Let's Fix Modern Football - Pipe Dreams Edition

Imagine writing a long article highlighting the ludicrous, self serving, avaricious attempt by England's self styled biggest football clubs to murder the game, and then casually chucking in there that you had some plans to address those same imbalances.

Imagine no more. I did it. And here I am, staring at my screen feeling a little too much like I've finally got something in common with Theresa May. This is my Article 50 and if I just have some belief in myself, everything should magically turn out alright.

Much time has passed since I wrote that first article. The big clubs eventually got their way, with everybody finally acknowledging that what English football really needed was for Bournemouth and Brighton to give some of their overseas TV money to Liverpool and Chelsea, lest any of those smaller clubs ever used the cash to close the gap to the elite and make the division interesting.

Outgoing Premier League chairman Richard Scudamore presided over this change, and was hailed for holding the league together, rather than losing those Big Six to a European Super League. He was thus able to explain to Daniel Levy that he'd come up with a way to scupper the idea of Blackburn ever winning the league again, despite the fact they've done it more recently and more frequently than Spurs.


But before I begin, I need to briefly address a few points that came out of the initial piece:

1. This is a waste of time

I know this. I'm a blogger on the internet. Everything I write is a waste of time. There isn't going to be a great uprising whereby we suddenly level playing fields all over Europe and next years Champions League final is Huddersfield vs Celta Vigo, even though that would be brilliant.

But it's alright to dream - it's all they let us do, after all.

2. Stop Moaning - It's only what you did to the Football League

Well, yes, this is true. Although you'll probably remember West Ham getting heroically relegated immediately prior to the formation of the Premier League. That's the fabled West Ham Way.

But even if that is true, it's not a reason to allow ourselves to complacently accept the status quo as an irrecoverable situation. My primary challenge to anyone proposing changes to English or European football is always the same - do these measures make it more or less likely that Hull or Chesterfield or Yeovil or even Millwall can win the Premier League? Can we get Getafe into a Champions League final? Can Crotone win Serie A?

Unless you're trying to level the playing field for everyone, you're part of the problem. Or put another way - enough with this mendacious and solipsistic way of thinking spouted by the media at large that fans of teams like Arsenal somehow deserve success because they've gone a whole five years without a trophy.

All football fans are equal. It's really not a difficult concept.

3. You just want to make it easier for West Ham to win things

Again, yes and no. I want it to be realistically possible for all teams to win. I want an end to the current situation where all football fans buy TV subscriptions and consume goods with cash that then flows back into the game through sponsors and TV revenue primarily to "The Big Six". Those six teams are the minority and it's time we ended their grip on the game.

I suggest it's possible to have a system whereby teams win things because they are better run, better managed and have better youth development rather than because they are Liverpool and they've got enough UEFA subsidies to buy half of the Southampton team. And let's face it, any system that requires smart leadership is extremely bad news for West Ham.

Like I said before - this isn't a West Ham thing. It's a football thing.

4. Go and watch a non-league team if you don't like it

Ah yes, that old staple. The only true fans are at Boreham Wood.

People love their football teams no matter what level they play it. Hell, even Manchester United fans are as devoted to their team as any other. But no one set of fans are any better or more deserving of success than any other - that's really the whole point of this article.

5. Making English football fairer damages our chances of winning anything in Europe

English teams have a chance of winning European trophies? Who knew? Well lads, I'm afraid that while you prohibit any teams beyond the self styled "Big Six" the opportunity to play in the Champions League then we're not going to care about it, are we?

But, the broader point is fair, and that's why these proposals are for the whole of European football - I am the President of UEFA, after all. Imagine therefore, that I was actually doing my job and representing all football fans on the Continent instead of pandering to those in Asian TV markets and those of the G14. Instead imagine a world where money was more evenly spread and Southampton and Ajax could hold on to all those players they've developed and meet in the Champions League final. That's what we're aiming for.

It's also another reason that none of this will ever happen.


Alright, so with all of those caveats in mind, what am I planning? Well, let me delay you again slightly and explain the genesis of some these thoughts.

Most of my ideas have come from studying Major League Baseball in the US. No one could ever accuse our American cousins of not giving capitalism a fair crack of the whip, but when it comes to sport they have a surprisingly nuanced world view.

There is a tacit understanding within American sports that competitive balance is hugely important and that US fans don't simply want to watch the same teams winning championships year after year. Now, they also (sort of) elected Donald Trump as their leader so let's not get too caught up in praising their thinking, but there are lots of things we could learn here.

Let's copy these guys - they seem to know what they're doing!

To start with, here are the Major League Baseball champions over the last twenty six years (chosen to match the Premier League era):

New York Yankees (5), San Francisco (3), Boston Red Sox (3), Florida/Miami (2), St Louis (2), Toronto (2), Atlanta (1), Arizona (1), Anaheim (1), Chicago Cubs (1), Chicago White Sox (1), Philadelphia (1), Minnesota (1), Houston (1) and Kansas City (1).

