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Dubai Football Money

It’s all about players, says Diego Maradona. You can see from Jose Mourinho’s face that he doesn’t agree. That is as much controversy as there was in the panel discussion with these two big egos at annual Dubai Sports Conference last week.

It’s an uneven discussion. Diego is a legend but not quite there anymore. Still, whatever he says he is loved by everyone. He does say whatever, indeed, but surely never on a subject of football ethics and leadership. Mourinho says that he is nothing compared to Diego. On a discussion and factual basis he is, it is clear which you would want as your team leader. Maradona admits that game and everything in it has changed.

Maradona, Mourinho, Michel Platini, Radamel Falcao, Jorge Mendes, Sandro Rosell… Dubai’s conference offers who is who in the world of football. As expected, the biggest names say not much more than obvious complements on each other and some separate comments that the press can use. It becomes clear, though, that Arab world has entered and wants into the big scene of football. If Maradona is the legend of past football culture, this part of the world is still living it. On panels lead by local wannabe hosts it was just a collapse of two football worlds.

FC Barcelona president Sandro Rosell didn’t understand at all when Arab coaches and club owners discussed football ethics as a way of controlling and - if needed - punishing players. Rosell, like cancer-recovering player Eric Abidal, talked about what football can offer to society and living the right path. Obviously already by coming to the conference Barcelona and Atletico Madrid presidents showed that they wouldn’t say no to Arab sponsorship money, but they seemed to know that this kind of sponsorship is not a modern way of creating value anymore.

Michel Platini does not fish for friends. As a guest of Dubai’s sheik it surely is not the most popular place to attack on financial sustainability issues and third party ownership in football. Platini declared that Middle East is a completely different football culture to Europe, and they have to do create their own culture instead of buying it from elsewhere. Platini is somewhere between the old and the new football culture, and sometimes on a boarder-line of being arrogant e.g. by answering to all questions in French. However, locals were more fussed about taking pictures with the stars than actual discussions.

It got interesting, though. World known agents Pedro Mendes (agent of e.g. Christiano Ronaldo and Jose Mourinho) and Rob Jansen went seemingly sulking, if not furious, about Platini’s speech on third party ownership and UEFA’s aim for objective transfer list system. These would take both economical and other power away from agents. There are clearly arguments both for and against third party ownership because ethically used it could give more chances for all clubs. However, a caricature of an agent is that they are greedy and manipulative opportunists. There can be little arguments against this after Mendes and Jansen didn’t do any favor for their case with arrogant attack towards UEFA. Third party ownership is a complex ethical and legal issue which England and France have prohibited after bad experiences like Tevez -saga.

Arabs and other oligarchs have changed the European game with their bottomless wallets. However, they still live the old-fashioned football culture and ways of operating. It does fix the market, like does third party ownership in many cases. Clubs need to balance with the risks and unfortunately there might be too many who see developing own youth players a too long way. For sure, football has to live with both worlds still years to come.

It is about passion, Maradona says and hopes kids would still play at the streets everywhere. Mourinho agrees that passion drives the football world in every level. However, even when he is now on a slippery surface as Real Madrid’s coach “The Special One” also adds: “Everyone, especially players, need and want leadership”. He is right. Pure emotion is not enough, you need also rational approach to match what world we live in now and how football operates the best in it.

If something, teams, clubs and football world desperately need good leaders in years to come. Crazy markets never last forever.

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