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Club football feud affects Euro 2024

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The street in front of Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate was covered in artificial turf and a set of giant goalposts was erected. More than two dozen shipping containers on Hamburg’s waterfront were painted in the colors of the participating countries. Part of Leipzig’s zoo was turned over to a cultural project, though presumably not involving tigers.

Across Germany, flags are being hoisted, marketing plans are being finalised and anything bearing the logo of a non-official UEFA sponsor is being unceremoniously hidden. After six years of preparation, the European football championship – Euro 2024 – is just a week away. The teams will soon arrive. Thousands of fans will follow.

Meanwhile, for the rest of Europe, these are the glorious, hazy days before Carnival kicks off – a period of bunting and sticker albums, thrilling TV montages, speculative line-ups and sweet nostalgia. Or, they should be, because it’s hard not to suspect that everyone is just muddling along.

That’s not to say there is no interest in a tournament that traditionally comes second only to the World Cup. But it is certainly muted. All the emotions one normally associates with one of football’s great events – hope, excitement, fear, wonder about how England will destroy itself – have been overshadowed by something closer to boredom.

The most straightforward explanation might be football’s calendar, which has been out of sync for the past four years. The men’s World Cup was just 18 months ago. The last men’s European Championship was three years ago, not four. The sport’s biological clock has gone haywire. It’s as if the entire sport is suffering from jet lag.

Much, though not all, of this can be put down to football trying to make up for lost time during the coronavirus pandemic. Since the unwelcome pause in 2020, football has been played almost non-stop. It’s been well documented how exhausting this has been for players, but the same logic applies to fans. The more games there are, the less important they seem.

(This is certainly a problem affecting the America’s Cup, which kicks off this month. From 2011 to 2020, the America’s Cup seemed to just keep happening. They never stopped having the America’s Cup. After a while, it’s hard to get too excited about it unless your country is involved, and even then it’s a bit far-fetched.)

But there is a more direct factor to football’s summer slump, revealed by The Times on Tuesday. Release Details Manchester City have launched their long-awaited legal action against the Premier League, a lawsuit that has the potential – and this is no exaggeration – to change the world’s most popular sports league beyond all recognition.

As the 165-page court document, which is both serious and ridiculous, makes clear, City’s main goal is to abolish the league’s rules on related-party transactions, which refer to sponsorship deals struck by companies with which the club is affiliated with its owners.

City argues that these companies should be able to pay what they want for such deals, rather than something closer to the market price. The club’s lawyers say the current rules requiring the latter are anti-competitive and that if they are not removed City will have no choice but to stop funding its women’s team and community work. If that sounds like a naked threat, that’s because it is.

This seemingly objectionable technical case could have far-reaching consequences. If City succeeds in overturning the rules, it would mark the end of anything approaching a cost-control system in the Premier League. It would allow City – and Newcastle United, which, like City, is effectively backed by a state agency – to pour as much money into their coffers as they please.

Of course, in keeping with the zeitgeist, cities dress this up with populist rhetoric about overthrowing hated, self-serving elites and injecting a heap of flawed liberal economics. But the reality is anything but: cities aim to abolish any specter of competition.

Being able and willing to invest hundreds of millions of dollars into a football team without fear of loss is a prerequisite for success. Such an environment is likely to make the Premier League an extremely unattractive investment for anyone other than those from other countries. At least some of the American owners who currently dominate the league may well have no choice but to exit.

Even if the lawsuit fails, the outlook is not bright. Later this year, City will face a hearing on 115 charges that it violated some of the league’s financial rules.

Now, City is not only questioning the legality of at least some of the trial’s rules, it’s making it clear that everything else is open to question. City isn’t trying to prove its innocence. It wants to burn down the entire institution that allowed it to be accused in the first place.

There is no obvious route back to a smooth sailing in the Premier League. The league’s current reality is that at least one team — the best in the league — wants to abolish not just the rules but the mechanisms that make them. Legal documents describe the way the Premier League operates as a “tyranny of the majority.” (In this case, that seems to be a synonym for “democracy.”) City’s goal seems to be to turn it into a more traditional form of tyranny.

But while the stakes are undoubtedly high, the timing of the legal development – weeks before the European Championship – also feels significant. International football is not as established as club football. The big tournaments are no longer the stage they once were, the place to showcase the sport’s highest level, the place to watch the future.

The appeal of international football is precisely that it’s different: an escape from the endless chaos of club football, a change of atmosphere and focus, a change of pace to some extent. It’s an outlet for the emotional stress that builds up over a long, grueling season. In its most basic form, it gives everyone someone to blame.

Yet, as the (appropriately) intensive coverage of the Premier League’s most pressing battle for survival demonstrates, the idea of ​​a breakaway from club football is anathema. Of course, this was not intentional: the Premier League did not deliberately disband in June, it simply did so because fans’ eyes turned elsewhere.

Rather, it reflects how absorbing the club game has become, that supporting a team is no longer an occasional, passive leisure activity but an active, full-time job – one that requires permanent focus and public display, inseparable from your sense of self.

In such an environment, the big tournaments never get noticed because the club season never ends, in fact never ends. There is always another coaching appointment, another player transfer, another attempt to reshape the league rules to make them conform to your highly personal definition of fairness.

That’s not to say, of course, that European fever won’t sweep across the continent over the next four weeks. By the late stages of the tournament, at least eight countries will be fully engaged. But even as the promise of victory grows, there will be a buzz and noise in the background, an inevitable reminder that real life goes on, that summer is over, and that this isn’t the part of the tournament that really matters.

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