By contrast the Champions League has been won in that timeframe as follows:

Real Madrid (7), Barcelona (4), AC Milan (3), Bayern Munich (2), Manchester United (2), Marseille (1), Ajax (1), Juventus (1), Borussia Dortmund (1), Porto (1), Liverpool (1), Inter (1), Chelsea (1)

To summarise, that's fifteen World Series winners taken from a field of thirty two teams, with another eight having made the World Series in that time span. Big money teams still top the list, but it's still possible for smaller teams to succeed in a way that it simply isn't in European football.

By contrast, we see thirteen winners of the Champions League, taken from a field of every single European club in existence.

Now, offering up baseball as a perfect comparison is flawed because there are several striking differences. Firstly, there is no real international alternative league for playing baseball so MLB can impose a luxury tax on player salaries without the risk of those players going to China for more money.

They also have a college and high school system that produces players for them, meaning that bad teams are able to replenish their playing staff through an annual draft, with players they have not had to pay a dime to develop.

Neither of these things are true in football, and that causes us significant problems in trying to pick up tips on equality from baseball, but there is still plenty to be learned.

And here we go. Here's what I would do as President of UEFA, in a utopian existence where I didn't have to pander to anyone for votes, or to sponsors for cash or to sportswear manufacturers for their influence. Pipe dreams baby:


The Home Club

Under my proposals, when a player signs for a team at the age of 18, that team is forever designated as his "Home Club". In order to qualify, they must play at least a year with the club after this point, in order to stop Chelsea just registering every child in the South East as their player.

I'll hold off explaining why for the moment, but just remember this, as it will become important. Think of this as like the bit in Sherlock when you meet Moriarty very early in the script but don't realise it. It's the same thing, except not at all.

I don't know what I'm saying anymore

Squad Sizes

Squads will now look like this:

* FT25 - A twenty five man squad - with no homegrown quota - that the first team is selected from.

* FT40 - A forty man squad of registered professionals over 21 who are contracted to the club. This includes the FT25 squad, but the key point here is that players can't play for the first team unless they're in the FT25 squad. This is where your under 23 players sit.

* Y25 - A 25 man squad of players between the ages of 18 and 21. When a player reaches the age of 21 he must be added to the FT40 or he is allowed to leave the club.

If a player gets to 21 and isn't included in the FT40, he can leave the club without a transfer fee. If he gets to 23 and isn't included in the FT25, he can also leave the club without a transfer fee. There are loads more bits of nuance around these rules, but the simple objective here is to stop teams hoarding young players they have no capacity or intention to play. Fly free, sweet Rueben Loftus-Cheek.


A team may have a maximum of five players out on loan at any time. A player on loan is not counted against these squad limits but must be added when he returns.


An injured player can be removed from the squad lists and place on the Injury List. During this time he is not eligible to play for the first team, and must stay on the list for a minimum of ten days.

So, let's just assess all of that for a moment.

You'll no doubt be thrilled to know that the actual rules around implementing this are ludicrously convoluted but the simple fact is that by reducing the number of players any single club can have registered at any one time we force players to be more evenly distributed through the game. By virtue of this talent pouring out from the better teams in the league, then it seems reasonable to assume the wider game would be strengthened. Now other European top flight teams have a chance to pick up young players from the Big Clubs(TM), and by extension we should see a trickle down of talent to the lower leagues too, as the biggest clubs can no longer have first team squads with as many as 34 players.

Similarly, there is a specific rule here which is that when a player joins his "Home Club" at 18, he agrees to a "service period" of 5 years. If, at the age of 23, he is not in the FT25 squad then he is free to leave. This prevents the problem of talented young players being hoarded for ages by clubs but not being able to leave.

To prevent the largest clubs from circumventing this rule by sending 38 players out on loan there is also a restriction in place on loan arrangements. No more than 5 players can be sent out and they have to be added to the FT25 of the receiving team.

Your immediate thought here might be - "Jesus Christ, this is the most boring article I've ever read" and I can't argue that this is pretty dry stuff. So, to tide you over, here's an inexplicable Sunday League photo. As President of UEFA I can reassure you that I remain firmly in support of this sort of thing.

Low xG on this shot

But you might also be thinking that by restricting squad sizes, we force young players to struggle as the very top teams will simply continue to buy all the best players in the world, and with squad places so valuable it would be unlikely that young players would get much of a chance. That seems reasonable, and therefore we need to incentivise teams to prevent this. Which brings me back to that concept I mentioned before of the "Home Club".


