Just how dangerous are Manchester City and Paris St Germain to the wider football world? And what needs to change in the Champions League? Javier Tebas, president of La Liga, outlines to the Totally Football Show what he thinks is threatening the game today…
Javier Tebas has a few things to say. The La Liga top dog has long been an outspoken character, and among his main concerns at the moment are the ‘state-owned’ superclubs of Manchester City and Paris St Germain, and the threat posed to football across the continent by a proposed new European super league.
In an exclusive Q&A with the Totally Football Show.com, Tebas expanded on those themes and outlined his thoughts on the state of the game, including how dangerous he believes City and PSG are, and how they are ‘operating entirely outside’ of football’s rules, plus how he would reform the Champions League.
The Totally Football Show: You said recently that teams like Manchester City and PSG are distorting football because of their spending power and the fact that they are state run: what can be done to stop them? What would you do if a similar regime tried to buy a Spanish club?
Javier Tebas: The governors of European football need to show a much stronger commitment to healthy domestic football. This would include stricter financial controls that limit state clubs like Manchester City or PSG from vastly outspending their rivals and it would also include much firmer Financial Fair Play penalties, which have been a very weak deterrent up to this point.
A state run club would be totally against our financial rules in Spain. Any investor that wants to come into LaLiga has to agree to our financial controls and we would not allow any investor that would create debt or inflate the market. We would not allow it to happen.
TTFS: Could you not also argue that teams like Barcelona, and particularly Real Madrid, started the process of distorting the market some years ago? Not all of their money was been generated themselves, after all.
JT: Barcelona and Real Madrid have never received state support and have always been run in a financially responsible way.
Big clubs have always existed across Europe and it is true they can create distortion if there are no financial controls in place. In the case of Spain, we have spent the past years reducing levels of debt to historic lows and we do not want our biggest clubs to have more money if others do not. However, the state clubs are a new phenomenon and present a danger that football has not seen before. They are operating entirely outside of the rules and risk inflating markets to disastrous levels through their financial doping.
The state clubs are a new phenomenon and present a danger that football has not seen before.
TTFS: You have been critical of the proposed changes to the Champions League, but what would you do to reform the competition?
JT: The competition does not need immediate reform. Certainly not in the structural ways that have been proposed. The model we have right now has proved successful while domestic leagues have continued to grow. The problem of European football is one of competitiveness and cannot be solved with format changes. Also, before speaking about format, we should talk about economic distribution: how much does UEFA expect to collect and how will it distribute that money? European Leagues has put forward an interesting proposal for improving revenue distribution among smaller leagues, which I hope UEFA will consider.
TTFS: What do you think is the primary motivation for the proposals? Is it purely financial, or are there any other factors involved?
JT: The European Club Association is an organisation that serves only the largest clubs of the football pyramid and their reforms would help these clubs syphon more funds from domestic competitions to serve their own growth. The argument that reforms are needed to help support smaller leagues is nonsense. How does giving Ajax protected Champions League status help the Dutch league? It only helps Ajax, while increasing the gap between them and the rest of their national league.
TTFS: Lars Christer Olsson recently suggested that a ‘competitive balance’ contribution of 20% of the Champions League revenue should be redistributed from the top clubs to those below – do you think that is a workable idea?
JT: We share European Leagues’ concerns about the future of domestic football and their suggested plans merit further discussion. As part of their proposals, 6.5% of UEFA’s income (currently around €200m) would be allocated to the development of football outside of the biggest domestic leagues. We are ready to talk about this and UEFA should be too.
Even a watered-down, negotiated version of these plans would be equally damaging to the future of domestic football.
TTFS: Do you think the ‘Super League’ proposals are simply a negotiating tactic – that the clubs proposing it are simply suggesting something extreme, so what they really want seems reasonable by comparison?
JT: The proposals exist in their current form because a small number of elite clubs want them to happen. The football community cannot stand by while its future is being played with. Even a watered-down, negotiated version of these plans would be equally damaging to the future of domestic football.
TTFS: These proposals will obviously financially benefit La Liga’s biggest teams: is there anything you can do as an organisation to stop them?
JT: The responsibility of LaLiga is to defend the competition, and not the individual interest of certain clubs. We are prepared to stop the changes taking place. We think that with open dialogue between all concerned parties we will prevent these reforms from happening.
At a club level, our financial controls are ensuring a more even distribution of TV money which is reducing the wealth gap between clubs. By putting forward proposals like those of European Leagues, we can help to achieve a similar model across other competitions.
TTFS: Could it be argued that La Liga has contributed to inequality, given the financial disparity between its biggest clubs and the rest?
JT: We have significantly reduced the gap between Spanish clubs. Before we centralised broadcasting rights the ratio from biggest to smallest club was 13:1. Now the maximum is 3.5:1. We require all clubs to work within clear financial limits and we distribute TV money fairly, because this makes the competition better for everyone. When it comes to UEFA and ECA’s proposals we will continue to challenge the elite clubs, Spanish or otherwise, to remind them of the responsibility they have to protect domestic football.
TTFS: What about the accusation that you are focusing too much on the Champions League reforms?
JT: This is a diversionary tactic from ECA. It’s obvious that the Champions League reforms are being discussed because this is where the idea of a closed league has come from. ECA is proposing that 24 of the biggest European clubs be cut off from the rest so of course the football community is going to react. If this part of the plans goes ahead it will mean that most clubs can only ever dream of reaching Europa League or Europa League 2. That is simply unfair.
ECA has proposed Europa League 2 because they claim that more European football is needed for smaller clubs to survive. I believe that strengthening domestic football is how clubs survive, which means better revenue sharing and increasing competition, ending the dominance of a small number of clubs.
TTFS: What about Alexander Ceferin’s idea to offer Champions League qualification to clubs who reach the quarter finals or beyond?
JT: European qualification should be via domestic league position. If you introduce other means of qualification, you are instantly devaluing domestic competitions and the long-term effects of this are very destabilising and dangerous. In all reform discussions we must keep in mind the needs of all clubs, not an isolated few.
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