Thinking Football Webinar: "International calendars and the risks associated with the Super League"
The second panel of the day featured Pedro Martins, coach of Olympiacos FC; Daniel Sá, Executive Director at IPAM and Marcos Senna, La Liga Ambassador and former player. Moderation was in charge of Nuno Dias, sports commentator
After the opening interventions of Pedro Proença, President of Liga Portugal, and Javier Tebas, President of La Liga, the webinar aimed at promoting the launch of the Thinking Football Summit 2022, was followed by the session on "International calendars and the risks of the Super League".
The guest speakers were Pedro Martins, coach of Olympiacos FC; Daniel Sá, Executive Director at IPAM and Marcos Senna, La Liga Ambassador and former player, in a session moderated by Nuno Dias, sports commentator. Under discussion were key issues related to the current overloading of season calendars, and also the impacts associated with the hypothetical creation of a European Super League, an unavoidable topic that has sparked much discussion recently.
Pedro Martins, coach of Olympiacos FC
Excessive number of games and competitions' calendars
"I would like to thank Liga Portugal for the invitation and for once again addressing relevant issues for Football. The excessive number of matches has been a reality since the pandemic and post-COVID period, when the competitions were stopped and there were inevitably a lot of matches to be played later on, which was something complicated to manage. Sure, the financial aspect is important for certain people, but, unfortunately, we are not respecting the professionals, since in two consecutive seasons we have only had two weeks' holidays. And not to mention the high risk of players getting injured. We are not respecting the professionals. I speak for myself, even for us coaches it is complicated to manage this situation. The pressure that exists, the quality of play and intensity has worsened and that is worrying. We as coaches don't have time to properly prepare a match, since it's basically getting into the field in no time, and that means we can't give the best of ourselves. There’s a lot of games and competitions. I don't have a problem working 24/7, but when we work like this it's difficult to add quality to the game.
European Super League
"We should be reflecting on the issue of big groups having the supremacy in Football. If we don't solve this, it will have to be UEFA itself, and this raises an ethical problem. Football belongs to everyone and if we don't have the possibility to make it available to all people, we will restrict it to a small niche. The football essence and ethics will be lost and that doesn't look good to me."
"With no rules, the markets get highly inflated, and COVID-19 has exposed the difficulties that some big clubs were having. Everyone wants to win and sign the best players, but there must be a certain balance. There are clubs that don't have that capacity; therefore, the financial and competitive gap gets bigger."
"Here in Greece, we have an average of 50/60 games per season, while providing all the necessary conditions for the players. An incredible service, but there is one thing that is clear to me: the players cannot recover in three days, within the statutory 72 hours, and in between they still have the international games. They play three more games and then they still have to make their recovery process at the club. If we're going to increase the number of competitions, we will be forced to have a bigger squad, but the quality of play will be constrained and there won't be time left to prepare each match.
"Qualifying to the Champions League or even the Europa League is clearly difficult, and so this year we have the Conference League for clubs with less capacity. At Olympiakos, we might be satisfied with what we've been doing, but these competitions are very complicated to manage. I don't see football very favourably, now that there are too many club and international competitions. I don't see any Portuguese club winning any international title in the short term".
World Cup every 2 years
"In the three years that I've been here, I am no more than a squad manager. That's what I've been doing. With the pandemic, there was a merging of competitions and from then on we had to adapt and manage the situation accordingly to the time at hand. This pandemic was the opportunity for the big corporations to come up with this new competition format. The coach is merely a squad manager, we don't have time for anything else."
Daniel Sá, Executive Director at IPAM
Generating money for competitions
"First of all, I would like to thank Liga Portugal for the invitation and congratulate them on this initiative. I think that money in a poorly organised and planned way has made stakeholders see Football that way."
Looking at it from inside the pitch to the outside, I think the fans are also tired of this excessive number of games. I will use a stronger word: the fans are having an "overdose" of games. When we look at the programming and see the numerous matches available to us, it is inconceivable to have games from Monday to Monday. By this ascending curve of money, I would say we are very close to the limit point of growth and, as of today, it may have a negative impact, apart from the athletes, on tiring the fans. And when we drive away fans, we drive away sponsors. I think sustainability models have to be considered and thought through, on how this industry can evolve."
