This is the End, Beautiful Friend.

 

One of my friends sent me the rushes for a BBC documentary he is producing on Jim Morrison of The Doors.

What hit me most was him alone in an Oslo cinema, in the middle of the day, watching the opening scene from Apocalypse Now, here, being profoundly affected by possibly the greatest movie intro of all time, as the helicopter blade-chop melds into the clanging music and chilling vocal.


 

This is the end, beautiful friend

This is the end, my only friend, the end.

Morrison was always more poet than rockstar, and his involvement in Coppola’s Heart of Darkness was random. A choice from a pile of LPs in the corner of the set, that immediately captivated the director. As if it was written only for that opening scene.

But, with hindsight, it seems that his spirit was always shoulder-to-shoulder in the director’s chair. The chaos, “the horror”, the depths of human insanity. Observing our world, and calling anyone “mad”, back then or now, is, to quote Willard, like handing out speeding tickets at the Indi 500.

Best to never get out of the boat on the lake, unless you are really going all the way. The lament of Morrison’s poetry still all feels grotesquely appropriate.

I heard that Oslo clip as I finished last week’s Column, with this conclusion…

These examples, and how the EPL deal with Manchester City and Chelsea, will utterly define the Fourth Turning of European football. 2024 will be a historic year. 

Association Football isn’t my only friend, although for sure it is very beautiful.

 

But this is perhaps the end.

Anyone who loves our game, I mean really loves it, can feel the danger every day. There are some pillars and walls in any building that you can’t lose, without the whole edifice coming down. The entire political construct of our game, its democracy, its fairness, its governance, is now trembling to the foundations.

Many previous AYNE podcasts and Columns have screamed in frustration at how football is spinning dangerously out of control. I could have saved a lot of time and just used Jim’s lyrics.

 

Lost in a Roman wilderness of pain; and all the children are insane…

Waiting for the summer rain.

Here is Morrison’s summer rain:

The EPL’s financial dominance is destroying European competitive balance, making the great clubs on the continent desperate for an answer, grasping at some lifeline with Super Leagues. All the new capital and leveraged debt invested into football has badly mispriced risk. When all that unravels, as it must, the carnage it leaves in its wake will be unforgiving. The American Apple MLS and the Saudi SPL are creating doubts as to where the future hegemony of our industry really lies. Football and the fan are no longer collective nouns, with the product being ripped apart, in all kinds of gear-grinding segmentation and polarisation, increasing fan violence and intolerance. The VAR shambles strikes at the integrity of the sport. Piracy, and the end of the PayTV business model, “all flashing weird scenes within the gold mine.”

 

The end of our elaborate plans; the end of everything that stands.

But there is another black cloud on the horizon, although, in truth, it’s always been there.

It is this. The horror governance of football, that we all detest, is funded and empowered by the revenues of international tournaments like the Euros, World Cup, and other confederation cups.

 

Here is how all this works.

It is a monopoly dictatorial business with no cost of sales, where international teams can demand to use the player assets of the clubs, basically for free, and keep all the resulting money. A monopoly with no cost of sales.

Truly staggering if you think about it. Chilling when you think who runs it, and how. Laughable when you see the penalty Ukraine didn’t get, because UEFA needs the big Italian TV market.

The pan-national governing bodies are transparently not accountable, and history shows an unsurprising litany of horrors, in malinvestment, graft, and corruption. Now, in their search for even more power and money, these people have in recent years expanded their tournaments, demanding extra of the playing calendar, and of the athletes themselves. Players at all clubs are now breaking down every day like old Arthur Daley Cortinas. FIFA was warned, especially around the risks of a winter World Cup, but the men in suits and white trainers ignored it all, on their knees, nodding their heads to Mammon.

 

I made a personal crusade of all this 25 years ago, under the heading, Diddy Internationals Can’t Hold.

I had my knuckles severely rapped by the Scottish FA, the national coach, and Scottish representatives on UEFA and FIFA. A generation later, the problem has only got worse.

