There are two men who currently wield an inordinate amount of power in football.
One is Gianni Infantino. Once recognised as the acceptable face of Fifa, the president in effect has become just as obsessed with the centralisation of power under the world governing body as his maniacally corrupt predecessors, and he’s looking to double down on his vote-securing 48-team World Cup cavalcade with a revamped Club World Cup in an attempt to wrestle even more control from the continental powerbrokers (mainly Uefa).
His ideas are as revenue-driven and, consequently, stupid as we’ve come to expect from the Fifa Clown Car but for now his hands are largely tied by the constraints of the club calendar and therefore his meddling is somewhat limited.
However, there’s a handsome, swaggering alternative swinging his way with insouciance through the future of the game and he has infinitely more ability to obliterate everything that got you loving football in the first place.
Andrea Agnelli is both chairman of Juventus (Serie A winners eight years in a row) and of the European Club Association (ECA) and there’s a very good chance he doesn’t give a damn about your club. He doesn’t think your club deserves much of anything. Hell, he doesn’t even think Atalanta, comfortably the most exciting, transcendent success story to emerge from Italian football in a decade, deserve to be in the Champions League because, well, what have they done for me lately?
Speaking at a Financial Times event in London last week, he proclaimed: “I have great respect for everything that Atalanta are doing, but without international history and thanks to just one great season, they had direct access into the primary European club competition. Is that right or not?"
If there’s not a sepia-toned picture of your team winning a European trophy which you can only recall by gazing fondly into the distance, Agnelli doesn’t want to know. He doesn’t want Juventus to play Atalanta. What he wants is to be seen to be representing the interests of many while amplifying the revenue disparity between the Haves and the Won’t Haves For Much Longer. He is almost cartoonish in his villainy, a man whose views are delivered from the body of a quintessential elitist, one who is genuine in his contempt for you.
He has demanded sweeping changes, then in the same breath admits that no-one’s really thought it through yet. All he knows is that he and his members at the ECA want it - that being, change. The 2024-25 Champions League is widely regarded as landscape-altering as we reach the end of a broadcast cycle. Agnelli has previously proposed four groups of eight teams, thus guaranteeing 14 European fixtures, but is also keen to add that he doesn’t want players playing more games, so, well, the domestic leagues will need to take the hit to give him what he wants. Sorry, what the ECA want.
In an interview with the Guardian’s David Conn in 2018, he said: “We all want more international [European] games and less domestic, combined with an overall reduction of games because we don’t want to go over a certain number.
“You could say that whoever participates [in the expanded Champions League] has to play in the national league with six U21 or U23 players. But it’s brainstorming because there isn’t a project at the moment.”
We usually try to stay neutral, but this really ain't it Agnelli 🤦♂️ pic.twitter.com/Zg02l7bT95— Italian Football TV (@IFTVofficial) March 5, 2020
That’s as thinly-veiled a middle finger to the domestic competitions as it is possible to yield. But Agnelli is dangerous, because his ruthless ambition and inexorable desire to drive headlong into a Super League, all others be damned, comes with both a degree of intelligence and influence.
While Uefa president Aleksander Ceferin, misguidedly or not, is attempting to address the disparity of the Big Five Leagues versus his other 50 members by injecting another competition into the mix (the Uefa Conference League is due to start in 2021), Agnelli wants to just do away with all of that nonsense.
But Agnelli's Atalanta comments represent the complete removal of a mask that previously slipped only on occasion.FootballCritic
And he knows that the clubs are more powerful than ever. With no clubs, there are no leagues, and there is no Uefa. He can be aggressive in his derision of the current structure because he knows he holds a strong hand. He has the ear of clubs and can say things like this publicly that they never could.
He has previously tried his best to dress his concern for the future in other ways - claiming, for example, that football needs to align with what kids will likely want. “We have to look at the behaviour of generation Z.
“We should seriously start to think that the competitors of the game today are not other sports, clubs next door or in the next countries but League of Legends, Esports or Fortnite.”
But his Atalanta comments represent the complete removal of a mask that previously slipped only on occasion. He will no longer hide the fact that he feels Juventus, and others like them, should have everything handed to them because Michel Platini won them a European Cup in the 1980’s. It’s anti-competition, it flies in the face of meritocracy and, ironically, it will hold zero interest to the new generation who could care less about tenets such as history or tradition.
Agnelli is a product of one of the most renowned families in all of Italy, the literal representation of the establishment. In his time at Juventus he has unquestionably transformed their commercial operations and their dominance domestically is borne out of that. But it's clear in his actions that the actual football is a distant second to the business that can be done around it. Club legends such as Alessandro Del Piero and Claudio Marchisio were given swift goodbyes when their usefulness to him and to Juve had expired. Humans, and human interaction fall far behind the development of power and driving revenue.
And the most brazen thing about him is that he seemingly thinks he is morally superior to Infantino and his half-baked Club World Cup. When asked about it, he said: “There has been no evaluation and no consultation about the format.
“That’s all we know at the moment. It’s hardly been an orthodox way of proposing a project. We don’t know what shape it will have or what value.”
Infantino’s plan has considerably more meat on the bone than Agnelli's travelling roadshow that spits out ideas without any foundation or forethought. And his rhetoric is only likely to increase in volume, in reach and in boldness as 2024 closes in. If he gets his way, the current imbalance in football tips over completely, and there is no way back from there.
Be wary of the wolf in wolf's clothing.
Note: Uefa were contacted for comment in relation to Agnelli's comments and gave the following reply:
"The format of UEFA’s club competitions beyond 2024 is currently being discussed with all stakeholders, but no decisions have been taken and UEFA has not commented on any proposals."