After last night’s draw Jose Mourinho was asked what needed to happen to improve Chelsea’s chances of winning the Champions League. His reply was blunt: turn G14 into G15. When asked to explain further Mourinho refused to elaborate and walked away. So who exactly are G14? And why does Mourinho want them to become G15? Well, the destiny of the Champions League and G14 are most definitely linked. Mourinho is right about that.
In the 1991/92 season the European Cup took the first steps toward becoming the Champions League. Group stages were introduced to what had always been a straight forward knockout competition. Bizarrely the knockout rounds were played first, followed by the now familiar mini leagues. This was subsequently changed, after complaints that the absence of quarter and semi finals diluted the excitement.
The difference between then and now is nicely illustrated by Nottingham Forest. In their 1978/79 European Cup winning campaign Forest played a total of nine games, including the final. They eliminated Liverpool, AEK Athens, Grasshoppers of Zurich, and FC Koln – all over two legs – before beating Malmo, 1-0 in the final. With respect (and I am not having any kind of dig at Forest here) how many viewers across Europe would sit their fat arse down to watch Forest v Grasshoppers, or even Forest v Malmo?
This was the primary reason the format was changed, there weren’t enough games and certainly not enough mouth watering fixtures for the pan-European TV audience. Television, the new hand feeding football, wanted the competition bigger and better. They wanted the big clubs to survive until they were the only ones standing. Then they would play off against each other in bumper fixtures, watched on TV by every football fan in Europe
What TV and these elite clubs wanted was more Milan v Barcelona, less Forest v Grasshoppers. That would maximise revenue, for everyone involved. The change was actively sought by Europe’s leading clubs, who aggressively lobbied UEFA. Predictably, in the face of a tempting cash offer, UEFA capitulated. Europe’s premier club competition, designed as a knockout challenge between title winners only, was to become a money spinning TV league.
That group of Europe’s top clubs, who had successfully bullied UEFA, would ultimately cement their relationship and become G14. The mission statement in their manifesto is clear enough: “To promote co-operation and good relations between G14 and FIFA, UEFA and any other sporting institutions and/or professional football clubs, paying special attention to negotiating the format, administration and operation of the club competitions in which the member clubs are involved [emphasis added].” In other words, to control the Champions League.
A second idea was then introduced, one which would expand the competition even further. The problem was that some countries had more than one ‘big’ club, while others had none; Grasshoppers, Malmo, Bruges, with respect, are not global audience pullers. So UEFA allowed teams who had finished as low as fourth in their respective leagues into the so called ‘Champions’ League. Barcelona and Real Madrid couldn’t both win the Spanish title every season, and similar situations existed in England, Italy and Germany – all valuable TV markets.
So the modern Champions League was born, specifically designed for television and artificially inflated to ensure every ‘big’ club participated, every season. With a not so hidden agenda of funnelling as much cash as possible into the coffers of the members of G14. The dominance this cash has helped G14 clubs to achieve is mind blowing. In fact it is little short of absolute.
Since the league format was introduced all fourteen Champions League finals have been won by clubs who are members of G14. In fact only two non G14 clubs have even reached the final since the changes were made; Monaco who were thrashed in the 2004 decider and Sampdoria who lost the first one back in 1992. Every other final has been exclusively between G14 clubs. Impressed? It gets better, the effect on domestic leagues is truly unbelievable.
Since the inception of the Premier League in 1992, the same year the European Cup format was adjusted, G14 clubs have failed to win the English title only twice; Chelsea and Blackburn Rovers, both fuelled by independent wealth, were the party poopers. Chelsea could be about to make that three times, but I am not in the poultry counting business.
Over the same fourteen year span in Spain only two non G14 clubs won La Liga: Atletico Madrid and Deportivo La Coruna. In Italy’s Serie A the picture is identical; in the last fourteen years only the Roman clubs, Lazio and Roma, have managed to steal the title away from G14, once each, both effectively bankrupting themselves in the process.
