Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore believes a political deal can still be done with Fifa to allow plans for an "international round" (IR) of Premier League games to go ahead, and will travel for talks with Fifa's president, Sepp Blatter, within the next fortnight, when one of Blatter's own pet projects – quotas on foreign players – will also be on the agenda.
On Thursday Blatter seemed to close the door emphatically on League games abroad when he said it would "not be acceptable" for the Premier League "to have additional exposure and revenue by expanding the league around the world".
But Blatter is intent on imposing quotas on all domestic leagues, through his "6+5" plan (a maximum of five foreigners in any XI) or some variation of it, and he knows this can only happen through consensus. European law would prevent it unless it was voluntarily agreed.
While the Premier League is philosophically opposed to any quotas, it recognises there is "a discussion to be had on the issue", a source told The Independent last night. This raises the prospect of the IR and "6+5" (or a compromise version) becoming bargaining chips in a high-stakes game of Premier League-Fifa poker.
Fifa would, it is understood, also be more open to the League's plans if they carried a significantly greater degree of "social responsibility" – in other words, more of a charity element and less pure financial gain. Blatter hinted at this when saying yesterday: "Those who think that they are the best – i.e. the Premier League – should first and foremost demonstrate their social responsibility to others." Again, the League is open to discussing this.
The football politics involved are massive and labyrinthine, as was shown again last night when the Football Association released a statement neither backing nor condemning the League's plans explicitly, but stressing it does not want its relationship with Fifa – or its 2018 World Cup bid – damaged. Blatter had made a veiled threat that this could happen.
The FA says it has "some serious reservations" about the IR, but acknowledged the issue had yet to be discussed at board level. That will happen next Thursday. "This will provide an opportunity for the FA Board to fully debate the subject as a group for the first time," the statement said.
In recent days, governing bodies worldwide have opposed the IR, with the Asian Football Confederation president, Mohamed bin Hammam, especially vocal. But leading managers and other interested parties called for at least a debate yesterday.
Arsenal's manager, Arsène Wenger, said he was surprised "that people are against [the IR] without really analysing the pros and the cons". He added: "There's two things I like about it. First there is a desire to innovate and be the strongest league in theworld and the second thing is to do something for the fans abroad."
Chelsea's Avram Grant said: "I understand Mr Blatter but to say no to this idea it is not the right thing... We need to be open and I cannot say 100 per cent that it is a good idea, but we need to think about it."
The chairman of the Hong Kong FA, Brian Leung, said yesterday that Hong Kong would be "very interested" in staging Premier League games, not least because a July friendly tournament, the Asia Cup between Liverpool, Fulham and Portsmouth, was a huge success.
Even in Germany, home to one of the Premier League's major rivals, the Bundesliga, there is an open-minded view about hosting games. "We would have to wait for the full information to arrive before we could consider our views on it," a German FA spokesman said. The Bundesliga has also sent teams overseas on marketing trips.
In Israel, Avi Cohen, formerly with Liverpool and now the chairman of its professional footballers association, said: "I think [the IR] is a fantastic idea. Israeli fans would flock to the matches."
Countries across the Middle East have voiced support, with the United Arab Emirates FA saying: "It would be advantageous for the UAE and it would be advantageous for the Premier League." Qatar and Saudi Arabia would also bid to host games, if allowed.
While Blatter insists Fifa can stop the IR if it chooses, there are two precedents – both from Italy – of domestic games being played on foreign soil, one in the United States in 1993 and one in Libya in 2002. Both times the game was the season-opening Italian Super Cup, between the Serie A and Coppa Italia winners. Milan beat Torino in Washington in 1993, and Juventus beat Parma in Tripoli in 2002. The latter game went to north Africa for a variety of political and commercial reasons and among those present on that occasion were Blatter and Bin Hammam.
Scudamore expected a backlash against his plans, but is also frustrated they have been damned at conception. Premier League insiders simultaneously concede that a greater degree of "social responsibility" was not pushed to the forefront of the initial pitch to the media a week ago.
Clearly, the League wants to increase its brand awareness and income, but Scudamore also sees the IR as a means of cutting off a theoretical threat that the League's biggest clubs might try something similar on their own at some stage. And as The Independent reported yesterday, the League is also open to growth via assistance to developing countries, and staging one or more IR games as "loss leaders" in nations such as India or South Africa.
The Independent can also reveal the League was approached last year with a fledgling plan to take a game to North Korea, an idea that could be hugely geopolitically significant if it ever transpired. It remains one of many proposals on a drawing board that Scudamore will carry to Fifa, in hope but not expectation that an international round of hard bargaining may yet pay dividends.
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'There's two things I like about it. First there is a desire to innovate and be the strongest league in the world and the second is for the fans abroad.
When I came to Japan in 1995 we had to play 20 per cent of our games at a neutral ground. At the start I thought it was crazy, but it worked tremendously well and games were sold out everywhere we played.
Look back, for example, at Wembley and everyone celebrated the Americans playing an American football game at Wembley. It was the same idea, which is why it is too early to speak against it.'
'I understand Mr Blatter, but to say no to this idea, it is not the right thing. We need to check many things, but to play abroad you need to make the fixtures right. If everything is right I don't see any negative things about this.'Reuse content