducing such a policy at the start of next season.

We want clubs to produce more players, and curb this buying hysteria. Arsenal are a good example in this respect. Although those players can be from anywhere in the world, we think the result will eventually be greater recruitment of players eligible to play for that country's national team.

In UEFA's view salary caps, which work in the United States, are illegal in Europe, but the EU sports ministers are not so sure.

The review will include proposals on how to redistribute football's wealth more widely. If we could ensure the leagues in all UEFA's 52 member countries adopted central marketing - where the league sells TV rights on behalf of all clubs and divides the money between them, as happens with the Premiership, Bundesliga and Champions League - we would like to pursue that, rather than have clubs sell their TV rights individually, as happens in Italy. Bayern Munich complain, rightly, that they cannot compete with Juventus. And yet football in Germany is far better governed than football in Italy.

If G-14's view prevails [G14 is the body representing some of Europe's biggest clubs], club football will become a closed circus. They will organise a competition for 24 teams, play games in Asia and North America to generate resources. Players would only be released to play for their national teams if their wages were paid and if their release did not conflict with club activities, as already happens in ice hockey.

That view must be challenged. This week's independent review should help in striking the right balance between football being a sport and a business, and save European football's future.

See also: Euro Parliament's inquiry into football structure (5 May)