Put into perspective: since the Champions League changed format the titles in England, Italy and Spain have been won by G14 clubs thirty-six times out of a possible forty-two. In fact just six G14 clubs shared thirty-four of those thirty-six titles between them. Add this to the record of G14 clubs in the Champions League over the same period, a perfect fourteen out of fourteen. Now that’s what I call dominance.
This season a G14 club will win the title in Spain, same in Italy, same in France, same in Germany, same in the Champions League. In fact the only non G14 club who might win a major European title is, well, you guessed it. Yet some claim it is Chelsea who are making the game “uncompetitive”. Of course we are. Everything was just hunky dory before Roman Abramovich arrived. Returning to reality, why does Mourinho want G14 to become G15, and who exactly are G14?
G14, ironically, was originally formed with fourteen members but four more were added in 2002, including Arsenal. So really they are G18, but I guess G14 has a better ring to it. The prime movers and shakers are Milan, Juventus, Bayern Munich, Manchester United, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Liverpool and Arsenal. There are nine other members but the aforementioned nine are the ones who wear the trousers. And let me assure you these are expensive trousers.
If you look at when football first became a real money pot, and television’s bitch, back in the early nineties, you’ll see a clear break from the past. Leagues which had been won by a multitude of teams suddenly became the preserve of a just a handful of elite clubs. Older fans will remember a time when second division teams won the FA Cup, when the league title was won by a different club every year. When the European Cup was won by teams like Nottingham Forest, Aston Villa, Steaua Bucharest, and Red Star Belgrade.
Those days are long gone. What killed them off and changed football forever was money, television and G14. We are now indisputably in an era where financial muscle is the single most important factor in determining if a club will be successful. About fourteen years ago a line was drawn in the sand; if you were in the elite at the time you were virtually guaranteed to stay there. If you were not already part of the elite then tough, you needed a miracle, an extraordinary amount of luck or possibly a Russian billionaire in order to compete.
Obviously I’d like to sell you the Rom-antic notion that Chelsea are now crusading on behalf of football against G14, sadly we are not. We applied to join G14 before the oil had dried on Abramovich’s first down payment. Shame on us, really. However the club did not secure the necessary votes; Manchester United, Arsenal and Barcelona were three who objected – I believe you need unanimous agreement to join. Though oddly enough Liverpool supported Chelsea’s application.
Why Mourinho feels we need to be part of G14 in order to improve our chances of winning the Champions League is another matter. There are rumours that G14 clubs have an informal agreement not to sell their star players to anyone but each other. On known evidence that doesn’t seem to be true, we bought Claude Makelele from Real Madrid for example. To counter that we haven’t bought a genuine mega star in his prime, no Ronaldinho, Thierry Henry or Andriy Shevchenko. But my view is that there are only a handful of players in that bracket, so it’s more likely to be lack of supply than conspiracy.
The other rumour, which I believe is mainly paranoia, is that G14 has an influence over which referees are appointed to Champions League games. I suspect Mourinho was unhappy with the apponitment of Marcus Merk, a referee known to be whistle happy. I’m guessing Mourinho was implying a referee designed to slow down the game was deliberately chosen, as this would favour the team defending a lead. Merk had previously controlled a Porto game when Mourinho was in charge there, and he complained at the time that Merk had destroyed the game by whistling incessantly. I don’t believe that at all, despite Merk giving a foul every ninety seconds, and I wish Mourinho would sometimes accept that we can be beaten without the aid of a global, anti-Chelsea, conspiracy.
What I do believe is that it is desperately unhealthy (to put it politely) for a handful of powerful clubs to exercise so much influence, in particular over the Champions League and how it is organised. The fact that this influence enables these clubs to utterly dominate the major European leagues is scandalous. Despite what opposition supporters think of us, and our new found wealth, I would prefer it if clubs didn’t need the arrival of a billionaire in order to compete. My allegiance to Chelsea aside, I would love to see a club like Bolton, or Wigan or even (God forgive me) West Ham win the league. The chances of it happening? Who to blame?
You can figure out both answers yourself.
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