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Clubs are getting round FFP and Uefa know what they have to do. But will they act?

By Tony Attwood

It’s not much of a talking point in England largely because of the huge investment made the English media in talking up Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea but in Europe there is an almost continual debate going on concerning the ability or otherwise of Uefa to control the super-rich clubs – and the consequences if they don’t or can’t.

Indeed “Le Temps” – the only nationwide French language broad based daily newspaper in Switzerland has even got so far as to publish what it calls “the most well-known subterfuges” used by clubs to get around Financial Fair Play rules.  The three it highlights are

a) Loans with a buying option, which make it possible to postpone an expense to later, and then write down the value in the books because of some perceived injury or decline in form.   We’ve seen the opening stage of this approach used this past summer in the case of Mbappé moving form Monaco to PSG.

b) Then there is the idea of taking debts and turning them into interest-free loans.  While the English media seem to watch Abramovich in awe, Le Temps has no hesitation in naming this as the methodology preferred by the man they call the “owner-patron” of Chelsea.

c) The purchase by debt, which occurs when an owner borrows money on his own behalf to invest in a club without registering that debt in a way that affects the accounts.  This tricks is used by “the Americans in Manchester United or, more recently, the Chinese in AC Milan.”

But now Le Temps recognises that there is also the fourth route which more and more clubs are having a go at, in which clubs increase their turnover in order to balance their accounts.  Which is fine if the income is real – and this is the reason the revenues of European clubs have increased sixfold in twenty years – quite an amazing achievement when you consider what has been happening to the rest of the economy during this time.  Not so clever when the income isn’t real, or doesn’t keep on rising.

As Le Temps says, Manchester City spent 853 million euros on its playing staff this summer which is 242 million euros more than last year.   In second place in the ranking, according to the International Centre for the Study of Sport (CIES) was PSG, with a total spend of 850 million euros, an increase of 395 million.

These two figures alone are enough to make most other clubs angry and argue that financial fair play has not managed to curb inflation in football at the highest level – which is why they are pushing for investigations as to exactly where all this money is coming from.

Of course not all agree that something is wrong.  Uefa President Aleksander Ceferin said recently in the preface to the eighth “benchmarking report”, a document that gathers the financial statements of the largest 700 European clubs , “Financial fair play has not only stabilized the finances of European football, it has also provided the framework for unprecedented growth, investment and profitability.”

However he then adds, “Uefa must remain vigilant and take account of less positive developments, such as a return to strong wage growth and increased concentration of commercial and sponsorship revenues in a handful of clubs. ”

Uefa is apparently also aware of the implications of the concentration of wealth noting that “the gap between the top clubs and the rest is widening rapidly”.  Uefa has, it seems, finally woken up to the fact that the 15 biggest clubs have received an additional 1.5 billion euros since 2009. The 700 other clubs under the Uefa radar have now reached less than 500 million euros. In short, the gap is growing – and it is this that is worrying Uefa.

Last year, an economic study by the University of Munich concluded that the FPF “does not reduce inequalities, it deepens them by solidifying existing hierarchies because the obligation of financial equilibrium prevents smaller clubs from investing to growth.”

CIES expert Raffaele Poli, has made it clear he wants “these inequalities to be placed at the heart of the debate”. Although this is now the aim of Uefa, it is clear that its recent actions are aimed more at stopping the tricks and turns of PSG than at improving the chances of balancing out the system.   But they still claim to have an open mind.

“We are considering the type of measures that should be introduced to alleviate these problems,” Aleksander Ceferin said.

But what they are considering are measures that will be used to prepare for the future, not to react to what happened this summer and in therein lies the problem.  If Manchester City, PSG, Chelsea, Barcelona, Real Mad and Bayern Munich carry on as they are doing, the chances of anyone catching up with them are going to be non-existent.

There are ways of course.  A salary cap set not at the elite level but at a much lower level.  Or an annual transfer limit which only takes account of purchases not sales, and again sets the limit at way below what these clubs have been paying.

Of course the Premier League could introduce its own rules, but to do so would mean that top players would continue to go to PSG, Real Mad and the like, leaving the PL as a much weaker league.

