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Champions League seeding changes and discussions being on FFP Part 2

By Tony Attwood

When the concept of Financial Fair Play was laid out it was self-evident that the issue of finance in football had a central core (self-sustainability) and two issues – debt and loss making.

Uefa chose to look at loss making first, because it was the more insidious of the two issues standing in the way of sustainability: clubs from the earliest days of the Football League had a habit of spending more than they earned up to the last minute, and then going bust.

The rescue, when it came, as it did with Woolwich Arsenal, came in the shape of a benefactor.  Arsenal first had George Lawrence and then George Leavey but after Lawrence died, and Leavey ultimately decided he couldn’t go on funding Woolwich Arsenal, the club sank until Henry Norris took over in 1910.  Although his reputation has come remorselessly under attack since then by both supporters or rival clubs and by those who subsequently took over Arsenal and re-wrote its history, it is only in the last ten years that it has become apparent that the stories told about him have by and large been manufactured by these rivals.

So with a long history of league clubs failing through never having proper financial models, or benefactors who die or run out of money (or get deposed in revolutions) it was always reasonable for Uefa to start there, but also always inevitable that it would ultimately turn to have a look at sheer indebtedness.   And this is where it is now starting to look.

Of course we have known from the start that clubs that have benefactors who have given donations argue that they are not the problem.  They say that it is clubs that live with huge debts, but who survive – for now – because of their huge incomes from gate receipts, player trading, TV, and in two very particular cases, worldwide marketing, who are the problem.

But the truth is both models add huge fragility to what is always a fragile business being based, as it is, by long term success and the whim of TV companies, sponsors and supporters.

Man City in particular have done some finger pointing as when the chairman Khaldoon al-Mubarak said, “We have a sustainable project today, in Manchester and across the board in the City Football Group.  We have zero debt. We don’t pay a penny to service any debt. For me, that is a sustainable model.”

And one might answer, sustainable unless the benefactor changes his mind, or there is a revolution, or an invasion of your home territory by Islamic State.  .

Anyway the general secretary of Uefa, Gianni Infantino, has opened the gates to part two of FFP – accumulated debt  – and said it is time to take a look.

Now one can argue that debt is an issue that is under control if one looks at overall figures.   Infantino pointed out that losses of clubs within Uefa’s sphere of influence had been reduced from €1.7bn in 2011 to €800m in 2013.  But the spectre of Man U and Real Mad as alternative models to Chelsea, PSG, Monaco and Man C is worrying.

Man U, as we pointed out from the very first Untold article on finance in football, has been getting away with crippling debts because of its worldwide appeal.  Real Mad has that but also is engaged in a land deal with the local authority which is under investigation by EU commissioners. If the EU rules against them, they are in trouble and that is besides the investigation into the role of the banks in Real Mad gets going.   (Incidentally Barcelona have moved from indebtedness into the world of the Qatari sponsorship, but has taken in trading in children en route, and has other problems now that it is facing).

Man U have a debt of £350m, which would destroy the club if it ever suffered any collapse in its fortunes, such as that which happened in the early 1970s when it was relegated.

Although I think all moves in this direction of expanding FFP are to be welcome, it does appear that Man City have been very successful in their personal lobbying of Uefa to get rules changed for their benefit.   There has for example been a PR campaign waged constantly since Man C got into the Champions League, to change the system by which clubs – particularly Arsenal, Real Mad and Barcelona are seeded.

This now looks to have been successful, and it is always particularly worrying where a campaign by one club should be able to change rules that affect everyone in a competition.

In this case Arsenal, Real Mad and Barcelona have been rewarded for their long term ability to get into the Champions League year after year, by being seeded in the top group in the Champions League draw each year.   Now, after constant pressure from the Man C board and most recently Manuel Pellegrini, the system is being changed so that the top seed in each group in the Champions League group stages will be the winner from the previous season, and the league winners from the seven top leagues currently considered to be Spain, England, Germany, Portugal, Italy, Russia and France.

Long term success will no longer count.

However while that change comes into effect quickly, the change in terms of FFP Part II will take several years to establish, and is likely to be phased in slowly, just like Part I.  But in the end, with luck, they will be there.

