In his first appearance on The Athletic’s Business of Sport Podcast, PFA Chief Exec, Maheta Molango, told journalists Mark Chapman and Matt Slater he was ‘amazed’ how often people talk about change in football without consulting the players themselves.
He said, “I think some people underestimate the power of the players voice. Society has changed, and football has evolved. This is a generation of smart players with smart opinions, and they understand that certain stuff needs to be solved collectively and not individually. I want to see players being formally introduced to the table and having real decision power because they are the stars of the show.”
Maheta explained this ethos of player autonomy would be at the heart of the vision he’s shaping for the future of the players union. He said, “It comes down to what members want. What do they see as being their priority? During the Premier League visits I did, there was one common theme – ‘we play too many games’. Fixture congestion was probably not a number one priority prior to visiting those clubs, but after talking to players and the managers, very clearly, there was an almost unanimous position, and I think they’re right. It’s not just a case of player wellbeing, even if you want to look at this from a business angle. If those players aren’t showing the best versions of themselves, what we are seeing on the pitch is not what the fans want to see. People ask why the TV ratings drop – maybe it’s because we are seeing a shadow of the actual players because they’re not able to perform at the right level? ”
Drawing on his own experience working with FIFA and running a club, Maheta said he understood why suggestions such as biannual World Cups were being discussed but warned tired players could turn audiences away. "It's physically impossible to travel so much, to play so many games and to be fit and to be motivated,” he said. “So yes, of course, we’re pleasing everyone, and everyone is making money, but in the long run, we are killing the game."
Now well into his first quarter at the helm of the PFA, Maheta clarified he was not in a rush to make sweeping changes and was taking his time during this transition period to connect with members to find out what they want from their union. He also shared his intention to use players' views to develop a strategic plan that defines what the union stands for so everybody understands what the PFA is doing and what its priorities are.
PFA membership covers current scholars and professional footballers in the Premier League, Women’s Super League and English Football League, plus more than 50,000 former players. With such a vast membership, the hosts asked if one approach could encapsulate all their needs? Maheta was certain in his response, saying, "This question comes up all the time – ‘Is there something in common between a multi-millionaire and someone who plays in League Two?’ I say yes, because when you sit on the bench, when you’re out of the squad, when you’re injured, when you try to move clubs and you're not allowed, irrespective of how much you make a month – you’re suffering. What we all have in common is, when you stop playing, your phone goes silent. The fall is more brutal the higher you are. It’s not an easy transition. I think that’s where the union can help.”
Although much of the interview was focused on outlining Maheta’s direction for the PFA, he didn't shy away from answering hard-hitting questions about the current state of the game. When asked if it might be better for the PFA to be more directly funded by players instead of from TV rights, Maheta was firm. “I strongly disagree with the view of people saying the PFA is funded by the Premier League because to me, it’s not true,” he said. “The matter of the fact is, the TV money stems from the performance of the players on the pitch… If there are no players, there's no football. I don't feel like we're getting funded by anyone. We're just receiving what I believe is a fair share of what belongs to the players.”
In an important conversation that also covered dementia and the union’s commitment to tackling online abuse of players, Maheta laid out his vision for the union's future while also giving his take on one of the most contentious issues within the game – diversity.
“I’m extremely proud to be the Chief Executive of an organisation that didn’t look at my colour when hiring me,” he said. “I’m not the friend of anybody specific in UK football. I’m not linked to a journalist who pushed my agenda during the selection process. I’m the son of a psychologist who came from Congo and an Italian mother who is white with blue eyes, and I’m here! I think this country has shown one of the key authorities in football has been elected based on meritocracy. I think this is such a fantastic message because it means a white kid in Lincoln has the same chance as a Black guy in London or the son of an immigrant living in Birmingham. I think the PFA is showing this is possible.”