Michel Platini’s brainchild, the Financial Fair Play rules (FFP) are set to come into effect at the start of next season, but will Uefa be as good as their word at weeding out those that go by their own set of laws and ban them from European competition if they don’t meet the criteria?
The FFP rules are three-fold – every club will have a break-even requirement and they must not spend more than they generate over a period of time. There should be no overdue payments during the season towards other clubs, employees or social/tax authorities and finally, there must be the provision of future financial information, which means that clubs will have to deliver budgets for Uefa to make sure that they can fulfil their obligations in the future.
It’s common practice in businesses up and down the country all year round, but it seems in football, spending what you make is a brand new concept and in a global economic downturn such as this, the game cannot go on unaffected forever, and on the face of it, it all makes a lot of sense.
Platini told reporters last week: “We wanted to revolutionise European football when we first introduced this idea, we are never going back on this. It can happen at Málaga, it has happened at Portsmouth, it can happen everywhere. Many people are coming into the game to make business, to make popularity … some actually love football, but remember Uefa are there to protect (the clubs), not kill them.
“I just want clubs to spend money they have, not what they don’t have. I’ve spoken to football directors, chairmen and owners from all over the world, I’ve spoken to Manchester City’s owners in Abu Dhabi, and everybody has given their commitment to this plan. Some aren’t necessarily showing it, but we have been very clear with them. We have put the structure in place to implement these rules. If clubs do not respect the rules, they will get into difficulty, whether they are from France, from Italy, from England, from Georgia.”
The sanctions on offer which Platini gives a knowing nod to with the above veiled threat will range from warnings, reprimands and fines, to the deduction of points, disqualification or exclusion from competitions and withdrawal of titles. The aforementioned break-even rule above will only come into effect from the 2014-15 season, but this summer’s business is important, as they take into account the financial years of both 2012 and 2013.
The second rule about overdue payments regarding the transfer of players has already been in effect since last year and perhaps as a sign of things to come, AEK Athens, Besiktas and Hungarian outfit Gyori have already been banned from European competition this season for not abiding by it, while 27 other clubs are said to be under the spotlight regarding further future action and possible punishment. Suffice to say, Uefa mean business this time around.
The main worry, though, is whether clubs such as Chelsea, who have spent around the £80m mark this summer or PSG will be able to cope in the future as Uefa attempts to wean football off the influence of the super-rich, which along with Manchester City, have a habit of distorting the playing field in terms of competitiveness.
However, this week, Russian side Zenit St Petersburg appeared to contradict a lot of the above by purchasing both Hulk and Axel Witsel for a combined fee in the region of £65m, so lord only knows how they plan to meet the FFP requirements i the future and it shows that not everyone feels that Uefa will follow through on their threats.
While Manchester City have reigned in their spending to an extent, a flurry of late activity still saw them spend £54m this summer and they are thought to be one of the 27 clubs under review by Uefa at the moment. Platini said of them last week: “They were told to sort their finances out before June 30. Then they had until July 15 to discuss any problems. The next check on September 30 will be vital. For clubs who can’t follow the rules of the Financial Fair Play system, it is over and out of Europe. We are protecting clubs who have sold players and struggle to receive payment. A number of clubs have had to chase their money for years.”
Real Madrid boss Jose Mourinho has already declared a willingness for his club to abide by FFP going forward, while the fact that spending last January came in at €393m, down from €613m the previous year across Europe indicates that other clubs are taking the threat seriously, even if Zenit apparently are not.
The real question is whether Uefa would follow through on their punishments if a European giant failed to meet the criteria in the future – say Barcelona, Real Madrid or Manchester United – given how strict they have been so far and the effect that they have had on spending trends already, you assume behind closed doors that they have privately been told that any loss in sponsorship on their end will be well worth it in the long-run so much as they see every club meeting the requirements. If Barcelona weren’t in the Champions League next year, commercial sponsors would probably offer less, but it seems as if Uefa are prepared to take the hit for the good of the game at the moment.
There is genuine fear among some clubs that their financial records may not stand up to closer inspection, with Platini and Arsene Wenger in the past intimating that some clubs are taking the initiatives more seriously than others. While it may be good-intentioned, only an example and a big one at that of a club that fails to meet them will do, for we can’t see the half-measures that have become Uefa’s staple in the past this time around. Nevertheless, from initial signs, it seems as if FFP is here to stay and that it will have an undoubted effect on the game as we know it and I wouldn’t bet against Platini being as good as his word.