Well, it’s that time of year again when the focus seems to have shifted back to FFP. No coincidence that it coincides with Manchester City finding themselves right back in the title race either. People who follow me on Twitter will know my views on FFP, and I can only hope one of the F’s stands for flawed, because the policy is flawed right from the off, both in terms of rules and execution, and for a long time I have maintained that the first occasion that UEFA try to impose a ruling with any real conviction, we will be witness to another long drawn out court case which will result in defeat for UEFA.
But first, to pick apart my hatred of the ruling, irrespective of the fact I am convinced it contravenes most European Law rulings regarding business. UEFA has tried, and failed, quite spectacularly on several occasions to try and portray football as somehow being separate to any other business in Europe. The Bosman ruling, for one, is a well-publicised case that took a very football specific ruling, stuck it against the rest of the business world, and ruled against football. But Financial Fair Play goes a step beyond even that, in that UEFA (under the force of G-14 no doubt) are trying to create a very select group into which entry is exclusive and limited to very few European clubs. Financial fair play claims to be trying to create a level playing field, and to avoid scenarios such as Leeds United and Portsmouth, for example. Leeds United is a classic example, they gambled on being in Europe for the foreseeable future, and built a squad and wage structure to match, but the minute they missed out they were left in a very big financial hole. FFP would not prevent the problem from happening, as it is only enforceable and linked to competing in Europe, so the minute Leeds missed out, for example, it would no longer matter how they spent their money, and the problem would still be very real. Therefore it does little to dispel the “speculate to accumulate” mentality that Leeds engaged in. Portsmouth again, would not suffer any ramification through FFP, nor would it have prevented their rapid decline from grace. Real Madrid, quite classically, took a massive gamble in their “speculate to accumulate” approach with “the galacticos”, spending vast sums of money with the aim of increasing their marketing value as well as success on the pitch.
Allowing a club to spend only its wealth does not create fair competition, it would simply mean the big clubs are allowed to get bigger and stronger, at the continued expense of the smaller teams, who would no longer have reason to dream. All this from an organisation which has built its flagship competition on the same “look after the big boys” ethos. A competition that is also very reliant on the star players and the biggest teams being there to feed the cash cow, therefore any attempt to expel teams for overspending would be both foolish and futile. A competition that is anything but fair in reality. To highlight my point, only 1 of the 4 potential Champions’ League finalists (at time of writing) is actually champions. The point being everything that UEFA does is to the whims of a collective of clubs (G-14) and basically they are trying to create a rulebook that prevents anybody from ever entering into the selective higher echelons. And let’s not forget it is the players and the clubs who put such high values out there in the first place, the whole system is based on supply and demand and so any attempt to regulate it would always fail.
PSG and City (because they are the only 2 that have been named so far, no shock) are set to face some form of punishment because they have broken the FFP rules. Even though both have publicly and privately reported that they have not. In their wisdom, not only are UEFA dictating how much money you can spend, but also where that money comes from. Yet again, this is a nod to the big boys who already had the big money kit deals, sponsorship agreements etc in place. Yet it is not the deals, but the value of them that raises the eyebrows. My response, who cares….. If an organisation, which by the way is also financially accountable to its stakeholders, decides to invest X amount into a sponsorship deal, that is their choice, not that of UEFA to regulate. If by doing so, in the case of my club for example, the club grows stronger, how can a realistic value be put on the deal. Transfer fees have grown at a stupid rate throughout my adult life, as has the money coming into football from TV deals and other such sponsorship, so to apply the same logic suggests that sponsorship deals would do the same.
As an example, let’s say City have a kit deal worth £400 million and United have one worth £600 million. If in the next 10 years, City win the league several times and become successful in Europe, and United continue their current struggle and fail to win anything in the next few years, who has got the better value deal? Suddenly the City deal looks like a steal. For the record, I don’t think that will happen, but my point is that any valuation is subjective. The face of my club, for example, has changed beyond recognition, and the investment has seen a state of the art training complex, and a renewed commercial acumen never seen before. We are now continually at the front of commercial developments rather than an afterthought. That in itself adds value to any deal, a value far beyond anything UEFA (FIFA) or any other organisation can justifiably judge. I see our shirts all the time nowadays, whereas in the past I never saw any. Take that increase alone, and who can justifiably say whether that trend will continue to grow or otherwise? It is dependent on continued success, and continued success requires investment. When Bale went in the summer, everybody absolutely slaughtered the transfer fee, but as he has continued to adapt and perform over the course of the season, the descendant voices have become less and less, almost to an acceptance now that he was worth the money paid for him. Would he have gone to Manchester United for the same money? No. Would they have paid that for him? No. The price was dictated due to the very public interest from Real Madrid. In the same way it is accepted that clubs such as ours overpay for players, simply because other teams know we can afford it. Want a fair playing field: introduce a set transfer value system. Introduce a level wage cap for all teams competing, and a fair share of the spoils. Otherwise don’t attempt to preach what is fair.
The FFP creates a warped structure that can be both circumvented and is anything but fair in its very nature. Several of the key clubs in Europe are currently propped up by large debts, yet these would be accepted in the very nature of the FFP rules, while rich owner investment would not. Again you only have to look at the model of several of the key G-14 members to understand why that would be the case. Surely owners who don’t wish to see any return for their investment, and are doing so for the love of the game (or their club) are better for football than corporate owners who expect returns with interest, or prop up their other failing assets on the back of a football club. As an example, 2 clubs with high wage playing staff get relegated. One has a loan, one doesn’t. As always, several players will be moved on, some will even accept termination of contract, but some will stay at the club and see out the contract. Both clubs will still need to pay these players despite earning a fraction of their former income. One club also has the added pressure of making high interest loan repayments (the value of the loan doesn’t drop just because the value of the club has – if anything the club is now in massive negative equity). Which club is worse off? No brainer really! Which club would have failed FFP?
There are many ways UEFA (and FIFA) can improve the game should they wish. First, I suggest getting their own house in order, which is not exactly very financially transparent. Secondly, the devolution of G-14 powerhouse, and ideally an organisation not being led by a man who made a very high profile (and financially rewarding) transfer to a club who have been PROVEN to not play by the rules. Want to go further, scrap the Champions League and bring back a fairer competition. Improve the standard of referees. Reduce the amount of money agents take out of the game (or owners of clubs for that matter) so that football money stays in football. I could go on. The one thing I would not be doing, however, is discouraging and openly punishing investment. Oh, and a final thought. FIFA, UEFA’s daddy, awarded the World Cup to Qatar! A deal driven only by money. Handed out every 4 years to a selected bid (and country) that would fail FFP every single time.