The debate over the veracity of the story continues, but Oliver Kay's splash in The Times has made waves across the world. Could the biggest clubs on the planet really be convinced to decamp to Qatar for a cash-drenched summer tournament?
The French satirical website Cahiers du Sport claims that the story is just a joke that got out of hand, but I've met Tony Evans, the Football Editor of The Times, and I suspect that editorial conversations with him are a little more stringent than:
EVANS: Good story, Oliver. We'll put it on the back page. Just one thing?
KAY: Yes, boss?
EVANS: You haven't just read this on the internet, copied it, pasted it and passed it off as your own, have you?
KAY: Absolutely not, boss.
EVANS: Are you sure?
KAY: Yes, boss.
EVANS: Why are your fingers crossed?
KAY: Muscular injury. They've been like that since I was a child.
EVANS: That's good enough for me.
Kay is the antithesis of that unfair caricature of a headline-hungry, fact-resistant English newspaper journalist. He's intelligent, diligent, cautious and rarely given to hyperbole. Doubting him would be unwise.
Logically, the story stands up. If I had just convinced FIFA to give the most prestigious football tournament on earth to a tiny, desert state with a population of less than 2 million and no credible history or future as a hotbed for indigenous sporting development, I'd be confident that I could achieve pretty much anything in football, and I'd be eager for the next challenge. Given that they have invested heavily in the World Cup, Barcelona and PSG, perhaps the more pertinent question is ‘Why wouldn't they want to do something like this?'
But while the idea of the ‘Dream Football League' is morally repugnant, the gross enrichment of the few at the expense of the many, we should be careful how we react. Many of the best ideas in football were met with staunch opposition when they were first voiced. Professionalism, the European Cup, Arsene Wenger at Highbury, they were all dismissed as hysterical brain-farts. So is this really such a bad idea?
Well, yes. For starters, it would dramatically degrade the importance of all other football. With the sums on offer, the 16 permanent members would have no reason to care about their own domestic affairs. It would be like offering a teenager a 35,000 pound job in the city and then expecting him to keep up his paper round.
Chelsea didn't even break 50 million pounds for winning the Champions League last season. The DFL is said to be offering 175 million pounds to each club every two years. That's the kind of money that would irrevocably distort the national leagues and, let's be honest, they're distorted enough as it is.
Even the Champions League would look insignificant compared to this cash bonanza. If you'd have suggested 30 years ago that English teams would one day look upon the FA Cup as a tarnished consolation prize, you'd have been laughed out of the room. How long before UEFA's primary bauble became little more than a distraction from the main event?
How would these footballers, already toiling through intense 60-plus game seasons, be expected to cope with the strain on their bodies? And where does international football fit in? As the DFL is said to be considering the odd-numbered years for its competition, there would be no respite for the players. They would just be expected to keep going, year after year, never stopping. Naturally, Yaya Toure would be entirely unaffected by all of this and would keep clanking on relentlessly, but he is more machine than man.
Lastly, because that's where we tend to put their concerns, what about the fans? Are we really going to inaugurate a brand new tournament, more valuable than all others, and then take the teams off half a world away from the people who've been loyally backing them for decades? That seems a little churlish.
There's nothing wrong with searching for ways to improve football. FIFA's Club World Cup has never felt like the best way of gauging global supremacy, and UEFA's European competitions are bloated, drawn-out affairs that could be easily streamlined. We should be brave enough to consider new ideas as we face new challenges. But the solutions have to be borne out of a love of the game and of competition, and not a love of money or prestige.
Why not ring-fence European national team qualifying tournaments in the summers of the odd-numbered years and shorten the domestic season accordingly to protect the players? Why not, if we must take our game overseas, throw down a winter break across all European leagues and then take the Champions League group stages to warmer climes?
The DFL wouldn't be a revolutionary step to make football better for everyone. It would be Tina Turner's ‘Private Dancer' in shinpads.
No, I don't believe that The Times has been hoodwinked. But I wish I did.