It seems we are entering the final phases in the implementation and take up of Financial Fair Play. All the fear mongering, ignorance and general debate is slowly being replaced by the certainties that UEFA has presented as we move forward. In the past I have made no secret of my opposition to Financial Fair Play, and this hasn’t changed, if anything it’s hardened as my fears have become facts. FFP doesn’t have the best interests of the sport as a whole at heart; it is self-serving, hypocritical and greedy. Before the first set of major sanctions are placed on teams let’s analyse what it means.
Not to go over old ground or opinions but there is a loud chorus developing that Financial Fair Play is good because it stops “Cheats” or people buying the league, something I have always laughed at. Except, it’s now no laughing matter. We have Wenger coming out claiming Manchester City should be banned from Europe, and rival fans claiming a club shouldn’t be able to spend in excess to find success. All these people are speaking from their Ivory towers or behind jealous faces. It’s easy to say a club should only spend its turnover when you’ve already established a high one over a long period of time. One that was invariably acquired due to success, which – more often than not – required investment in the first place. These types don’t want the apple cart upset, they fear new teams emerging.
You’ll never hear the pro-FFP bunch mention the protection of the smaller teams, how Financial Fair Play protects clubs from financial mismanagement – the very reason the system is supposed to exist in the first place. And if such a system – with those solitary goals – did exist, I’d throw my full support behind it. But they never mention this side of FFP because the little clubs, whether there or not, pose no threat to their success. A club managed with a wealthy owner that is willing to pay out of his own pocket and write-off any debt, is good for that club’s growth, and in the long run will generate a higher turnover. Manchester City is the extreme example of this but take a League Two club, give them a generous chairman and over time they would develop.
The Football League has the Benefactor Model for this very reason. It allows clubs to clear losses if the owner absorbs them, thus progress financially and grow without restraint. It acknowledges these clubs don’t need protecting from all wealthy owners, it’s the maverick ones that play Russian Roulette with cash they don’t really have that pose a problem. There’s no reason UEFA couldn’t adopt the Benefactor Model if all it cares about is the health of football’s finances. If that was their sole intention they’d worry less about imposing sanctions on clubs like Manchester City and start to question how giants like Manchester United can be bought and run on debts.
Financial Fair Play experts will claim one reason UEFA are focusing on clubs like Manchester City is to prevent an escalation in wages. This is folly. It still is – and will always be – the established teams that set the upper limit on wages, dictated by the best players in the world and their agents. When teams like City and PSG are in periods of accelerated growth they don’t raise the ceiling on wages, they just increase the number of players earning the top dollar. In England it was Manchester United that went to £300,000 a week for Rooney; overseas I’m confident Ronaldo at Madrid and Messi at Barcelona got their mammoth wages because of their market value, not because oil tycoons were ploughing money into clubs elsewhere.
So what are we left with if FFP isn’t protecting the little clubs or preventing the market becoming damaged for the larger ones? Greed. The jealous or ignorant types will claim Manchester City is greedy, that they are the evil doers, when if they stopped to look at how the money has been spent and the goodness that has come from it, they’d realise Sheikh Mansour is an angel – Platini and UEFA are the devils. The infrastructure at City has been taken to the next level and the community is thriving, and City will become a market leader on the pitch, and off it, financially. Punishing this isn’t protecting football, it’s UEFA trying to maintain the status quo with the favoured big clubs and introducing a rich tax to line their own pockets. It’s worth noting the Premier League say Manchester City comply with their FFP rules.
It’s laughable that if FFP is about sending a clear message that money in football needs to be healthier, one of the punishments both PSG and Manchester City face is a hefty fine (reports from £29M to £50M). So they worry clubs are leaking money, but to make sure they stop they want them to leak a bit more their way first. An oil tax. And supposedly this fine will be on the accounting books, further restricting expenditure over the following reporting period. Also they face restrictions on squad size and wages for the Champions League, making it harder to compete with UEFA’s chosen children.
For a long time City fans in pubs have been saying the first time a restriction prevents a player appearing in the Champions League it’ll be the players – not the clubs – that take UEFA to court for restriction of trade. It seemed a fairly reasonable argument, that there was a case for loss of earnings. UEFA have engineered a situation where this could never be levelled at them. They aren’t removing the clubs from European competition. It would be the clubs themselves that didn’t place them in the Champions League squad. Yes, it may be due to the sanctions UEFA have placed on the club, but not a restriction.
The only murky area for UEFA – and glimmer of hope for the type of lawyers usually found with a match day pint – is the absolute definition of sporting regulations. If UEFA and FIFA suddenly changed or removed the off-side rule, teams would comply, it’d be in the sporting rules, same for two goalkeepers per team, everyone dressed in clown suits – whatever they fancy, if it became sporting code it would be followed. But the rich fuelled sport of Formula One tried to implement an expenditure limit in its sporting regulations and to this day it is unresolved with no official cap set down. Because sport is also business and in business it’s far from “Fair” to tell companies how much they are allowed spend as they try to increase their standing within the industry.
As a consumer we also do not accept services that diminish. If your broadband provider, insurance company, car manufacturer, any product you subscribe to, started to fall behind the industry standard you wouldn’t accept that the CEO wanted to place his own funds in to revive the company but was bound by red tape. And as sports fans we dream and hope our team one day can become the best in the land. If Financial Fair Play isn’t challenged at this final hurdle they’ll be no more new teams having their day in the sun. It will all become stale, stagnant; hope for some will be replaced with acquiescence. That’s not fair – it’s cruel.