Recently, there had been a feud between the A League and Football Federation of Australia (FFA) over the governance structure of the National Council. The A League (the only other closed league in the world other than MLS) is claiming since it is generating most of the revenues for Football in Australia it should have a more powerful representation in the National Council. FIFA intervened and formed a Group (CRWG) to come up with proposals for the new governance structure of FFA. The report it produced has to be ratified by the National Council to be implemented. FFA Board strongly opposes the report claiming if the report is implemented it will be detrimental to grassroots soccer. If the proposal is not ratified by the extraordinary congress in September, then FIFA might intervene and even ban Australia from international soccer.
An American reader might ask what is so important about this news. Well, governance structure of soccer federations can either be detrimental in the development of the sport or it can be supportive. I will write about two soccer federations, namely Turkish FA and U.S. Soccer, and their governance structures that I know best and their implications to soccer development.
Turkish MNT is ranked 38th in the World and 22nd in Europe. Turkish MNT participated in only two World Cups: 1954 and 2002. In 2002, it finished the World Cup in third place. (I should point out that qualifying for the World Cup from UEFA is not very easy.) The MNT also participated in the 1996, 2000, 2008 and 2016 Euros with the best performance of playing a semifinal in 2008. So Turkish MNT’s successes are very sporadic, cyclical and not sustainable.
On the other hand, the Turkish Super League is ranked sixth (2016-2017) in revenue in Europe after the big five in Europe. Recently, BeIN started broadcasting Super League games in the USA. According to CIES, the Super League is the oldest (average age of 28.85) league in Europe. It has the least number of club-trained players (3.74%) in Europe and the second highest in the number of expatriate players (72.37%). According to Deloitte’s Money League published in 2018, there are no Super League clubs in the top 20 clubs in Europe based on their revenue. In the past years there had been one or two clubs (Galatasaray and Fenerbahce) in the top 20. On the sporting side, UEFA ranks Besiktas as 26th, Galatasaray as 51st and Fenerbahce as 61st in Europe based on UEFA coefficients. All the “big” three clubs – Galatasaray, Fenerbahce and Besiktas – are under the threat of UEFA Financial Fair Play sanctions this year so they can only purchase/transfer if they sell/transfer players from their current roster.
On the development side, Turkey is not one of the top 15 countries in the world that exports players. There are less than 10 Turkish players developed in Turkey playing in Europe. About one third of the Turkish MNT players are actually developed by German, French and other European youth development programs. On the other hand, the Turkish MNYTs are quite successful in Europe and in the world. The U-17 team won the European Championship in 1994 and 2005. The U-17 team finished fourth in the FIFA U-17 championship in 2005 and it played the quarterfinal in 2009. There are about 400,000 registered players approximately 60% of which are youth players. There is a fairy tale of Altinordu – a first division professional team – which has an incredible success story in youth development. This will be a topic of another article. “How to make money through youth development”. The legendary English manager Howard Wilkinson told me in 2008 that if the youth development programs in Turkey are redesigned and supported by Turkish FA, Turkey can become the Brazil of Europe.
So what does it all add up to? The Super League is the passage way to China and to the Gulf/Saudi clubs for older European players. Neither the Super League clubs nor the MNT show a sustainable development strategy, actually the Super League clubs are going downhill financially. The bottom line: Turkish clubs has slowed down in developing players and instead opted to import mostly older players from abroad.
You might ask why? The answer lies in the governance model of the Turkish FA and the Clubs. Let us start with clubs’ governance model: Most if not all of the clubs are actually associations whose presidents and boards are elected for a three-year term by the members of the association. The presidents are not financially liable. They spend the money of the club without any personal risks. As a result, most if not all of the professional clubs are in the red. The sword of Damocles - UEFA Financial Fair Play -- is now over their heads. The Super League is actually run by the FA and the FA has done nothing to correct this situation. The Super League clubs want to run their own league but have not done much to that effect either. One might ask why the Turkish FA doesn’t take the necessary measures and steps to put Turkish soccer back onto the correct trail.
