In European football, it is not only for the cups that we compete. Without arousing particular interest, there is also a geopolitical battle going on for control of football in the Old Continent. On one side the countries of the Arabian peninsula, on the other the Americans and, of course, it is fought with money. A lot of money, which serves to control a lever of crucial political, economic and social importance: football. Through football, nations such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia, and to some extent the Emirates, seek so-called sportwashing, i.e. the use of football to rebuild an international image cracked on the human rights front, but above all they aim at gaining political connections and getting their hands on important real estate activities, in a nutshell they aim at acquiring an increasingly relevant specific weight in Europe. A weight that American finance evidently does not like to leave to the countries of the Arabian peninsula and it is thus that many US funds have entered or are entering heavily into European football. As reported by ‘Il Sole 24’, US funds have injected EUR 10 billion between the purchase of European clubs and related investments in football. While five billion (focused on a few clubs) have landed in European football from the Arabian peninsula, for which however the two hundred billion spent by Qatar for the 2022 World Cup should also be counted. Large sums and real money, then, and in their political positioning it is clear that the Qataris have clearly sided with the Uefa and Fifa establishment (Nasser Al-Khelaifi is Ceferin’s most loyal ally; Infantino is the man who pompously celebrated the World Cup in Qatar). The position of the Americans is less overt and more defiladed, but the most attentive observers have not missed the fact that the Superleague project was (and is) a project with a strong American financial matrix. And among the supporters was not only JP Morgan, the Super League’s main financier, but also the US holding company Kroenke Sports & Entertainment, owner of Arsenal, as well as Liverpool’s shareholder, Fenway Sports. On the other hand, the position of American funds with respect to the organisation of European football is rather critical. While they enjoy the golden goose that the Premier League has become (also thanks to them), they have been thinking for some time about a more economically efficient competition model, given the financial unsustainability of most clubs. Also because in the background, other fundamental players for the world sports scenario are moving: the so-called Big Tech, namely Google, Apple, Amazon.

All three took their first cautious steps into the world of sports during 2022: Google with the ‘Sunday ticket’ with which it broadcast Nfl championship matches on YouTube; Apple with the partnership (to speak of a mere sale of rights would not be accurate) with the Major Soccer League that will bring the US football league $2.5 billion over the next ten years; Amazon with the broadcast of Champions League matches. The outlook for the next few years is indicated with an ever more extensive and intensive engagement of Big Tech in the world of sport and the impact with the giants will eventually reshape the competitions. The guiding concept will be that of a global product, a compelling format and big players always at stake. In short, a Superleague would be much more suitable even than the Champions League, the world’s leading club football product. What if the European Court of Justice proves Uefa right? In reality, the scenario could also be irrespective of the Court’s opinion, because in the worst case scenario the organisation of an alternative competition to those of Uefa could not be prohibited, but only allowed to exclude clubs participating in it (and mind you, clubs could just switch from one system to the other and not lose their national teams). In short, the Americans could also force the introduction of the super-competition in which the European elite would be grouped, guaranteeing high revenues and the only true global visibility. On the other front, Qatar and perhaps Arabia could back Uefa’s resistance to the pressure of an alternative competition, strengthened also by the fact that the transferee clubs would also have to leave the national championships, a factor that represents an enormous brake for many (starting with the Italian clubs). However, there are those who are beginning to wonder what will become of the national leagues in an uefacentric scenario, with the Premier League on one side and the new Champions League on the other draining their revenues (Serie A’s CEO, Luigi De Siervo, recently stated that the most dangerous ‘enemies’ for Italian TV rights are precisely Premier and Champions). The theme of a great European competition, designed according to criteria that are less political (i.e. without the obligation to include less football-strong nations only for electoral reasons) and more media-commercial, therefore goes beyond the pronouncement of the European Court, expected in less than a month.

That is to say: it is, yes, a matter of Union law and possible abuse of monopoly, but it is also an exquisitely economic and partly geopolitical issue. And in this framework must be inserted and considered the club sales that are multiplying in recent months with the advance of the Americans on one side and the Qataris and Saudis on the other. In Italy there are already seven US-owned clubs (Milan, Roma, Atalanta, Fiorentina, Genoa, Spezia, Bologna) and eight in the Premier League (Arsenal, Aston Villa, Bournemouth, Chelsea, Crystal Palace, Fulham, Liverpool and Manchester United). But in these very days Everton could become American (777 Partners) and the great US-Qatar clash for United is being repeated, which could pass into Anglo-American hands if Jim Ratcliffe (a billionaire in the petrochemical sector who is preparing the bid with the US funds Goldman Sachs and, lo and behold, JP Morgan) prevails, or end up in Qatari hands if the bid of Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani, the former prime minister of Qatar, is successful. One thing is certain, whatever the outcome of this affair and the broader European one, football is not and will never be the people’s football, but will remain a business sold more or less well and which will remain more or less relevant worldwide.