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23 comments to Champions League seeding changes and discussions being on FFP Part 2

  • WalterBroeckx

    Maybe Uefa should throw the whole pot-system away completely.
    All the teams in one big bowl and picked completely random.
    This might lead to a complete English CL group but so what? Or a complete Spanish group? So what?
    This might lead to a group of death with Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Real Madrid and Chelsea….so what?
    This might lead to a group of Nicosia, Anderlecht, Ludogorets, Maribor….and meaning two of those little teams going further….hell yeah so what?

    No seats, no protected teams, all teams are equal. And after the first round they once again all go in the same pot. Get a team from your own country ? So what? Ludogorets and Anderlecht draw each other again? So what?

    It would make things more unpredictable and more fun. Because now we know at the start almost who will make it to the last 4. 2 Spanish teams, 1 German and 1 English.

    The system is build to protect the big teams from being taken by surprise by a smaller team.

    Boring, boring, boring…

  • apo Armani

    @WalterBroeckx
    October 10, 2014 at 9:13 am

    Whilst I think this would most certainly be the most fair and open way to deal with this (CL) competition; UEFA and the broadcasters would argue that the ‘wow factor’ would be reduced considerably when two of the ‘lesser’ (marketing wise) teams are drawn to play (and this might occur frequently).

    UEFA looks at their income 😉 not how the game should be on an even playing field!

  • WalterBroeckx

    I know apo Armani but one can dream…

  • apo Armani

    true Walter…its free to dream 🙂

  • edda1971

    This is another example of how corrupt football is today. Mark my Words corruption will destroy football in 10 years or less. After seeing Øzil kicked off the park in the last 2-3 games and now hearing he is out untill NeXT year, I just get this sad feeling. All the exitement of the season is over, and now i dont really care if we get to top 4 or not. We will survive without CL football, right now I would actually prefer us to not participate in any UEFA competiton.

  • AL

    Edda
    I for one wouldn’t be sad if football destroyed itself, too many shady characters involved in it now to be still called a sport. And like you, am gutted for Ozil. When you see the way he’s attacked on and off the pitch, unjustified, having done wrong, with no justice at all it makes you think if you still want to be part of that.

  • InitialsBB

    As a fan of the old knockout competition for champions only, I think its fair that the champions are acknowledged and this is the way it should always have neen, but I will express my disgust at the way has come about. Obviously City and PSG have the direct line now to UEFA.

  • insideright

    The key difference between the way Man City (and others) and Man Utd. (and others) have operated is that the former brought money into the game from outside and thereby fuelled inflation for everybody else while the latter group channel money out of the game (to pay off debts) and thereby take risks with their own long term survival.
    Obviously the first problem has far more wide ranging impact and needs to be dealt with first. The second problem is far more isolated and really is only being highlighted as a wide ranging problem because the likes of Man City want it to be seen as such.
    If they are not allowed to cheat they want the rules changed so that others (especially their local rivals) are now seen to be doing the same.
    Five years ago none of this would be being openly discussed and now it is and that proves that FFP is making the transgressors increasingly uncomfortable and increasingly anxious to externalise the problems that they now face.
    And where there is discomfort and enforced change in business plans there is risk that things will fall apart.
    Meanwhile at Highbury House….

  • Chapman's Ghost

    Agree with Walter’s idea. A random mix up a teams would be better than all this seeding nonsense but of course that would displease the organizers because they’d dread the idea of a possible final between two “minor” clubs and the possibility of a loss in revenue.

  • ClockEndRider

    The loudest sound you will here once we start to get multiple weak teams progressing to the next round of the competition due to the change will be that of advertisers flocking to not sign up with UEFA. Let me think: Bayern vs Real Mad or Maribor vs Steaua Bucharest?
    It’s a tough one……,,,,

  • Steve0

    I’m with you on the single pot, though I like the restriction of keeping teams from the same association away from each other until the knockout round. We already see domestic competitors at least twice a year…no reason to draw them into groups with each other.

  • para

    They really do not get it that Walters idea is really good for football and the CL. Maybe they do, and just don’t care.

