Arsene Wenger well within his rights to query deal

Earlier this week Arsene Wenger accused the Manchester City hierarchy of “doing what they want” in ensuring that they keep in line with the financial fair play regulations that UEFA are imposing on European clubs. Last week, Manchester City agreed a 10-year sponsorship deal with Etihad Airways that is believed to be worth around £400million, making it the largest deal of its kind throughout the history of sport. The airline is owned by the Abu Dhabi government, and with club owner, Sheikh Mansour, being a member of the Abu Dhabi royal family, Wenger has insisted that an investigation in to the arrangement be carried out.

The agreement will see City’s ground be renamed the Etihad Stadium, and will provide the financial support for the development of the ‘Etihad Campus’ – a vast area of land around the stadium that looks set to include training and sports facilities for the club and players. The deal also includes an extension on their current sponsorship of club shirts, however, in comparison to other Premier League sponsor deals, this one does seem to be rather unique in value.

Wenger has accused Manchester City of trying to “get around” the regulations that UEFA are hoping to enforce, and believes that if clubs are allowed to ‘do as they please’ or ‘bend the rules’ that are in place, then the credibility of the financial fair play system will come under severe scrutiny.

Wenger seems adamant that “if financial fair play is to have a chance, the sponsorship has to be at the market price”; once it is “doubled, trebled, or quadrupled” then the concept of ‘financial fairness’ becomes somewhat redundant. In comparison to Arsenal’s deal with the Emirates back in 2004, Wenger sarcastically suggested that the club “must have done a bad deal”, as this was valued at only £90million and stretches over a 15-year period. Wenger has encouraged UEFA president Michel Platini to investigate whether or not Etihad have paid an inflated price in their sponsorship, especially as one of the financial fair play regulations maintains that even those sponsors with close links to club owners must still pay ‘fair’ sums of money for their deals.

Wenger’s objections to the recent on-goings in Manchester do seem justified. The financial fair play system was brought in to prevent the wealthier clubs buying the most expensive players and offering the largest salaries to players. It was deemed that this would prevent other clubs from developing or improving their sides, as clubs would nearly always sell to those digging the deepest into their pockets, and players would often look to join those willing to pay the highest wages.

If, however, clubs are able to strike deals with companies that will ultimately help to ‘balance the books’ then this surely defeats the whole point of the financial fair play system. Not all clubs will be offered the kind of deal that City have been able to arrange, and so will not be able to attain the same kind of funding from their sponsors. This funding from Etihad Airways will effectively allow City to continue to spend big and offer high salaries to their players, and it seems that so long as you have the right contacts, clubs can find ways to “get around” the regulations and standards put in place.

City have responded to the comments made by Wenger, and have described them as “unfounded and regrettable”. Whilst the financial details of the agreement in place are set to remain confidential, the club has claimed that the figures being speculated about are inaccurate. The situation at Manchester City is set to be assessed by experts at UEFA, and only then will we know exactly how influential this sponsorship will prove to be. For the time being I cannot help but share the concerns of Arsene Wenger, and see this deal only as a way in which Manchester City can continue to spend big; continue to sign the top players; and continue to pay the highest wages. The majority of clubs cannot compete financially with the likes of Manchester City, and if there are flaws within the financial fair play system, or ways of “getting around” its primary purpose, then these ought to be addressed by UEFA sooner rather than later.

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