By Tony Attwood
Why so many articles about Uefa and Financial Fair Play?
Two reasons really. One is that it is just about the biggest thing happening in football at the moment, apart possibly from the issue of corruption. The other is that a full and proper implementation of FFP will cause problems for some clubs and benefits for others. Arsenal is definitely on the benefit side.
So Uefa has said it will look closely at Chelsea, Manchester City and PSG in terms of their sponsorship deals to ensure that no one has broken the rules on investments from related parties.
In effect this means that they may have broken the rule that says that clubs can’t count income from such sources as being exempt from money considered under FFP, unless it is at a “fair market value”.
So if Manchester City (to name but a few) were to sign a 10-year £350million stadium and shirt sponsorship contract (to take a number at random) with airline Etihad (to choose an example at out of the blue), which is based in Abu Dhabi (to choose a country by just opening the atlas and seeing what page we get to), and we find that the ruling family of that country also owns the club (by some wild coincidence), then Uefa has to say if this deal is a deliberate attempt to get around the rules, or is set at a fair market price.
And then again if we take a figure like £200million-a-year (chosen of course by spinning a wheel) and take a club (let’s say, for the sake of example and nothing more, PSG), and note that their owners are the Qatari Investment Authority, and let us say, oh, just for no reason than its there, that the money comes from the Qatar Tourism Authority, which (we might conjecture), handles 23 tourists a year from France, we can say, well, that’s fine then. All straight and above board. Nothing to worry about. Hunky dory. Tickety boo.
Now we won’t know what Uefa thinks, until it has a thought, but basically if they let either of these deals go through, then FFP is not so much dead, as merely a twinkle in someone’s eye which was never born and has never got off the ground.
So what does Uefa think? General secretary Gianni Infantino said, of the clubs, “They have to demonstrate that they can cover their costs with the revenues that they generate without cheating. If the result is that something went wrong then sanctions will be taken.”
In Uefa’s defence we have to note that they have excluded a few clubs from its competitions, including Portsmouth, Malaga and Besiktas for breaking some details of FFP – although not the little details that Man C and PSG are alleged by some wild and thoughtless bloggers to have broken.
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So Uefa has set up an independent “chamber” which will impose sanctions if they are needed. And that could start legal action over the true and reasonable meaning of the phrase “fair market value”.
Mr Infantino continued,“We were always worried – and I say this with a smile – with clubs that were telling us, ‘We will sue you if you dare take sanctions against us for Financial Fair Play regulations’, [because] we have the other clubs who will sue us if we don’t take sanctions against those who have breached the rules.”
Uefa has however released the 2011 Club Licensing Benchmarking Report, which shows quite clearly that (to take an example at random) Chelsea and Manchester City would have be expelled from the Champs League two years back if the limited loss rule had been in force two years ago. And to show that it is not just an English thing, so would 18 other clubs that exceeded the maximum €45 million losses over three years.
But what would these sanctions be, I hear you cry. Anything from fines (which are of course meaningless to Chelsea and Manchester City), to expulsion from the Champions League and Europa League, which might make Mr Abramovich pack up his yacht and toddle off to somewhere less boisterous than the King’s Road.
Mr Infantino added that, “Last year… when we published this benchmarking report for the clubs, we were saying that it’s a wake-up call for the clubs. But I think the clubs are really ‘up’, that the Financial Fair Play rules show that they have teeth and that those are biting now.”
So there we have it. Whatever Uefa do, someone is going to sue them. Which by and large should be rather interesting. One might say that the future of European football depends totally on who wins the legal battle.
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