    I think there is a system of private betting going on on ALL sports, especially football in the last 20 years.
    These are the very rich who can bet millions the way we can bet £10. Of course they want to have the best odds…

    Sad thing is, those who run football are part of or are “owned” by those who bet, so they have all the right cards.

    In the same idea, the rules in football should be absolute. No ref opinion should ever count. The rules are already quite good and clear, if they were implemented to the letter, there would be no diversions or conflict because of differing opinions.

    Sadly because of the latest “manipulation” of the goal line technology, we see that we are really dreaming, and any changes they make, will more likely make it worse for football, and other sports too.

  • Vintage Gooner

    I am very sorry that the seeding system is being changed and I don’t think with sufficient thought given. Difficult to argue that the champions of Germany, Spain & England should not be first seeds and possibly Italy although in the last instance the justification may be more historical than current. But the French teams and their league performance would not justify seeding and similarly Russia and Portugal. How many times have clubs from these three countries won the competition in the last 20 years? On this aspect the winner would often be champion of one of the four major countries and so how would the eighth seed be found?

    Further how would you justify not seeding one of the two Spanish giants or one of the two top German teams rather than the champions of the three weaker leagues?

    Perhaps the solution could be found in the current process for qualifying rounds. Then half the seeds would be from the the champions of the top four countries and the other half from the top four clubs of those remaining. In the rare event of the holders not coming in these eight then the lowest non-champion would make way for them.

  • Vintage Gooner

    One other comment on Walter’s suggestion. This would revert to a basis not dissimilar to the FA Cup and sadly we all know that the magic and the money have both largely gone from that competition so I really can’t see that as a practicable proposal.

  • Mike T

    The UEFA coefficents only recognise a rolling 5 year cycle.

    As things stand Arsenal have dropped to 10th place on 94 points. Real Madrid who top the chart are on 148 points.Chelsea are 4th on 126 points. Arsenal were 8th placed in terms of clubs that qualified for the CL this season hence why they were placed in pot 1
    http://www.uefa.com/memberassociations/uefarankings/club/
    Looking at the chart as it is today it is likely that Arsenal will climb above Valencia and Man Utd but to climb higher than 8th place would be a real challenge. To do so they would have to significantly outperform Schakle in this years CL.

    Immediately behind Arsenal in the coefficients are Porto ,Dortmund and PSG. Dortmund and PSG will gain about 12 points each on Arsenal in 2015/16 when the 2010/11 points drop off

    Put all that together and it is highly likely that if/when Arsenal participate in the CL next season they would not be in pot 1 if the current system remained in place.

    The dilemma is that the suggestion is that the coefficients will be used in relation to pots 2-4 and had that been the case Chelsea would have been in pot 2 with the likes of Arsenal & Barcelona leaving Liverpool in pot 3

  • GoingGoingGooner

    It doesn’t bother me that the winners of the top leagues will get the top seeding. I don’t think that this will affect too much. In a couple of years I expect PSGs and ManCity’s coefficients to be extremely high anyway. The bonus’ will be for the winners of the Portugal, French, and Russian? who are clearly not yet top drawer teams. If, as Tony intimated, this was the result of ManCity and PSG machinations I would be worried but I would need more evidence to be convinced.

  • menace

    The Game is corrupt. This really hurts me because I love the Game and I love the Wenger way that the Game is played, within the Laws and with a sporting outlook.

    No matter what seeding method is used, no matter how much money is sucked by agents, no matter who wins the trophies, what matters is good footballers are being physically damaged because of an agenda that is unexplained. An agenda that many refer to as ‘conspiracy theory’. An agenda that many say does not exist. An agenda that is so visible in stats and so visible in matches but ignored by media. Media that has been shown to be corrupt with phone hacking and to most of us Untolders a blind ignorance of the truth.

    I cannot understand why Arsenal Football Club has not called a media conference and exposed this nasty corruption that has blighted Football. There is so much evidence.

  • InitialsBB

    Thats the problem menace, we know its happening but all the evidence is circumstantial, deduced. By making accusations without solid hard evidence we would only be doing ourselves more damage and isolating ourselves further, if thats possible. Frustrating yes, but the world and life itself isn’t fair or easy.