History and time have perhaps been kinder to me than those Ostriches in the Sand(s).

Il tempo e’ gentiluomo.

It was just never going to be sustainable. And now, this is the end.

 

The employer clubs are evermore furious. They are obliged to lend their assets to someone else, who doesn’t pay for them, and often hands the chattel back damaged; just like Gavi. When you are paying these players 300 large each week, this cannot fly much longer.

International football, and its immense revenues with no costs of sales, is what finances this “football family” racket; what allows those people to behave as they do. But at the same time, it is the pinnacle of our game. It needs to exist, and demands a sensible sustainable solution.

 

Can you picture what will be, so limitless and free; desperately in need of some stranger’s hand, in a desperate land. 

That stranger would suggest something like this…

National team sport needs to be shorter and sharper, like the ATP Masters. I’d have a World Cup with the past winners and seeds, 4 wild cards, for a short tournament of 16 teams. The format can be debated, but it certainly needs to pay its way, remunerating employer clubs and players, fully and fairly. Less money left to be “managed” by bureaucrats in Switzerland.

And yet we go in the other direction. Our game is very confused; “wound too tight”, like the chef on Chief’s boat.

This is exactly the context why Manchester City and its case with the EPL really matters. The idea, perhaps hopelessly romantic, that money still can’t buy everything in football, and that somewhere in our circus we still have the concept of communal fairness and “good faith”.

There have been so many articles these days, excellent articles like this, on Everton, Chelsea and Manchester City.

I have nothing additional to add to them factually. In fact, my hook for today’s Sunday Column is about nothing factual, but something more important.

 

If sport loses its foundation DNA, it’s done for.

Sport is, at its core, epic and that ethos comes not just from intense competition, but from the idea of a rite of passage, the physical and mental testing of a man (it was men back then) very much linked to his ancient role as protector, hunter-gather, soldier, and head of the family. Sportsmanship as a consequence was, and is, a synonym of honour, endeavour, commitment, excellence, and especially never cheating.

Same theme, expressed differently, in the TV Series Billions

Sports franchises are how we knight people in this country…and you’re not royalty, you’re a robber baron.

Beyond all the issues it faces today; of business models, polarisation, changing generation tastes, governance, sport’s uniqueness is ultimately about good faith amongst competitors.

This is what makes it more that just “entertainment”.

 

Our code, our rule-book, is right here…

The Chairmen’s Charter is a statement of our commitment and aim to run Premier League football to the highest possible standards in a professional manner and with the utmost integrity. With that aim we, the Chairmen of the Clubs in membership of the Premier League, are determined to conduct our respective Club’s dealings with the utmost good faith and honesty.

Many conversations are happening in the game at the very senior insider level about Everton, Man City, and Chelsea.

This is no longer knock-about pub chat stuff. The EPL clubs are angry; behind the scenes, very angry. If you listen hard you can hear the clues. It is all about this idea of “bad faith”, and perhaps expelling the robber baron. There is a momentum building around the ownership of our “culture”. Not just in sport.

 

Everton is in some ways rather unfortunate.

In a period around COVID where the entire EPL rule book was “put on ice”, media deals were rolled-over without the usual anti-trust concerns, and when we didn’t know if we had any industry at all; the Goodison club went out on a limb. This is what experienced people call the “ask forgiveness not permission” approach. They knew they were chancing their arm, but hoped the general COVID chaos would afford them a mild penance in any eventual Confessional.

Since then, they’ve been upfront, hidden nothing, but got absolutely hammered by an “independent” commission. For me, a very clumsy punishment. Points deductions and titles removed are always “failure” for a sports league. No one wins and accepts it. It moves sport to a place we all detest; the asterix debate. Like Juventus’s two removed titles. I have a fair bit of sympathy for Everton. They could have been fined and/or have transfer embargoes.

In every case, “independent regulators” in sport are a dreadful idea. They just don’t feel it. Or its politics. I speak as someone who has set them up, and sat on them. They are clunky and often tone deaf.