Under the prize money arrangements in the Premier League, in 2016/17 each team received ?84.4m for participating. They then received a "merit" payment dependent upon their league position. For reference, Chelsea received ?38.4m for winning the league and Sunderland took home ?1.9m for finishing bottom. And anyone who saw them play would probably consider the Black Cats were fortunate to get anything.

Then there is a third slice of income known as a "facility fee" whereby teams receive money dependent upon how frequently they appear on television. Leading the way in that season was Manchester United who were paid ?32.3m. They finished sixth in the league and you might remember that one of the arguments the "Big Six" make for taking more money is they don't want to reward mediocrity and I just died of irony.

The lowest paid teams received ?13.6m, giving Manchester United a very nice leg up before we even add in their UEFA monies and additional gargantuan commercial revenues.

Under my proposal, that third slice would change dramatically. Instead of receiving money based on how often they appear on TV, the teams would now receive money based on how much of their squad they had developed through their academy. To the extent that they have players in their squad developed by another team, then that team receives the portion of the prize money for that player.

In the 2016/17 season a total of ?404.2m was paid out under the "facility fee" arrangements to Premier League clubs. Divided equally this would have seen each club receive ?20.21m each, so let's halve that and say that each team now gets ?10.10m each as there is a guaranteed minimum already built into the current formula. But now we remove the link to TV appearances and instead we look at the "Home Club" of each player on the FT25 squad for the PL teams.

With each of the 20 teams having a FT25 squad, we have a total of 500 players. With ?202.1m left over from the "facility fee", that equals prize money of ?404,000 to each club per player on the FT25 squad.

Let me demonstrate this using the West Ham squad for 2016/17. These are the players who made most appearances for us that season, although in reality I would suggest that the way to determine allocation could be to use the 25 players with the most time spent on the FT25:

The first thing to note here, is that West Ham only get paid a further ?404,000. Tough - they should have developed more of their own players. If teams want to keep more of their prize money then now they have a distinct incentive to make sure that they have homegrown players on their FT25.

Remember also, however, that West Ham would receive shares for Michael Carrick, Jermain Defoe, James Tomkins and Glen Johnson. It's complex, I guess, with money flying around everywhere but it ensures teams with productive academies are rewarded. And it's nowhere near as complicated as trying to figure out UEFA coefficients.

So see, there's this thing called a "Home Club"

Another ancillary benefit is that ?2m has been paid down the pyramid to lower league teams. Multiply that across 20 Premier League clubs and we start to get a little more parity back into the game. And if we're really feeling revolutionary then we would apply these same principles to the Merit prize money too. From Che Adams to Che Guevara, just like that.

However, you will see there are a large number of players developed outside of the English system. It doesn't seem reasonable for English teams to have money earned as a result of a TV deal for the Premier League, paid away to clubs outside of the country.

Instead, in this example West Ham are given this ?6.868m but they are only able to spend this money in two areas. Half will go their Academy and the other half to the West Ham Ladies teams. I have labelled these as "Development Payments".

If this to be modelled across the whole Premier League I'd imagine that initially the larger clubs would get a lot of money under this system. But bear in mind this is because teams like Chelsea have enormous youth squads and have developed a cottage industry selling these players on but never graduating them to their own first team.

The whole point of the new squad restrictions is that teams simply cannot do that any longer. Over time, I think this would even out significantly and create a "one in, one out" culture around players meaning we would see a far more even spread of talent.

One point to consider is that if we were to apply this method to all teams in the footballing pyramid you could end up with a situation where smaller teams are having to make payment back up the pyramid to bigger teams for developing their players. It may therefore make sense to say that this particular criteria only applies to the top two divisions in a country.

FA Cup

How to make cup competitions relevant again? Straightforward enough - the FA Cup winner (or equivalent) now gets a Champions League spot.

Finishing fourth isn't really an achievement, especially given the current imbalance. Big teams will try to push for seeding if this happens, so therefore that is outlawed immediately.

Also, at the time that the draw is made, whichever team is lower in the league is designated the home team for the tie. The same will apply to all European domestic cup competitions.

League Cup

In the event that the FA Cup winner is already a Champions League qualifier, then the qualifying spot doesn't pass to the runner up, but instead passes to the winner of the League Cup.

"Hey!" I hear you say. "That's not fair - how can winning a cup be deemed equivalent to finishing fourth in the Premier League?" Well, yeah, that's not really a like for like comparison is it? I'm saying that teams who win things should be rewarded for it.

Alternatively, think of it as not rewarding mediocrity.

Europa League

Gone is the nonsense league structure and we revert instead to the old UEFA Cup format. The prize money on offer for the Europa League this year is around 30% of that on offer for the Champions League, so we'll try and balance that up a little as well by upping it to 50% and reducing the Champions League pot accordingly.