There you run into the second problem: The governance structure of the Turkish FA. The General Assembly/National Council of the federation elect the president and the board. There are 302 members/delegates of the General Assembly, 251 (83%) of which represents the professional leagues. Super League is represented by 126 (42%) delegates. 400,000 amateur players (men/women and youth/adults) are represented by only 10 (3%) delegates. Professional players, coaches and referees are represented by 5 delegates each. Actually when the Turkish FA climbed up in the FIFA rankings in the 1990s the representation of professional clubs were lower about 65%. In Europe, you will not find a single Federation with such a high percentage of professional soccer representation in their General Assembly. For example in the FA, the council consists of 126 members of which only 12 represents the professional leagues. The highest percentage of professional league representation is in the Netherlands: 50%.
When you have such a high percentage presentation of the professional leagues and such a low percentage for the amateur teams like in Turkey, then the professional leagues dominate the Federation. In order not to displease its constituents, the federation cannot take steps like standardizing youth development academies; since such steps are seen as a cost center by the myopic professional club administrations. Since very few of the clubs are owner-based, the non-owner based clubs (associations) just think about the current year and not beyond. So wrong club governance models coupled with wrong federation governance structure causes a country like Turkey which is full of talented players to stagnate in soccer.
If you go across the Atlantic and come to the USA you have other governance structure issues. I will not repeat the facts about soccer in the USA, but one can see some similarities between Turkey and the USA. Both have the talent pool and the resources but cannot make the leap forward.
Let us have a look at the structure of the General Assembly/National Council of US Soccer.
National Council shares:
Youth Council (25.8%)
Adult Council (25.8%)
Professional Council (25.8%)
Athletes Council (20%)
It looks like a balanced share between constituents. We owe the 20% share of the Athletes Council to the Stevens Amateur Sports Act. If we compare the structure of the U.S. Soccer National Council to similar ones in Europe we see two major differences.
Let us take an example from the USA. There is no doubt that promotion–relegation in the USA will increase the competition and enhance the quality of professional soccer. Also, it is a fact that especially MLS will not agree to promotion-relegation in the near or distant future. (MLS has approximately 16% of the votes in the National Council). If an administration decides to implement promotion–relegation in the USA, it might neither have the backing of the youth council nor the adult council. Neither one has any interest in the promotion-relegation system for the professional leagues with the current construct. Both councils have their primary interests in the numbers game fueled by the number of registered players -– namely, quantity. The only council that might have an interest in implementing promotion–relegation is the Athletes Council. The first thing to do is to create common/mutual interests for all councils.
U.S. Soccer’s mission statement says: “To make soccer, in all its forms, a preeminent sport in the United States and continue the development of soccer at all recreational and competitive levels.” According to Webster Dictionary the word “preeminent” means “having paramount rank, dignity, or importance”. If U.S. Soccer interprets preeminent sport in the USA as having more registered players than any other sport in the country, then this governance structure can one day serve that purpose. On the other hand if “having paramount rank, dignity or importance” means to be one of the best in the world for both USMNT and USWNT, then clearly having the most number of registered players will not serve that purpose alone. Recent stories of Croatia MNT and Japan WNT are testimonials that quantity is not necessarily a prerequisite for quality. All constituents must have the same primary interest in increasing the quality of soccer as well as the quantity in the USA. Right now, this does not seem to be the case.
Both countries Turkey and the USA have similar problems: The international level of the MNTs does not reflect the potential talent pool and resources of both countries. One of the obstacles seems to be the governance structure. Changing the governance structure through a constitutional general assembly is one option, but that option at this point and time does not look very feasible. Both countries need smart and powerful leaders who can navigate around the current governance structures without alienating the constituents in order for the Federations to reach their full potentials. At least, I can see the positive signs of that in the new U.S. Soccer Presidency and administration.