The end of G14, and the rise of the European Club Association

In the past seven years, the G14 has been a major headache for UEFA. Outspoken and sometimes controversial, it has been the unofficial voice for Europe’s top clubs. It is now however an inclusive member of the European footballing hierarchy. The body that was once the G14 is now the European Club Association (the ECA). The route to this cunning transformation however has been about as smooth as the JJB turf after a tractor fair.

Tuesday 15 January 2008 signalled the end of the G14 and the creation of the ECA. The signing of an agreement between UEFA and the ECA creates a new reformed hierarchy within the footballing world. Unlike the unrecognised body that was the G14, UEFA now recognises the ECA as the sole body representing the interests of clubs at a European level. Furthermore, the document also sets out that the ECA recognise UEFA as the European governing body of football and FIFA at a worldwide level. There should now be a more harmonious chain of command within European football. It has not always however been so friendly (think Keane, Haaland and knee high challenges for the love lost between UEFA and the G14).

Things under the G14 were very different. The G14 was formed in September 2000 by fourteen of Europe’s top clubs. It had no official authority in the footballing world and was seen by UEFA as a maverick pressure group that provided clubs with a powerful collective voice. The G14 was founded as a consequence of the dissatisfaction felt by the founding clubs with UEFA and a feeling that clubs should be represented within the formal UEFA decision making process so that they would be consulted before UEFA made decisions affecting them.

Much deliberation, persuasion and negotiation has taken place to get to the position we see today. The majority of the threats and counter accusations by both sides have been played out in front of the world’s media, and have taken the form of high profile disputes between the clubs and Europe’s governing body. One of these cases was the compensation case by Abdelmajid Oulmers – a case dubbed as the new Bosman, which commentators predicted could change the game forever, and a case that may have proved to be the catalyst resulting in the formation of the ECA.

In November 2004, whilst playing for Morocco against Burkina Faso, Oulmers was injured and ruled out for 8 months. Sporting Charleroi (his club) blamed the loss of the player as the reason for their failure to win the domestic league, eventually finishing fifth. Understanding the issue was of major importance to all clubs throughout Europe. The G14 supported Sporting Charleroi in a compensation claim against [FIFA] for the injured Oulmers. The G14 further claimed €860m in damages for the costs incurred during the previous 10 years of putting players at FIFA’s disposal so that they could represent their country to the detriment of the club paying their wages.

The formation of the ECA coincided with calls for all outstanding lawsuits to be brought to an end. The formation of ECA is seen by many as one of the compromises stemming from negotiations between FIFA/UEFA and the G14 in order to solve amicably the various legal disputes to be dropped. Karl-Heinz Rummenigge of the ECA stated on its formation that:

“It is also important that pending legal cases are also to an end, this is a sign that we are all moving along the right road”.

The parties decided to settle this issue in the political rather than legal environment, championing negotiation ahead of litigation. The result? Both sides are winners; FIFA have their current legal disputes that were started or supported by the G14 clubs dropped; and the clubs receive appropriate compensation for releasing their players and have a recognised body representing their views.

Compensation will be paid to the clubs not for a player’s injury for their participation in national competitions. Clubs who release players for Euro 2008 will receive up to £3,000 per player per day in compensation. Money will only be paid to clubs for finals tournaments and not qualifying matches.

G-14 President Jean-Michel Aulas commented:

“A new era in clubs’ representation has been confirmed today. G-14 Members were ready to dissolve this organisation because G-14 has successfully achieved its key objective of ensuring that Clubs are fully respected by the international governing bodies and appropriately integrated in the relevant governing structures up to the highest levels.”

UEFA has said that Euro 2008 will be worth more than £32 million to clubs. Euro 2012 is expected to be in excess of £40million. UEFA President Michel Platini said “Clubs who provide UEFA and FIFA with certain amounts of money through these players should get some compensation and share in these profits”.

The body overseeing European club’s welfare, the ECA, will be composed initially of 103 clubs drawn from all of UEFA’s 53 Member Associations. It appears that the wishes of the founding members of the G14 have been granted. No longer is it likely that the Champions League structure will be modified without the major clubs’ consent, as happened in 2002. The football clubs have been given a legitimate voice, and the new ECA organisation will consult with the decision makers of European football.

The formation of the ECA has potentially resolved all outstanding legal disputes between the clubs and FIFA/UEFA. However, in a multi-layered diverse organisation like UEFA where different bodies will represent their own interests, the difference is that whilst previously the G14 was an outside dissenting voice, the ECA is now an inclusive part of the formal footballing hierarchy and will now have to play within the rules of the game.

Hopefully this article has given you a flavour of the subjects which go to the heart of this interesting matter.

By Daniel Geey and Ross Lima.

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