 

Everton will appeal, but look at the language they use.

Everton maintains that it has been open and transparent in the information it has provided to the Premier League and that it has always respected the integrity of the process. The club does not recognise the finding that it failed to act with the utmost good faith and it does not understand this to have been an allegation made by the Premier League during the course of proceedings. Both the harshness and severity of the sanction imposed by the commission are neither a fair nor a reasonable reflection of the evidence submitted.

Everton knows all this will come down to “good or bad faith”. This is a cleverly worded statement. Very clever.

The club will also monitor with great interest the decisions made in any other cases concerning the Premier League’s profit and sustainability rules. Everton cannot comment on this matter any further until the appeal process has concluded.

 

The clear reference is to Manchester City.

If they are not punished, all bets are off.

It has been 5 years, almost to the day, since City received a letter, explained here from the EPL contesting overinflated revenues and over a hundred breaches of the rules on expenditure.

City, different to Everton, has lawyered up with magic-circle firm Clifford Chance and thrown every single tactic of delay, deflection, denial at their defence. It is impossible to overestimate the levels they have gone to, in sandbagging this; it would make your toes curl. This is real hardball and City doesn’t intend to lose: it is a cup-tie replay of what they did to UEFA. Drag down the process so much that justice becomes too painful and expensive to contemplate.

I am not close enough to the substantive accusations to have an opinion myself. I am told they are bang-to-rights but this for me isn’t the main point.

 

What Manchester City and its owners continue to show to our game is extreme “bad faith”.

What they are doing is like a successful “dive” for a penalty. It’s not in the spirit of the game. It’s winning through cheating.

Let’s look in comparison at the statements coming out of Todd Boehly’s Chelsea, very well reported here.

Chelsea proactively reported those issues to UEFA, the FA and the Premier League, and will be hoping that this cooperative approach — coupled with the fact that the Boehly-Clearlake group was not in charge when these alleged rule breaches were committed — will be taken into consideration when determining potential punishments.

We have been pretty open about the historic issues with regard to Chelsea because they self-reported to the PremierLeague and to the FA so it is obvious we are looking into that,” Premier League chief executive Richard Masters said in August.

 

The theme is clear: everyone is entitled to a fair hearing, but there is a bigger responsibility that you sign up to when you join a sport’s league.

Be open and honest.

Leagues, especially in the case of the EPL, are build on “good faith” to your fellow members, and the league itself.

What City is doing, and did with UEFA, can’t be allowed to fly. The game needs to make an example of the Manchester team because this wouldn’t be a good moment for Association Football to fold.

If Manchester City does manage to beat the rap, with their fancy lawyers, then, to use today’s phrase…

 

The game is gone. The END.

I don’t know Richard Masters well enough to give him all the respect he and that position surely deserve, but I know one thing; he isn’t Scudamore.

Perhaps mistakenly, I get the sense that Richard wouldn’t be pleased with the Everton decision, delivered by “independents”. He would know that it increases the political pressure on the City case, for equivalent justice. And if it doesn’t happen, the EPL will be damaged.

 

The end of laughter and soft lies;

the end of nights we tried to die.

One always is a product of past experiences. The grand old City of London, even more historic than 150-year-old sport, was a similar English concept I saw change; lose its way.

A gentleman’s word was his bond.

In the mid 80s, the City of London was deregulated, under Big Bang, and all these old merchant banks and brokers got eaten by Big Finance.

I can tell you that today the City has fewer gentlemen, and its word is no longer its bond.

You know how I know that? Because the lawyers that bankers use to break deals are ambivalent to what’s actually right, but are very successful and rich. Bad faith pays.

For the sake of our game, City need to get absolutely hammered. It will send the right message back to the Gulf, to Wall Street, to the hedge funds. Sport can never be about the legals… it must be based on hard loyal competition, amongst friends and rivals.

There is no glory in getting your way with the likes of Clifford Chance. Some people may never understand that. Every true football fan does.

 


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