  • Wooby

    I am not bothered by the change in the seeding method. Due to TV contracts, UEFA will likely be required to maintain the rules that clubs from the same national association cannot be grouped together in group stage 1, and an equal number of teams from the same association will be in groups A-D and E-H. Once you break down all the possibilities, it essentially means we now run the risk of facing the winner of La Liga / Bundesliga vs….Athletico, Dortmund, none of these are really lightweights either.

    The far more troubling thing is the work on the field, the officiating, which has a far more direct effect on our results than the group we find ourselves in. We have to expand so much effort just to overcome the officiating in both CL and PL, no wonder we have nothing left in the tank to make it through the knock-out stages of CL and second half of PL.

    I have yet to come across this, but what happens if a team does a double (i.e. wins their league and the CL)? Which other team gets into pot 1?

  • TC

    With the new system then Arsenal might find it easier anyways because is it not true that winning teams from the likes of Portugal and France end up having their star players leaving for the better leagues and hence making them weaker?

    Lets be honest something needs to be done with the group stages because most of the games are pretty close to boring until the last round of the league section when it really matters – certainly with Arsenal. A team that is normally good but never really threatening to go all the way so qualifying for the KO stage is always a little anxious. Changing the seeding method is just tinkering like a chancellors budget – give on one hand take with the other.

    As Wooby says the bigger concern comes back to the officiating of the games – its the same old story – a certain game was really exciting but normally (unfortunately) due to often multiple refereeing errors. I want exciting matches based on correct decisions. What makes it so pathetic is that the matches have all the technology in place with multiple cameras and referee communication and at least 6 officials plus monitoring staff.

  • Will

    So, what Man City are saying is, they want to use their money as a way of back-dooring their way onto the top table?

  • Gord

    Ignoring InitialsBB.

    Many want to drop seeding. The fact that Arsene Wenger has lead Arsenal to 18 consecutive appearances in Champions League is to be ignored. Appearances that required finishing high enough against clubs spending billions of dollars to try and get into Champions League.

    The object of UEFA Champion’s League, is to try and allow the best team in UEFA to win the title. But, UEFA cannot run a full league schedule in parallel with leagues such as the EPL (with its twisted 😈 officiating from the PGMOL). Sorry, I don’t know how many teams start at the beginning, I suspect it is more than 48. The EPL struggles to deal with 20 teams playing off to find a winner, it is not possible to run a parallel league for more than 48 teams to determine a winner in about the same time span as the EPL.

    The only way to run such a league, is to seed teams.

    Is the only reason to suggest changing the seeding process, the hatred of Arsenal? If this is the reason, the problem is finished and we continue with what has been happening in the past.

    As Arsenal has mostly been entering the Champion’s League having finished 3rd or 4th of late, it has had prequalification games. It has been seeded for those games, and UEFA has used the same seeding when the teams that finished 1st or 2nd in the EPL enter the fray. Perhaps an adjustment in seeding is needed for teams that enter Champion’s League through pre-qualification. But, it seems unlikely that such an addition, would result in Arsenal being degraded, as they have had so much success via this track.

    It may be useful to adjust seedings from the pre-qualification stage. I suspect for those people who hate Arsenal, this will not hurt Arsenal. Under Wenger, Arsenal belong in Champion’s League. And all the hatred of Arsenal in the world will not change that.

  • Will

    Another shocking bias article Why should City the champions of England the toughest league in the world have to play Bayern twice in three years and play other tough clubs like real whilst everyone else gets easy groups despite performing less? Why should debt not be considered in FFP? City have more revenue that Arsenal Chelsea LIverpool and all but the very very top clubs and zero debt about to break even about to announce tens of millions in sponsorship for the new academy and apparently a ITC sponsor for CFG and are expanding g the ground and seeking to develop houndreds of acres of east Manchester yet we get fined and others do not and no one has explained how fining a club will help them break even and be more financially secure. Nor why other options for regulation where not chosen. No one has said how you will keep the competition going when a route of increasing competition is cut off ie investment. You say. City have lobbied successfully for change one we got done over both in terms of ffp and how it was implemented two nothing as changed in our favor yet three we are entitled to lobby