By Walter Broeckx
In September the UEFA’s Executive Committee approved the Financial Fair Play concept for the well-being of European club football.
The major objective of the Financial Fair Play concept is to improve the financial fairness in European competitions, as well as the long-term stability of European club football.
In order to achieve this goal, a set of measures will be put in place. These include an obligation for clubs whose turnover is over a certain threshold, over a period of time, to balance their books or break even. Under the concept, clubs cannot repeatedly spend more than their generated revenues. Guidance will be given on salaries and transfer spending, indicators provided on the sustainability of levels of debt, and clubs will be obliged to honour their commitments at all times.
These measures will reach beyond the current UEFA club licensing system and be implemented over a three-year period. They will stimulate long-term investment (youth development and upgrading of sporting facilities) over short-term speculative spending, and adherence to the rules will be assessed by the recently formed independent Club Financial Control Panel.
Former Belgian Prime Minister Jean-Luc Dehaene has been appointed as the chairman of the panel, which will consist of financial and legal experts who will conduct financial audits to ensure that the UEFA club licensing system is applied correctly.
UEFA President Michel Platini said: “The idea is not to hurt clubs. The idea is to help them. The basic premise is that clubs should not spend more than they earn. Club owners have asked for the introduction of rules, and this will be an adventure for European football and UEFA.” Michel Platini said the measures were essential for the long-term health of the European game.
The Club Financial Control Panel will be independent, and its chairman has a wealth of respect and experience. Jean-Luc Dehaene was Prime Minister of Belgium from 1992 to 1999, and deputy Prime Minister for the four years before that. He held various ministerial posts with the Belgian government.
He has also held a number of European mandates, including vice-chairmanship of the European Convention and membership of the Convention on the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, and is a member of the board of several important European companies. “Mr Dehaene is very experienced in financial matters, and a great football fan,” said Michel Platini. “He is the ideal person to take charge of the economic destiny of European football.
“I am therefore particularly happy to see that for this challenge we are able to attract a person with the quality and background of Mr Dehaene. As the first chairman of the Club Financial Control Panel, he will set the standard in this area and in so doing, will make history. It was crucial to have this new role handled by a man of his capacity and stature.” (editor’s note: If you see a picture of him you know what they mean.)
Speaking of his appointment, Mr Dehaene said: “The rule of financial fair play is aimed at ensuring the healthy, lasting viability of clubs. By imposing this rule on all clubs participating in European competitions, UEFA has taken the path both the European Commission and Parliament had hoped for. By agreeing to chair the Club Financial Control Panel, I hope to be able to help achieve this ambitious objective, which is vital to the future of European football.”
At first sight this looks all very well and fine. But I really cannot help but feel uncomfortable. It is the appointment of Jean-Luc Dehaene that makes me doubt. As you may recall, I am from the same country as him and in my country they nickname him “the plumber”. Now when you have a leak in your house it is fine to have a plumber, but then it has to be a plumber who can make decisions or who is brave enough to make decisions.
And this is where I doubt he will be strong enough. The way we know him he is more someone who is looking for a compromise and not the person to say: “Now listen, those are the rules, you don’t live within the rules, sorry but you can not play in the CL or Europa league.” If he sticks to the old traditions of Belgium then we will have him saying: “Oh well, it looks like you are not living within the rules but you know we will find a solution to bend the rules for you so that you could take part in the CL, EL, whatever league”.
It just is the way he has worked in politics for some 20 years. So why will he be different now? If he had changed in the last year fine, but when he came back in to the political spotlight a few weeks ago for a short return he just looked the same old Jean-Luc Dehaene to me. Always looking for more compromising and never looking for the “this is how it is and how it shall be”.
As I work in the public sector and have to see how rules are being followed I must say that the worst thing you can have about rules is that there could be some misunderstanding about the rules. The rules must be simple and clear. With no escape routes for privileged friends and partners.
But in fact when Belgian politicians set up rules the first thing they do is usually set up escape routes. So I really hope that the rules will be simple, clear and have no escape routes in it. Better to keep Belgian politicians or ex-politicians far away from making up the rules or trying to let people obey the rules.
Even if I am a very optimistic person on most things in live I really hope the new rules will be firm and must be followed by ALL the clubs. But from the experiences I have with some of the people involved I really can not say that I have great expectations that everything will be fair in a few years.
So if you see the ruling being less tight than you expected, you can be surprised. I will say: I told you how it would happen. I hope I am wrong.
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