"Bringing a new investor into the industry makes sense because, apart from the money, they will explore the business from a different perspective. Football is not an industry like any other, as it has a vital differentiating factor, which is passion. We are all born and raised to love a club and that elevates our excitement. That is not the case in other industries. We can get a new car, change our brands, but clubs are rarely changed or replaced. Clearly, it is an unfair competition, when we talk about Football giants with little history and tradition, like Chelsea or PSG, since there is the feeling that, because they have piles of money, they can "buy sporting success". When we look at the Portuguese example, even with the so-called big clubs making a remarkable contribution, we fall short, and we need to have a balance in this analysis, in terms of inflows of money, which can undermine the emotional connection of the fans with the clubs".
Future of World Football
"It's very worrying when we look at the income and see a big club like Real Madrid having revenues of €300 million and then 10 years later, they reach €800 million. This sounds like it's healthy, but it's not. In fact, European Football itself does not mean financial stability, on the contrary. And, from this perspective, it is about time to review its financial sustainability. The Millenials will have to pay to watch Football in 10 years time, and I am not entirely convinced that at that period they will be willing to consume Football. So I think we are going to have even more serious problems. Coaches and players should participate in these discussions, no doubt about it, and their influence has to be relevant, especially in order to change rules and concepts. An example of this are the American leagues and tennis competitions, at the men's and women's divisions, who play a decisive and active role in this type of decision".
Economic power and quality
"I recognise that we are having a problem that is not easy to solve. When I look at football, I see it as a form of entertainment. Football is entertainment and it is competing with other industries, which are also very powerful. I understand that investors in this situation have to promote the product they are selling. Real Madrid had around 52 games last season, more or less: I ask how many of them were exciting or decisive? Probably not even half. No disrespect to others, I get that the chairmen want this Super League competition, but I find it hard to accept that revenue is being maximised in an unsustainable way. The big mistake of the European Super League, in my opinion, is based on three aspects that are very American-like, both financially and in concept. Competition was not respected and no purpose was presented. It only aims to generate money... and nothing else. I think it is important that there is a restructuring of the industry and of sporting calendars, two aspects that are essential for the sustainability of this industry.
Marcos Senna, La Liga Ambassador and former player
Excessive number of games and competitions' calendars
"Obviously these extra matches are not beneficial for athletes, physically and mentally. This has to be a concern of ours, that we have to fight to see quality football and to see players giving their very best in every game. Making the most of our eternal football!"
Improving the game without hurting the industry
"The essence cannot be lost. We have been trying to change the rules for the improvement of football and I think we should follow and continue to think about what is best for the competitions and for the players. I believe that in the future we will have to be attentive and there are many things that will happen beyond football. I watch football from Monday to Monday because I have to remain up to date, but I also have a family to take care. We have to schedule the games in the best way possible to make sure that football remains healthy in all aspects.
"I think football is about winning on the pitch. Villarreal have been struggling to qualify to the European competitions and we know that for small clubs it is even more complicated. But Villarreal did win their first European title, after lifting the UEFA Europa League trophy, and we fought hard for that. That said, I am completely against the Super League. Even if I was at a big club, I would be against it, but I believe that won't happen. There are many clubs against it and few for it, so I think we have to keep on fighting in order not to lose the essence."
Football united for a greater cause
"Obviously we must push hard to have our voices heard. We know we have no power to change any kind of decision, but it is an added element and it should be respected. First, I think the clubs should come together and then the players. We know that behind all this, we have the economic aspect and therefore they are the ones who have the final say."
European Super League
"More than just being prepared physically and mentally, clubs should come together so that, in a way, all the parties can be heard. I've been doing my calculations too, but nothing really comes out of it, because I think every two years shouldn’t be enough time for anything! I am curious to see what they are going to do. We are cramming world and European competitions in and making them monotonous. We understand we live in a new era, we need to adapt to the new generations, but not everything must be changed!"
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