Beware this shadowy gang of Europe's elite

PUBLISHED: 16:02 01 April 2006 | UPDATED: 09:19 14 September 2010

RICK WAGHORN

Given the way that Norwich City's season continues to go round in the same old circles, it is hard - if not nigh-on impossible - to say anything new on the matter.

Given the way that Norwich City's season continues to go round in the same old circles, it is hard - if not nigh-on impossible - to say anything new on the matter.

Instead, let's raise our sights a little bit. Let's take a wander down the corridors of power and see what the big boys are talking about.

And before anyone starts to give it the old “What's this got to do with Norwich?” routine, it has everything to do with Norwich. The Canaries are part of the English professional game. The Canaries - albeit not this season - still have their sights set on a return to the top flight. Canary fans ought to have some interest in just what kind of Premiership awaits them if and when they return.

Likewise, the outcome of a little court case in Belgium could have a very real relevance to events in this little corner of the football world as Charleroi bid to claim compensation off the world's governing body, FIFA, for the loss of a star player injured while away on international duty. His name is Abdelmajid Oulmers and he's Moroccan. He was seriously injured in a friendly match last year between Morocco and Burkina Faso. Although not on a similar scale in terms of his injury, City's own experiences with Youssef Safri this season should ensure that they maintain a keen interest in events in Belgium.

The Canaries are, of course, not alone in keeping an eagle eye on how the “Charleroi One” fares. It seems Charleroi - currently a magnificent ninth in the Belgian first division - have some big new friends in the shape of “G14”. In fact, so keen are the G14 on events in a Belgian courthouse that there on their suitably slick and corporate website, www.g14.com, is a specific news link, guiding everyone to “Charleroi latest”.

Quite why they are not called “G18” these days is something of a mystery to me, but for the record G14 is a shadowy gang of Europe's elite clubs that now number 18. It is, it seems, by invitation only with clubs having the capacity to “black ball” recent unwelcome upstarts. Chelsea, for example.

Otherwise the usual suspects are all there - Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester United from the Premiership, plus Real Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia from La Liga, AC Milan, Inter and Juventus from Serie A, Bayern Munich, Bayer 04 Leverkusen and Borussia Dortmund from the Bundesliga, Paris Saint-Germain, Lyon and Olympique Marseille from France, Ajax and PSV Eindhoven from Holland and, finally, Porto of Portgual.

Read the list again and it seems somehow remarkably convenient that the big five economies of Europe - England, Germany, Italy, Spain and France - all have three G14 members each. Having 18 members is also a conveniently round number when it comes to forming a little league of your own. It gives you 36 games a season. Handy that.

It is why, according to one unattributed quote from a G14 insider, they have no current plans to extend their membership. Funny that.

It's a point not lost on one or two of the outsiders. Everton, for example, who had the temerity to win a place in the Champions League and were this week smelling a very large rat in the shape of the G14's desire to persuade UEFA to extend the Champions League format back to 17 games as opposed to the current paltry 13. You make more money that way.

“It is a very dangerous group, motivated by greed and self-interest, and it's very damaging to football,” said Everton's chief executive David Wyness this week.

“It is a self-appointed group that really doesn't cover the voices of the clubs. There is some sort of secret handshake to get into it and there are no membership rules at all. It is quite dangerous the way it is trying to polarise the game even further.”

As if, was the gist of the response from the other side of Stanley Park in the person of G14 regular and Liverpool chief executive Rick Parry.

“It is not a dangerous group,” he said. “There is nothing wrong with the major clubs exchanging views on issues of common interest.”

Indeed, look at the g14.com website again and you can see their motto expressing just that: “G-14 - The Voice Of The Clubs”.

And which clubs would those be? Are the G-14 talking for the likes of little old Norwich? Er, no.

They are talking for the 14 clubs who were doing rather nicely, thank you, in 2000 when the “club” first met, plus the four more that were invited to join in 2002. That's when they had their snouts firmly in the Champions League trough and they appear to have little interest in letting anyone else join the feeding frenzy.

Unfortunately, football being football, times change, teams change, players change. And all of a sudden, G14 appears to contain some rather dead ducks - facts unlikely to be lost on new domestic and European powers such as Villereal, Auxerre and Werder Bremen. Let alone that Russian bloke down the King's Road.

Borussia Dortmund may be the best-supported club in Germany. Unfortunately, however, they are currently sixth in the Bundesliga and didn't make the last 16 of this season's Champions League. Tut, tut. Ditto Bayer Leverkusen - they're eighth. Both might have to slum it in the UEFA Cup next season.

Likewise in France - Paris SG are seventh, Marseille are eighth. And no sign of them either in the last 16 of the Champions League. How embarrassing.

Little wonder, then, that one of the G14's next aims - or rather one claimed by Wyness of Everton and denied by Parry of Liverpool - is to ensure some sort of guarantee that their members always get to play with UEFA's best toy, the Champions League. At least that's what many have read into one or two key phrases in a leaked internal policy document that was circulating among G14 members earlier this year.

What else can they have in mind when the “introduction of more reliable criteria for such competitions, allowing them to effectively plan their sporting and business activity” is busily being promoted in the corridors of Highbury, Old Trafford and Anfield? Just a discussion document - no more - was Parry's line, claiming that G14 unanimously agreed to reject any idea of ring-fencing entry into the Champions League.

So, with UEFA now planning to go to “war” with any “self-appointed group of clubs” that “do not share our sporting values”, G14's hopes of arming themselves with a guaranteed ticket to the Champions League look set to fail - particularly given the legal challenge that would then await from the likes of Everton or Tottenham should they usurp the natural order.

All that's left would be to stage a second Premier League-like coup and drop out of UEFA's control altogether and form their own breakaway league, backed by huge wads of Far East TV cash.

Arsenal start next season in their bright, shiny new home at Ashburton Grove. And the chances of Norwich City ever playing there? Slimmer by the day - whichever way you look at it.

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