Also, no more parachuting the weakest Champions League teams into the Europa League. When you're not good enough to beat Ludogorets you can go home and think about it rather than be paid another few million by UEFA and given another competition to enter.

Champions League

The same distribution model as seen above will be applied to the Champions League and Europa League prize money. The "Home Club" principle continues with the only restriction being that teams won't pay money to clubs outside of the UEFA organisation. In that scenario the money is held by UEFA and invested into programmes for "minority" football programmes such as those covering players who are blind, deaf, autistic, suffer from learning difficulties or are physically disabled.

Football, after all, is for everyone.

What I like about this is that, under this structure, teams like MK Dons and Shrewsbury would have received - and will continue to receive - prize money for the Champions League performances of Dele Alli and Joe Hart.

European Super League

One common threat from the elite whenever the rest of us try and persuade them not to destroy the game, is to threaten a breakaway Super League. As tempting as it is to say "off you go", I'm now the President of UEFA and I probably can't be so cavalier about my organisation.

I'll try, therefore, to do something slightly different. Any player, therefore, appearing in such a Super League would not be able to appear in any UEFA international competition. No European Championships and no UEFA members able to select them for World Cups. As such, the elite can have their league but can only fill it with players who have retired from international competition or have no chance of playing in international tournaments. So, the Dutch, I guess.

Women's Football

As mentioned above, teams will now be forced to spend a certain amount of their income on their Women's teams. This will also require that all clubs actually have women's teams. I mean, imagine being Manchester United and not offering your young female fans a team to follow and idolise until now.

If your objection to this is that women aren't as good at football as men, you should log off and go find another blog. There is nothing for you here.

World Cup heroes come in both sexes

Youth Football

There was a distressing article in The Guardian last October by David Conn, highlighting the incredible rate at which young kids are hoovered up by large clubs and then spat out when it is clear they won't make it. In these cases there seems to be a distinct lack of care taken by the clubs over the academic education of these kids, or the mental health of those in their systems.

Therefore, clubs will be forced to spend more on their academies (using the Development Funds shown above) with a particular focus on these two points. This isn't more money to make those kids better or make the team more successful. It's to better support the ones who aren't going to make it.

And once again, the restricted squads are designed to help with this point by making clubs decide sooner on the fate of these kids. I'm sure there is an argument to lower the age at which the "Home Club" principle is enshrined too, with 16 perhaps a better age.

Additionally, any agent wishing to operate with a UEFA sanctioned club must now pay a 10% levy to the domestic FA of any club he receives payment from, which in turn must be spent on domestic football facilities.

Club Links

No more can teams in different countries be owned by the same individuals or corporations. No more links, or feeder clubs. The fans of Vitesse deserve to be more than the holding pen for Chelsea's youngsters.


And what, I hear you ask, would any of this achieve? How does implementing these complicated restrictions help in any way? How is this anything other than the footballing equivalent of a Dan Brown book whereby it all seems like it's quite clever, but none of it actually works and at the end of it all Tom Hanks is inexplicably an Aston Villa fan?

In short, I don't know.

I've been thinking about this stuff for a while, and mostly it's just percolated pointlessly with no real sense of an ending. Indeed, I wrote this article in October 2017 and then just sat on it because it seems so pointless. This is largely because I know it's all redundant thinking and that the requirements to make any of this work are astronomical.

Take, for example, the idea of Premier League clubs paying money to lower league teams. This wouldn't get anywhere because the EFL and Premier League are separate entities. So, in that sense, it's a pipe dream.

But as a thought experiment I think there is some merit in asking ourselves quite how far we are prepared to let all of this go. How long are we prepared to watch a sport that is so blatantly rigged in favour of certain teams, and at the same time routinely forces smaller clubs flirt with oblivion because there is no proper trickle down effect? Why are people lauding the genius of Jurgen Klopp for spending world record amounts on Alisson and van Dijk, and failing to acknowledge the inherent privilege of historically successful clubs like Liverpool? Let's get reality to one side for a moment and ponder what football would be like if it made even the most basic nod towards allowing everyone to be competitive.

Therefore, feel free to let me know where this goes wrong in the comment section below. I'll be interested to hear from you all, irrespective of who you support or whether you agree. I already have some thoughts of some fellow supporters of great repute and will post them up in due course too.

They raised many salient and valid objections to my suggestions, not the least of which being that the Premier League clubs outside of the Big Six were guilty of even greater greed by failing to vote against the proposals for the new revenue model, convinced as they were that they themselves could get a bigger slice of the pie.

My only request - don't tell me it will never happen as I know that already. It's a series of pipe dreams that might lead to greater equality and would thus be considered a grave danger to modern football. I know it's unthinkable.

But football is broken for all but the elite. I think we have a duty to try and fix it. Feel free to join the cause.

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