Everyone knows that the new model is for between one and three dominant teams in key leagues, with only limited competition in those leagues, but all the main competition being in the Champions League (which Uefa runs).   The approach ruins the national leagues as open competitions which a wide range of clubs could seriously challenge for.

It’s going to be tough to make meaningful regulation to restrict the relentless growth of a handful of clubs, but it still must be possible.  And it is essential.

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20 comments to Clubs are getting round FFP and Uefa know what they have to do. But will they act?

  • Nitram

    A couple of points.

    1) Isn’t the grossly inflated sponsorship of a club via stadium naming rights, shirt deals etc. another way around FFP ?

    2) “does not reduce inequalities, it deepens them by solidifying existing hierarchies because the obligation of financial equilibrium prevents smaller clubs from investing to growth.” Exactly.

    Surely any prospective investor now knows that even an investment of £500 Million, over say 5 years, is by no means a guarantee to win the PL, let alone the CL. It’s not even a given that it will break you into the top 4.

    Surely if you’re looking to invest that kind of money you want more than a 5th, 4th or 3rd place return for your money ?

    In other words, unless your prepared to invest BILLIONS, not just 100’s of Millions, what’s the point?

  • Flares

    “The approach ruins the national leagues as open competitions which a wide range of clubs could seriously challenge for…”

    A correct statement up to a point: that point being Leicester City Football Club. Anomaly though it may be, this demonstrates the PL at least retains a glimmer of the hope which has all but evaporated elsewhere, particularly in Spain and Germany. My guess is eventually the bubble will burst due to clubs putting their prices up too high, thus declining matchday revenue necessitates shuffling papers and grave looks across the boardroom table.

  • Naz

    Be careful Arsenal fans. Your own club came very close to flouting the Premier League’s restrictions on wages this Summer which is why Wenger wants to get rid of FFP now.

    You can find the articles if you Google it. From memory it was covered in the Independent. I am sure other papers reported on it too.

  • Chris

    Tony,

    I’m not sure you can put Bayern (even as they are our ‘bête noire’) into the same lot as PSG, Madrid, and the lot.

    As far as I can remember and know, they have had a ‘wise’ club management, for decades. Ex players moving from youth ranks to first team, to staff and then to management.
    I do not believe (but I can be wrong) that they have had any sponsor just throwing the money at them, city paying stadium, country playing banker.
    I believe they have been clever, ruthless on the Bundesliga, yet with some ‘human’ reactions. A club is in dire strairs ? Just call Ueli Hoennes and discuss an exhibition game with them….they’ve done that., not only once, to help other clubs.

    Then, I know, they’ve beaten us repeatedly….but of all the lot, I’d say they are probably the cleanest (and they are fierce yes) club and don’t deserve to be put in the same group

  • Samuel Akinsola Adebosin

    We all must recognise that in the case of the Premier League clubs, apart of Man Utd whose strong source of money generation comes largely from their worldwide marketing exploits, and from the remarkable accruing incomes resulting from their match day ticket sales realised from the mammoth crowd attending their home matches at their big capacity Old Trafford stadium which enables them financially to spend big regularly as they want in every transfer window to buy the players they want whenever they want to. There is no and other club in the Premier League that can match the financial purchasing power Of Man Utd. Save, the Ma City and Chelsea club sides who are being sponsored by their passionates football investors who in their insatiable urges and inordinate ambitions backed by their milioniare power ownership capacity that has enabled them to be pumping large sum of money into their clubs relentlessly overtime to see their clubs win titles in domestic and in Europe competitions. For their passions to see their clubs win titles regularly, and in their inordinate ambitions to see them win the big titles, these millionaire owners have at one time or the other see to their clubs breaching the FFP rules in financial spendings for which they were punished. But notwithstanding these financial fines punishments ment to them, they have designed other new ways through which they can over spend very big in the transfer market to sign the players they want without necessarily breach the current standing FFP rules. Save, if the FFP rules are reviewed upwards to restrict the excessive spendings in the transfer market in a window to buy players by clubs like PSG & Man City owned by the same super rich millionaires family to thus allow a level playing ground in the transfer window. Otherwise, these football passionate millionaires will continue to fund their clubs with the money they need in every window to buy world class and top quality players in the market at whatever cost price.

