The news flashed across Europe like a bolt of lightning: The Times of London, a publication not given to flights of irresponsible fancy, reported that the Qatari Royal Family was planning to siphon off a little pocket change - a jaw-dropping £175 million was the figure given - and sponsor a 24 team summer league populated by the biggest clubs in football.
Well respected Times reporter Oliver Kay wrote that the "Dream Football League" would have 16 permanent members like Manchester United, Barcelona and PSG plus 8 additional invitees. The Times reported that the games would be played every two years starting in 2015, so as to avoid the World Cup and UEFA Cup tournaments, and would play in the summer and take advantage of the "climate control" technology Qatar is building for the 2022 World Cup.
There is apparently no truth to the rumor that, immediately after the report hit the news stands both Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini were found on the floor twitching, writhing and foaming at the mouth like a couple guys who just got nailed with 20,000 volt tasers.
The part about them babbling incoherent nonsense was, alas, probably all too true. A knife stuck squarely in your back can have that effect.
Almost immediately, the Qatar FA issued a statement:
"With regard to the story published in today's edition of The Times newspaper concerning a 'Dreams Football League,' the Qatar Football Association and other Qatari football entities can categorically confirm that we have no involvement in any such initiative and has heard nothing to suggest such a concept is genuine."
At about the same time, someone noticed that this very story was reported a couple of weeks back in a French publication called Les Cahiers du Football by one Jerome Latta who, when contacted, said that he'd made the whole thing up, telling Rue89:
"I swear it's come entirely out of my imagination. I don't have a source."
So as the paramedics packed up the defibrillator and headed out of Sepp's office, everybody breathed a huge collective sigh of relief. It was all a hoax, perpetrated by some clown at The Times who got his information from the functional equivalent of The Onion.
Well, like the man says: maybe and maybe not.
Tony Evans, who is the football editor of The Times, told a reporter from Reuters that:
"As far as we are concerned the story is true and we stand by it. Oliver Kay is an exceptionally good journalist who is unlikely to have fallen for a hoax story on a spoof website.
"He obtained the information after speaking to powerful people in football and after doing his groundwork. He has been working on it for quite a while and there is no reason to doubt he will be fully vindicated."
Furthermore, looking closely at the denial from the Qatar FA, it says a lot less than it seems to at first blush.
While there's no reason to doubt that the QFA is telling the truth when they say they have no knowledge of any proposed league, the fact is that you wouldn't expect them to.
They're not part of QSI, the now infamous FIFA-bribing-PSG-buying-Barcelona-sponsoring outfit owned by the country's Royal Family. They're a bunch of bureaucratic flunkies. The average Doha cab driver (Palestinians, mostly; Qataris don't do actual work) probably has a better idea of what's going on than some media officer at the local fed.
I'm sure that if you asked them whether it's true that QSI (in combination with Crown Colony Corp.) put in a multi-billion dollar bid for AEG they'd tell you exactly the same thing: they know nothing whatever about it.
Does that make it untrue?
The truth is that we don't really know the truth here, although Kay damaged his case a good deal when he used the graphic posted above in his article, since it was lifted in it's entirety from the bogus French story.
Either way, the real point is that the reason the story gained so much immediate traction is that it's a) entirely plausible given Qatar's extremely aggressive moves towards financial dominance of world football and b) it's an idea which has been talked about for several years now and which a lot of people assume will eventually come to be.
The reason is obvious: there's just way too much money involved for it not to happen.
Besides all of which, what kind of sense does it make - even for the almost limitlessly wealthy Qataris - to build the six nicest football stadiums in the world, complete with bazillion dollar floating air conditioning units, play a few dozen games in them and then turn them into weekend flea markets?
They may have piles of cash that beggar the imagination but that doesn't mean that, having spent a huge pile of it on infrastructure they don't want to see some return. The World Cup is a nice ego project, but it only lasts for a month.
All of that will of course sort itself out, but there are two points here that, incredible as it may seem, are germane to soccer in the US.
On the heels of the big "Hoax/No Hoax" story yesterday came the news that Uncle Phil Anschutz, owner of - well, whatever the hell he wants to own, apparently - has yanked AEG off the market.
