There’s no point arguing against Financial Fair Play anymore. With Manchester City accepting the punishment offered by UEFA, a court battle that could have shuck the system will never be realised. I can’t blame the club for this, they require stability for the team and the third party sponsors attached to them. A quick resolution prevents it becoming an unhealthy distraction. Even though I disagree with FFP it looks like it’s here to stay. This being the case, all I ask now is: why don’t we have a morally fair FFP in place? People have been very vocal about Manchester City “just buying the league” and having an unfair advantage but these sorts don’t mind the established big clubs having an unassailable monetary advantage already. Today I ask them why they never offered an alternative that made it the same for everyone, instead of a closed shop for the big boys at the top.
These supporters of Financial Fair Play are so hung up on the rules being broken, that there is no other outcome than a punishment for clubs like City. Presumably these sorts never exceed 70mph on the motorway, never cross the road when the Red man is showing even if it’s clear, and have never littered – because rules are rules. To these law abiding citizens, that have such a strong sense of morality, I simply ask: Why have you never suggested a version of Financial Fair Play where wealth is completely negated?
Playing Devil’s advocate, and ignoring the legal and business implications (you’ll allow me this as it seems these are ignored anyway where FFP is concerned), why don’t we create a simplified, truly fair, level playing field version of FFP? Financial Fair Play fans feel so aggrieved by Manchester City’s wealth, it stands to reason they must be equally angered by other clubs that can naturally afford high wages and dominate the transfer market, because I’d hate to think for a minute they are hypocrites.
Instead of complicated interpretations regarding FFP’s guidelines that stretch the credibility and constructs designed to enforce soft wage caps and arrest transfer spending, let’s just set a clearly defined a wage limit and net transfer spend per season. All the top leagues in Europe could be reviewed and a mean average of safe expenditure determined. It’d mean the smaller clubs may still be a little off being able to afford the wage cap, but not by much, and the top clubs would no longer be able to throw excessive cash at every player; every marquee signing would mean less to spend elsewhere.
Players would be attracted by facilities, which healthy owners already care about. The mean average spend could be worked out for each tier of league across Europe, creating a unified cash ecosystem. The limit on spend would mean the clubs with high incomes from worldwide support could of course be greedy, they’d still have a high ticket and merchandise turnover but, thanks to a morally fair set of rules, be able to spend less to accrue them. Hopefully this would have another positive knock-on effect: a more affordable product for the fans as clubs are pressured into lowering ticket prices. We’d be left with every club playing with the same set of parameters and every fan not dipping as deep into his pocket.
This idea was probably hushed away as soon as it was first formed during the genesis of Financial Fair Play. The big clubs would never agree to handing back their cash advantage, they just don’t want new clubs appearing with oil cash. And many got on board with FFP for the right reasons but then followed blindly. Like Nazi soldiers believing the evil regime’s propaganda machine, they’ve lacked the ability to step back and see the bigger picture. They’ve been so firm in their belief, they have never stopped to ask if what they are suggesting is a fair system. From a business point of view they never cared if it was fair to introduce a system that would retard the growth of new-money clubs, they just snapped their heels together and shouted “Rules!” The demand for order and adherence to Financial Fair Play meant they never stopped to ask if the idea was correct. Not the business side of it, but the moral issue of ensuring small clubs will be forever alienated. The lack of fervour there means we goose step forward, away from the football as we know it.
We’ll find ourselves living a future we should never have visited. Finances may even start to look better on spreadsheets, but a Doncaster or a Rotherham may have been denied their Champions League run, clubs will have stopped investing on infrastructure. It’ll appear healthier but in truth it’ll have been stunted. The big clubs will be unreachable, and as a Manchester City fan I expect to be sat in that elite grouping – but I am far from comfortable with such a scenario.
Perhaps football’s saving grace lies within. I am always wary when a person has a second team (“Oh, they are my Premier League team,” or “That’s my London club.”) but a second team that is an extension of your own would be fine. The B Teams playing in a League Three could generate a wealth of young talent to equalise the money at the top. But that’s a chat for another day.