  • Mike T

    Sometimes you read articles on here and applaud the logic and indeed the arguement s and then you read articles like this one .
    I travel widely in Europe and other than the odd commentator or the odd publication FFP isn’t the issue that is a main topic of conversation itn footballing circles
    It’s strange but very convient to quote or seek solace in a French language newspaper, published in Switzerland which incidentally only has a circulation of 50k meaning it is 20th in terms of Swiss National readership and then only 6th in French language publications .More to the point it’s broadly equity the readership of the Liverpool Echo. The named publication has little or no indeed influence.
    We have a wage cap in England it’s called short term financial controls, we have FFP not just UEFA s version but again that’s not delivered what some wanted the irony was it never was going to the fact was even someone with a basic understanding of the rules could see its flaws and the inevitable outcome namely the big clubs were nearly always going to thrive they nearly always have yet some failed to truly grasp the reality of the situation the question now is will they be able to adapt

  • Chris

    Mike T.,

    reading your introduction, am I right that your opinion is nothing worth reading can come out of a ‘small’ newspaper and the fact that it has no or little influence means it is just worth disregarding ?
    Sorry, but I can’t but voice my respectful disagreement.

    Fact is that the UK press pretty much does not care, so UA goes for other sources. I can’ see how that is any problem ?!?. Anyway, you are entitled to your opinion and to express it respectfully, so be it.

    Apart from that, I believe this inflation will have as a logical consequence a pan-european championship.
    I can’t see ratings going up and up forever if systematically the same teams win and the competition is as biased and the differences in level are getting bigger and bigger.

    And considering how PL top clubs want to change existing rules of how the PL shares TV revenue, you can be damn sure that at some point the FCB or Madrid will come asking for more and state that when they go to Belgrade, Basel or, they are deserving 60 or 80 % of revenues. At that point small clubs will have no incentive to participate in a competition where all they get is 2-0 or 5-0 drubbings with the occasional surprise sprung once the big clubsa are qualified and let the reserve team play.

    The non-respect of FFP rules in Europe and whatever they are called in the UK (because they are not respected there either, like : WHU, City, Leicester, etc.) is just creating a tilted playing field. And as Mr Wenger said, might as well not have any and at least the playing field is level : anything goes.

  • Al

    FFP is a misnomer. Clubs and companies for that matter, go out of business because of a lack of cash. Manchester a City, for example are not going to be in a position where they can’t pay their debts. FFP says you might have money but your not allowed to spend it. It’s like you have a rich uncle who gives you millions of pounds. You go to buy a big new house and nobody will take your money because you didn’t earn it.

  • Mandy Dodd

    Seems like FFP is dead, Qatar and others can buy out that sort of thing.
    Some say we were keeping to the EPL ver of FFP in this summers transfer window, if so,I would wager we were alone and unique

  • Al I think that your comment misses the point that for football to have any meaning it needs to be competitive, and clearly it is getting less competitive. A league with minimal competition is in the end less engrossing. A league with no competition can be seen in Scotland. FFP was designed to help keep competition – that is where the notion of fairness comes in.

  • Naz, Arsenal seemed to me to be well aware of the rules on wages and were not seeking to plough a way through them. Rather like a company that pays its tax on the last day for filing the payment, it has done nothing wrong.

  • Josif

    @Tony

    Arsenal had been close to breach the short-term control rules (as was firstly reported by Daily Mail come June which was – surprisingly – only briefly mentioned at Untold) and that’s why we had to relieve our wage bill. Both Kolašinac and Lacazette have commanded big wages so we had to sell/loan out players intensively in order to both relieve our squad in terms of numbers (from 34 players) and to relieve our wage bill for this year.

    When it comes to bypassing FFP by sending players on loan with an obligation rather than an option to purchase them, I think Italian clubs have invented that stuff (i.e. Roma did it with Džeko) and everyone is fine with that.