Partly because although he had - reportedly - three bidders, none of them were coming up with the kind of money he was expecting, which was apparently in the eight billion dollar range or thereabouts.
(I'll leave the whole Tim Leiweke leaving "by mutual agreement" story to someone else; I don't begin to understand it and I don't know that anyone outside of AEG really does either.)
For some time however, it was known that QSI was an active bidder. A couple weeks back they sent a "delegation" to examine several LA area AEG properties for reasons which, they told everyone, had to do with planning for the World Cup, as if the Staples Center had floating AC units or something.
Now a lot of people on BS and elsewhere scoffed at the notion that any of the bidders were particularly interested in The Galaxy. It is a minor, almost insignificant part of the whole, everyone said, pretty much a throw in. Inconsequential in overall scheme of things.
And while I won't argue that for the two other bidders that isn't probably true, I think it's rather naive to suppose that an organization which is aggressively - almost obsessively - trying to grab as much of the international football pie as they can wasn't very much interested in picking up the best known, most famous (David Beckham's Club!!) soccer team in the US.
Big commercial investors are always looking for the hidden value, the highly exploitable part of something which the other guys may have overlooked, and while I don't believe it was their prime motivation - which was mostly content for
Al Jazeera beIN Sports - I think they liked the idea very much.
They can afford a whole lot of things, and one of them is to be patient. Pump some money into players, win a bunch more cups, maybe wave David Beckham around from time to time and in ten years who knows what you'll have.
Like I said, to believe that an outfit which is madly chasing soccer properties all over the world isn't particularly interested in owning the Galaxy is to be naive beyond a level which is consistent with adulthood. Or voting.
Shrewd investors don't buy up stuff for what it is. They buy stuff for what they think they can turn it into down the road.
Which brings us to another outfit which makes no secret of the fact that they want to become the preeminent club in American soccer.
Yes, I'm talking about those loveable scamps the New York neoCosmos and a comment that President Seamus O'Brien made after their discussions with MLS "reached an impasse" late last summer and everybody agreed to go their separate ways:
"Good luck to MLS, but we still feel the Cosmos can be America’s global team. That remains our vision.”
I think he means exactly what he says, and I think the idea is to leverage the name and position the club so that when someone down the road - be it Qatar or whomever else - finally creates a league of global superclubs, the US entry is the Cosmos.
I'm not going to speculate on how they do this. Maybe they figure that when the time comes they can spend a big pile of money on some players, win the US Open Cup (just taking it a little seriously will get a decent side into the semis) for example.
Absent an MLS side willing and able to join an overseas league, that makes them the Kings of Soccer here in America, and leveraging the Hunt Cup into the CONCACAF Champions League trophy gives them an argument.
Seems a little thin to you and I maybe, but who knows how it will play overseas? It's not like "MLS Champion" makes them swoon in the salons of Europe either.
Or maybe they're not thinking anything along those lines; maybe they figure that the name alone, along with being willing and able to do whatever they want and keep all the money, is enough. In the NASL who's going to stop them - the Virginia Cavalry?
(Sorry, another tangent - skip it if you want - I just want to ask if anyone at
Traffic Sports NASL realizes that the historical reference is to the Confederate Army (you know: the one that fought a four year war to preserve the right to own human beings) and that their namesakes were highly skilled due to the fact that prior to the Civil War they had served in the exact same units as Night Riders whose government mandated function was to chase down escaped slaves and who were famous for raiding into Union territory, capturing free black farmers, slapping them into chains and dragging them back south to be sold as chattels? Not my business, but why not just call them the Virginia SlaveCatchers and be done with it?)
Nobody really knows. In fact, I suppose it's possible that they aren't entirely sure themselves and they're just winging it.
All we really know is that they have about as much interest in being members of the NASL as they do in sleeping on a grate out on Seventh Avenue next to a woman using the Daily News for underpants.
Bottom line, there's money at stake here. A lot of it. Maybe it's way, way premature for fans to be thinking along these lines, but the game's strategic thinkers have been on the case for a while now.
I'm not certain whether it's good for the game itself or not; certainly FIFA doesn't think so but then a lot of us don't think FIFA is doing it any favors either.
One thing is certain: the Qataris have a lot more on their minds than hosting a really keen little tournament in nine years.