Will UEFA initiative ensure equality for all football clubs?

This summer, football clubs throughout Europe will have to reconsider their usual transfer policies and contract negotiations as UEFA implements the first phase of its so-called Financial Fair Play policy. Designed to curb lavish spending far exceeding turnover and reduce the reliance on rich owners at clubs such as Chelsea and Manchester City, the following three seasons will prove a testing time for football as a whole. By 2014, UEFA President Michel Platini hopes to impose sanctions and limits on clubs who don’t meet the new financial requirements and for the likes of Real Madrid, Manchester United and Barcelona, the three richest in terms of income, this is unlikely to effect their future participation in European Competitions too severely. But what of the smaller clubs hoping to invest and make the step up to the highest level of club football?

Sadly these days football is not just about what happens on the pitch. Whilst the likes of Manchester United have achieved their position through consistent growth and fantastic commercial infrastructure, the likes of Chelsea have managed to invest heavily initially in players to gain a competitive advantage over rivals and build a title-winning side. Admittedly the London club’s commercial revenues have now caught up and, with the exception of the most recent transfer window, huge spending has slowed. But, the club was still able to grow courtesy of a rich benefactor.

In the case of Roman Abramovich, he is one of the richest men in the World and free to do as he wishes with his money. He has brought huge wealth into football which has filtered down through the game. For example, without his £50million outlay on Fernando Torries, Liverpool would not have spent so much on Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll. Similarly, the signing of David Luiz from Benfica allowed the Portuguese club to invest in three further players.

However, for every Chelsea and Manchester City there is also a Portsmouth or a Leeds. These are clubs that tried to invest heavily to progress the club and did, in the short team, achieve success on the pitch. But, without the security blanket of an Abramovich or a Sheik Mansour, the growth was unsustainable, the clubs were liable and eventually crumbled.

There have been clubs to achieve European Football without excessive spending in recent years, however. The likes of Everton and Tottenham both achieved Champions League qualification through merit on the pitch alone. And, following their recent Carling Cup victory, Birmingham look to have qualified for next season’s Europe League.

But, without the financial clout to invest heavily, Everton didn’t make it past the qualification stage in 2005. Spurs have had a fantastic debut season in the Champions League but, even with seven games still to play, Champions League qualification is far from certain next year. And, despite qualifying through their Carling Cup success, Birmingham could still be refused the required UEFA license to participate in the Europa League due to their financial status. But will the new Financial Fair Play laws lessen this gap and reduce the vast difference in the game between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’?

Admittedly it will be a slow integration period as clubs will still be allowed to post losses of up to £38.5m for the following two seasons whilst commitments to transfers, amortisation and wages pre-June 2010 will be excluded from the rules. But, by 2014 clubs must be able to prove financial stability and ensure expenditure is covered by turnover. But with transfer fees and player wages seemingly spiralling out of control, where will this extra income come from? It would be a shame to see fans alienated by even more ticket price increases. And, bearing in mind the money the biggest teams bring into the game through Television revenues, would UEFA really have the clout to prevent the likes of Chelsea or Barcelona from participating in its flagship event?

Financial Fair Play will, hopefully, encourage long-term planning and the building of profitable teams. But, bearing in mind the way wealth is distributed at the top-end of the game, it must be careful not to alienate those smaller teams hoping to achieve Continental status through strong performances on the pitch and, more importantly, the fans who watch the game week-in, week-out.