    When it comes to Bayern, putting them in the same bracket as PSG from the financial point of view is either sour grapes or lazy journalism. If I’m correct, Bayern have never spent on a single player as we have on our biggest purchase. Also, they have never been beneficiaries of their country in terms of getting plausible deals to postpone tax obligations like Spanish clubs have. That’s why Ivan Gazidis has taken Bayern as a role model for Arsenal which, sadly, won’t produce the same results at Arsenal as it has with Bayern. Simply, Bayern are the greatest German club and every player in Germany dreams of playing for them one day. Arsenal are “just” one of the most popular clubs in England and will never have that emotional monopoly on the fans in United Kingdom. Also, Bayern don’t have to be afraid some sheikh or olygarch will buy, say, Schalke 04 and spend billions on new players due to ownership rules in Germany.

    If, however, the point is “one-team-league-in-which-the-strongest-club-buys-top-players-from-their-closest-rivals”, then those two clubs can stand together but let’s not forget it was Bayern – of all clubs – that helped Borussia Dortmund when they were on the brink of bancrupcy due to their irrational spending and poor results.

  • Mike T

    Tony

    Odd how you suggest that a company paying its debt on the last day has done nothing wrong, which of course it hasn’t yet when say for instance Chelsea act within the rules regard loan players you voice loud opinions as to how they should be stopped and now Arsenal have had to adjust their operating model to comply with FFP that’s ok.

    As for football being competitive 4 different clubs have won the PL in the last 5 years whereas in the first 12 years of the PL only 3 clubs lifted the trophy. That suggests it’s now far more competitive than ever.. or was all ok when other than one occasion when Blackburn won the league the only two teams that were going to win it were Arsenal and ManUtd?

    At some point the likes of Real and probably Barca will lead the charge toward a Eureopean league that may or may not be accelerated by what’s going on in Catalonia similarly the top 4or5 German, English, French and Italian clubs will fancy a Packerish type break away from the current governing bodies as will the odd club in Holland ,Russia and possibly Portugal . Alas it’s inevitable for money talks

  • insideright

    Arsenal didn’t sell in the summer in order to balance the books but to reduce the numbers of players in the first team squad to the regulation 25. The Club is so far within the FFP regulations (preparing for them to be tightened?) as to be almost ridiculous.

  • Jerry

    @Naz and Mike T,

    I did google it and couldn’t find the sources you mentioned. Only article I found mentioning Arsenal might be in breach of FFP was on the Daily Cannon and that was only if we add another significant player after Lacazette and Kolasinic. If you guys can find me the articles you mentioned, I would love to take a look at it.

    In regards to FFP, Arsene Wenger said to fix it or scrap it, not to just get rid of it. From September 22nd, Goal.com article:

    “You have to go one of two ways. Regulate it properly, or leave it completely open,” he said.
    “But you cannot be in between. That is where we are at the moment. That is only to the advantage of some clubs who can deal with rules in a legal way.
    “The regulation has to be stricter and clearer, or open it completely: you can do what you want, provided you can guarantee you have the money to pay.”

  • Jammy

    Flares – Your comment could well be right, if it wasn’t for the fact that Leicester were aided by the refs at virtually every single given opportunity. I wonder how many new viewers were attracted to the PL after watching that little Cinderella story unfold..

  • Jerry

    @Josif,

    Thanks for the link. Just as I thought, that article was written on June 23rd before the transfer window was even open. It only accounts for the increase in salary if Sanchez and Ozil re-sign at about 280,000, but does not account for any potential departures during the transfer window.

    Kind of a fake story to say Arsenal are going to have a fire sale with the assumption that both Alexis and Ozil are re-signing at much higher wage rates, and no one is leaving Arsenal.

    Here is an article from Total Sportek completely debunking that article on August 23rd:

    http://www.totalsportek.com/money/arsenal-player-salaries/

    “If things go as planned we can expect Arsenal’s wage bill to touch £200 million if Ozil, Sanchez and couple of other important players sign new deals.”

    £200 million is only £5 million more than the £195 from last season (still £2 million to spare). Even the TS article needs to be updated because it still had Gabriel, Gibbs, and Ox on the wage structure (Total of £175,000 per week).

  • Jerry

    Apologize the TS article was from August 15th

  • Nitram

    OT

    Despite our recent good run putting our shambolic mob above Liverpool and Chelsea, and 1 point behind the mighty Spurs you can always rely on good old James Olly in the London Evening Standard to find something negative to say about us.

    The thing is it seems there’s nothing currently for him to stir the shit about so he’s dug something up from last month.

    What a sad little ****.

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