England seek footballing lesson from Germans
MPs investigating the state of English football are to travel to Germany to look for lessons on how the game could be run better in this country.
Members of the Culture, Media and Sport select committee will visit Frankfurt and Munich in the next few weeks as part of a key fact-finding mission.
Ever since England were knocked out of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa by an exciting young German team, English football has been going through a period of introspection. That process became more intense after England's bid to host the 2018 World Cup was eliminated with only two votes in Zurich last month.
German football has long been considered the role model for other countries to follow. Officials there make a greater investment in youth development, have strict quotas on foreign players in the Bundesliga and boast tighter club ownership rules that prevent any one "outside" investor from holding more than 49% of the shares in a club.
But the most crucial factor - the one which allows rules such as these to stick - is that the Deutscher Fussball Bund has retained control over the whole of the game in Germany - and, crucially, the Bundesliga. In England, the Football Association has lost ground and influence over the best part of the last two decades to the Premier League.
On Tuesday, new FA chairman David Bernstein will have his appointment approved by a meeting of the FA council. He takes over an organisation facing intense pressure from politicians to reform after recent setbacks.
Sports Minister Hugh Robertson's claims last week that football was the worst governed sport in Britain have only added to that pressure.
So what started as a stop-gap inquiry for the committee has now taken on huge significance for the future of the game.
With the deadline for written evidence set to close on Wednesday, the committee has already collected a large number of submissions from senior figures within the sport.
The committee is expected to start taking verbal evidence in February - and such is the level of interest in the inquiry that there could be between seven or eight sessions stretching well into the spring.
Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore has already met with the chairman of the committee, the Conservative MP for Maldon John Whittingdale, while the MPs have also been to Manchester City and plan to visit Arsenal.
Evidence is expected to be given by club owners from the Premier and Football League, senior FA figures, supporters and the players' union, the Professional Footballers' Association, as well as ministers.
Two key witnesses are likely to be Lord Terry Burns, who wrote a report on football governance that was then largely ignored by the FA, and former FA chairman Lord David Triesman.
And while this inquiry is not going to be an inquest into what is wrong with the FA or why England lost the World Cup vote, it would be unthinkable for the MPs not to focus in part on those issues. In that regard, Triesman's evidence will be fascinating.
The balance of power between the FA and the Premier League will also come under scrutiny. Initial meetings with key figures in football have flagged up this as the main area of concern for football.
But while this inquiry undoubtedly comes at a sensitive time for football, it is worth stating we have been here a few times in the past.
A number of governments have initiated a number of inquiries into football - with the threat of a regulator in the background - but very little has changed.
Why is this one likely to be different?
The coalition government's agreement last May did include a firm commitment to help supporters obtain a greater say in how their clubs are run. So, whether they like it or not, Conservative ministers instinctively opposed to any sort of state regulator are tied in to doing something to change the way professional clubs are owned and run.
That is why the select committee is taking this inquiry so seriously and why Sports Minister Robertson and Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt hope MPs will shine the spotlight on the game in a way that forces administrators like Bernstein and Scudamore to act.