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The hallmark of the most successful satire is it that it contains sufficient elements of truth as to be credible. In a couple of weeks' time, newspapers, television and radio will attempt to convince us of this outlandish tale or that on April Fool's Day. In football, the gap between satire and reality is narrowing all the time and sometimes it is hard to tell the difference.
'Exclusive' is a desperately overused word in newspapers, applied on the pretext of the most innocuous quotes to a story that a) everyone else has and b) no sane person really cares about. The Times's story on Wednesday that Qatar will seek to set up an international club tournament to rival the Champions League was a story that no sane person would want to read, but it more than merited the 'exclusive' tag.
As Mediawatch has related, where it became murky was when the French website CahiersDuFootball.net claimed that Oliver Kay, the Times's chief football correspondent, had been taken in by a spoof. Kay, though, stood firm in a webchat, and followed up in Thursday's paper with a story that individuals at leading clubs have been approached and that those running Manchester United are among the scheme's opponents. Unless Kay is the victim of a widespread conspiracy to make him look a fool, or people are joining in for the hell of it, then there really is a Qatar plan.
The only correction the Times has run related to a graphic labelling Oman as Yemen.
The oil state's success in landing the 2022 World Cup thumbed a nose at the game's supporters, as FIFA's ageing executives - busy screwing up the game throughout their lives - sought to extend their malign influence beyond their deaths. FIFA's old men took a punt on a finals that will be staged in oppressive heat and under an oppressive regime. Technology may help with the former, allowing the few who can afford the hotels to enjoy outside air conditioning, but human rights were not given the slightest consideration.
As investigations continue into quite what motivated the 2022 decision, now Qatar is seeking to throw ridiculous sums of money at decision-makers at clubs in order to acquire more sporting cachet.
Kay's original news story concluded: 'As one source close to the project said: 'These people have already shown that, if they want something to happen, they will throw enough money at it to make it happen. And the football industry has shown that everything can be bought for the right price.'' It is an utterly miserable conclusion and rings all too true. Yet now Kay suggests that United, Arsenal, Bayern Munich and others are opposed.
The Champions League massacres the language, with the bulk of the teams unworthy of the tag 'champions'; at its nadir, actual champions were precluded from entering. Still, at least you have to be among the top clubs in terms of performances to qualify. The bigger and better the country, the more slots on offer, the greater the likelihood of qualifying. But you still have to do it.
Once you do qualify, you play half your matches in front of your own supporters. Clubs such as Manchester United and Real Madrid have become global concerns but still play a plurality of their matches in the community that spawned them. Those roots do matter, or at least should do.
The Qatar plan, offering seemingly irresistible riches for a summer tournament, rejects the formula that made football the world's game. Sixteen clubs would be permanent entrants, with a further eight invitees taking part. Size of support and global appeal rather than footballing merit would count. There would be £175m as 'prize money' per club - in fact, just for taking part.
It is a certainty that the 16 would include Paris Saint-Germain, the Qatar-owned club whose funding makes a mockery of financial fair play, squeezing out a possible French entrant and giving PSG more of an advantage in their national league. Other invitees would also be able to dwarf the budgets of domestic rivals, while the tournament would be wholly divorced from clubs' home communities.
But while any club joining in would receive this massive subsidy, they would also be legitimising the cash doled out to PSG. The Champions League is a sustainable model, one that has weathered a global recession. The Dream Football League, however initially enticing, would have no such foundations and would leave clubs vulnerable to the nightmare of its cancellation if it became an integral part of their business. Clubs such as PSG, Manchester City and Chelsea exist as billionaires' playthings; most leading clubs do not need to put themselves in that position.
If Kay's story is indeed true, then the Cahiers Du Football's joke has been scooped by reality. And if the Times man is right that Manchester United's hierarchy are leading the opposition and can convince the owners, then the Glazers wind up as the fan's friend.
At which point it really would be best for football satirists to consider a change of career.
Your article is entertaining the possibility that Oliver Kay's piece in the Times could well be legit. Yet in that piece, he has used a)quotes, b)details and c)a picture manufactured by the French renowned satyrical website 36 hours before. In other words, he fell for the spoof, big time. Why not do your journalist's work and get to the bottom of it?- skiddy