BERN – After months of bickering over new competitions, talks of closed super leagues and complaints of greed by elite clubs, football’s leaders have buried their differences to tackle the effects of the coronavirus outbreak.
On Tuesday, UEFA agreed to delay its flagship Euro 2020 competition for one year to allow domestic leagues to complete their seasons, once football resumes, and FIFA, in turn, recommended postponing its new Club World Cup from 2021.
"It was a relatively short call, probably the most united front of opinion I have seen in European football so far," said Jonas Baer-Hoffmann, general secretary of the global players’ union FIFPRO, after a video conference with UEFA and representatives of clubs and leagues.
"It was a very cordial conversation – not at all tense or contentious."
That could not be said of recent encounters involving football’s various stakeholders.
Only two weeks ago, UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin told his organisation’s annual congress that "no football administrator, no matter the size of the ego, should think we are the stars of the game. We are only the guardians of the game."
He didn’t mention any names but FIFA president Gianni Infantino, whose efforts to create the Club World Cup have not gone down well with UEFA, was sitting in the front row.
Last year, UEFA and the European Club Association (ECA), proposed a reform of the Champions League which would have turned it into semi-closed competition from 2024 onwards.
The proposal was eventually dropped amid widespread opposition led by Europe’s domestic leagues.
In December, the Financial Times and New York Times reported that discussions led by Real Madrid president Florentino Perez had taken place over the possibility of setting up a super league featuring the world’s richest clubs split into two divisions. Ceferin said the idea was "far-fetched" and "insane."
Such reports of breakaways have become commonplace over the years as the financial gap grows between a handful of elite clubs and the rest.
Only two weeks ago, Andrea Agnelli, president of Serie A champions Juventus, questioned the right of smaller rivals Atalanta to take part in the Champions League because the club lacked "international history."
FIFA’s ambitions for a 24-team Club World Cup have themselves been seen as an attempt to muscle in the lucrative club game and reduce financial dependency on the World Cup.
But the tone was very different on Tuesday.
"It is at times like these, that the football community needs to show responsibility, unity, solidarity and altruism," said Ceferin, while Baer-Hoffmann recognised that UEFA had taken a "significant hit" with its decision to postpone Euro 2020.
"Finding appropriate and fair solutions at global level is imperative," added Infantino, who also proposed a fund to help those in football affected by the pandemic. "We need to think of all those around the world potentially impacted by our decisions."