The decision by UEFA to increase significantly the compensation fee paid to clubs for releasing their players to play in Euro 2012 (1) – for Euro 2008, the total compensation was €43.5 million; for Euro 2012 a total of €55 million had been proposed, but the figure is now to be €100 million (£83.4 million) following pressure from the European Club Association (ECA) (2) – is not entirely unexpected, and not entirely unreasonable. I have my concerns about it though…
Professional football was born on the back of the issue of broken-time payments – compensating amateur players for time they had had to take off from their day-jobs. It’s hardly inconsistent, over a century on, that clubs would seek broken-time payments for players released for international duty.
Nor is it inconsistent that, in a post-commercialised football age, the selection of a player for international duty has little to do with honour and duty, but rather more to do with maximising revenues for the national team.
Certainly international duty, notably with respect to the African Cup of Nations, can have a worrying impact on particular clubs.
There is also the issue of injury while on international duty, although this seems to be resolving itself by the number of declared injuries which somehow heal themselves miraculously quickly once the ‘threat’ of international duty has passed.
By and large then, my view is one from a natural perspective of a mixture of realism and cynicism.
My concern is more at the level of unintended consequences. I’m in the middle of a major research project looking at the concentration in certain European football leagues. Notwithstanding the current difficulties of one of the two clubs, Scottish football, for example, offers no exemplar of healthy competitive balance in its top tier. Since the Scottish Premier League was founded for the 1998/99 season, there has so far been just one single appearance, as runner-up, by a team other than the Auld Firm in the top two at the end of the season (it was Hearts in 2005/06 in case you are scratching your head). The last time another club won the Championship was back in 1983/84 (Alex Ferguson’s Aberdeen), and you have to go back to 1903/04 to find the last season that neither club was winner or runner-up (since you ask, the winner was Third Lanark and the runner-up Hearts; you will be less surprised that Rangers were third and Celtic fourth). While the Auld Firm’s stranglehold on their domestic Championship is the strongest in Europe, the majority of European national leagues suffer from ‘Big 2’, ‘Big 3’ or ‘Big 4’ syndrome (see also posting passim), a fact that is contrary to the principle of maintaining competitive balance within a league.
The reasons that leagues became dominated by a handful of clubs are varied, and the dominance usually dates back to a pre-commercialised era. Our research is beginning to show that the maintenance of dominance in a national league is strongly correlated with the distribution of the broadcasting revenues of the Champions League and the Europa league (and of course their predecessors). In short, rewarding clubs financially for simply being the top clubs reinforces their position, by ensuring that the rich clubs get ever richer, and can hence, afford, the better payers.
As these enhanced UEFA fees to clubs for Euro 2012 will, albeit on a smaller scale, have the same, presumably unintended, outcome, it concerns me that the lack of competitive balance in European national leagues is once again being reinforced, something which is NOT good for the game.