Decadence of the game

The mood inside inside Uefa’s sleek, glass-walled headquarters is usually as calm as the waters of nearby Lake Geneva — but last Tuesday it was euphoric. The night before in Brussels, Authentic Prada Bag For Sale Ph an uneasy peace had finally broken out in football’s long-running, bitter dispute with the European Commission over the transfer system. When the Uefa chief executive, Gerhard Aigner, returned to his office, he found a bouquet on his desk, colleagues waiting to offer their congratulations with outstretched hands and celebratory drinks being organised.

Aigner’s Agatha Ruiz Dela Prada Shoes Sale image may be dour, and his face unfamiliar to most fans, yet he is the most powerful man in European football. Some of those involved in the transfer talks say Aigner’s standing has been boosted by the lessons in tactics, diplomacy and media management he and Uefa handed Fifa and their president, Sepp Blatter.

With that saga apparently over, a relieved Aigner spoke to Observer Sport for the next 90 minutes about many of the major issues confronting European football — predictably, most come down to money — including:

• Excessive earnings and the ‘decadence’ of the Continent’s richest players.

• Cash-rich football facing the reality that the stream of money into the game has peaked — and will start to fall.

• Alienation of fans highlighted by pay-TV, high ticket prices and kick-off times tailored to suit media interests.

‘A fantastic amount of money has come into the game in the last decade,’ he said. ‘But too much of it goes to the top clubs and the top players — well, to certain players definitely. If you earn £100,000-a-week, you transgress a border which is difficult to understand by normal people, by those who are actually financing it. Fans have difficulty understanding that. And let’s not forget that even the sponsors’ money is, somewhere, the consumers’ money’.

He does not name names but Ronaldo, Luis Figo and Alessandro del Piero are all in the £100,000-a-week bracket. Aigner believes the greater freedom of movement given to players last Monday will create more of that breed.

Warming to his theme, Aigner warns: It’s also the culture that’s coming in with these superstars earning so much money. The agents for some of Agatha Ruiz Dela Prada Dresses Uk them always bring things into the media. Fans dislike these transactions, especially when players come in and don’t perform well and cash in.’ He cites Manchester United as a laudable exception.

‘Top players there earn a fantastic amount but the fans aren’t critical because they win, behave properly and are proper to the fans. There are no signs of the decadence which you can find nowadays.’ Decadence is a strong word and will resonate with many fans. In his view ‘Southern Europe — Spain and Italy — is much more inclined to have excesses than Britain in this respect.’

Aigner, a trained economist, is outspoken on the ‘difficulties’ created by the enormous sums that have flowed into the game. Too many people ‘see football as a money-making business in itself’. His targets are sponsors, those running TV companies and players who cynically ‘cash in’, rather than clubs. In his view, football has become ‘too much of a commercial activity’. He dislikes the trend, most pronounced in England but now being replicated in Italy, of clubs becoming companies.

He sees this, coupled with high ticket prices, pay-TV subscriptions, saturation television coverage and players’ earnings — as likely to alienate fans.

‘We can’t make the public pay for TV and at the same time increase the prices of the tickets. Somewhere you have to be loyal to your fans Authentic Prada Milano Handbags and say, «We’re making so much money that we will reduce Agatha Ruiz Dela Prada Book Bags the prices» — that would be fair play. But I don’t think we’re going that way.’

Aigner agreed to revamp the Champions League to dissuade Europe’s leading clubs from breaking away. He is often portrayed as a prisoner of the G14 replica prada belts, the influential group of clubs that includes Real Madrid, Barcelona and Manchester United. Mindful of the need to keep the G14 happy, he is also determined to Agatha Ruiz Dela Prada E Shop protect the game’s roots, as befits someone who played, coached and refereed amateur football in his native Bavaria. Yet he warns that the game is starting to ‘disintegrate’ as money pours in.

‘Football grew because everybody put in. Now everybody is trying to take out,’ he says. ‘There are too many vested, competing interests. The common interest is not evident — everyone is trying to protect their own interest — the clubs, players, referees, club presidents, the G14, the Euro-League clubs. So we have a disintegration factor, and I regret that.’

Aigner does recognise the benefits that money brings — the £400million-a-year generated by the Champions League helps nurture the game in the poorer countries among Uefa’s 51 member states. But he would like to see a broader distribution of the wealth.

He is worried, too, by elitism — another by-product of the flood of money: ‘In middle-sized countries like Scotland, Agatha Ruiz Dela Prada Sale Uk the Netherlands and Portugal, two, three or four clubs are always at the top and the quality players gather in these clubs, which then dominate the league. This is not a problem in the big markets, though. In England you have Ipswich doing well, La Coruña in Spain and in Italy the Roman clubs are up.’

Aigner is concerned about the gap between a handful of clubs and the rest in many countries and between the biggest clubs in the major countries — England, Italy, Spain, Germany and France — and the others. ‘In some countries, First Division clubs can’t get a shirt sponsor because sponsors want teams who play in Europe, not just in their own league.’

Uefa has decreed that the proposed Euro or Atlantic League so that clubs such as Ajax or Rangers can once again take on Milan or Inter with a realistic chance of success, is not the way forward. Aigner is looking at alternatives.

And Aigner insists the momentum for a breakaway Are Prada Trainers Made In Vietnam European league has gone — for now. Agatha Ruiz Dela Prada Online Shopping ‘The G14 know their fans would not understand it. There is no European soul in the fans yet. If you serve fans in England or Italy the menu, they want European football as the pudding, not the main dish.’

Subtle warning to the would-be wreckers, or a genuine assessment of the breakaway threat? With the G14’s action now set up as an ‘economic interest group’, with an office in Authentic Prada Trainers Brussels, it seems further conflict between them and Uefa is almost inevitable.

England, he believes, is an example of where football still works pretty well. He applauds the Manchester United fans’ campaign against the Sky takeover and Brighton fans’ backing for their club’s search for a new home. ‘I could not say that I like the English game, but I like what goes with English football — the atmosphere in the stadia, the passion of the people and the fact that the fan is an expert.’ He lets slip that he has supported Ipswich Town since the time of Robson, Muhren and Thijssen. Gerhard Aigner: Uefa’s patron of underdogs.