by Tony Attwood
Now here is a turn up. The Untold Arsenal Editorial Board (also known as that bunch in the corner of the Toppled Bollard public house, on the Rutland / Northants border, along with our friends in Switzerland and other exotic places) was very much of the opinion that “Financial Fair Play” was a dead duck. A duck so dead that the place where it had fallen over and collapsed was no longer even shown on the map.
If you have been following our meanderings for more than a couple of years you’ll maybe recall the long pieces we ran about Financial Fair Play in Europe, and how Manchester City and other clubs were caught out by the regs, Man City appeared to go into total denial, how the English media really didn’t want to know, and then how in the end Man City were let off with a tap on the wrist. After which both they and PSG (another player in the story then and since) appeared to drive a regular coach and horses through the regulations with such speed and force, that the regulations basically fell apart, and the fight appeared to be well and truly lost.
FFP was, as we said in one of our more Monty Python moments, well and truly a canard mort.
Now assuming you have been with us for a while, you might recall it was way back in 2014 that we last explored FFP in real depth with the story Man City decides to take on Uefa; the result will finally decide who runs football and those of us involved in that piece, and in the others we published around that time, really did have a feeling that in the evolving battle Uefa might finally stand up for their own regulations and take on Manchester City and other clubs that were seemingly breaking FFP.
But they didn’t. What we did manage to do was edge the story up the agenda somewhat for a little while while most of the drainpipes (the so-called “outlets”) that passed for the investigative media in this country at the time ignored much of the detail.
Thus all our hopes were dashed, FFP died as a force and Manchester City and PSG in particular (and of course several other clubs in general) seemed to get through the whole affair without a scratch.
But then Uefa started an investigation in September 2017 into the purchase of Neymar by PSG for €222m and the whole question of whether there is such a thing as the Qatar Tourist Board rose up the agenda once more. (By which I mean, yes there is such an organisation, but whether it is real and does things like the Cornwall Tourist Board does things, only with an infinitely bigger budget was the question. Or was it just a front?)
Indeed all that was before PSG signed the teenager Kylian Mbappé, just about the hottest young player in the world at the time, on loan from Monaco.
And what a farce that appeared to be. PSG denied all along that any rules were broken and it seemed that Uefa agreed. The whole thing collapsed and little Untold was left looking even more stupid than usual having trumpeted the whole FFP thing as being important, big, and quite possibly the End of Things.
As an aftermath in March 2017 we had the result of Barcelona 6 PSG 1, and the hilarity of watching PSG saying that football was fixed. Well, yes, most of us here feel it possibly is, but the thought of PSG claiming that was rather droll.
And that was that, until along came Der Spiegel and the story that we had initially thought was one of the best examples of how the English press were not going to cover certain topics, has suddenly bubbled up again.
Only this time it has a new, much sharper edge: the possibility that Uefa weren’t just a feeble bunch of ninnies who couldn’t prosecute a drunk cow in a field of grapes, but rather they or some of their kind were actively involved in the whole show.
Because what is different this time is that whereas previously the media tried to push the story so far down the agenda that it was a sort of “any other business”, relegated to the foot of the page due to it being too technical, for us little football fans, now, although it is hardly the lead news anywhere, it is creeping into the mainstream.
And although I am always reluctant to feel that little Untold really has an impact on the wider world, we got the impression there was that feeling in aftermath of 2014 among just a few journalists and editors, that Uefa really had made a mistake by suggesting the whole thing was going to go away with a wave of a chequebook. Somewhere in the back of what passes for my mind there was this tiny thought: we ain’t got all of this story by any means.
There was, we felt, something rather odd going on.
Was that little thought true? Well, what Der Spiegel is now saying is that Manchester City’s accounts which were used to explain their way through the crisis in 2014 were a pack of fairy stories. Two issues arise from that: one is that the whole FFP situation from that time should be considered again, and the other is the question how come Uefa and the media were so easily convinced that everything really was ok?
The latter we might explain by the attitude of the English media that this type of story is too complicated and too foreign to be of interest to the average football fan in England. But thankfully in Germany the press has a higher regard for its audience.
As for the former, yes at the time it all seemed to go away too quickly, too easily, too simply with the award of a little fine.
But now the source of the new information is Football Leaks – of course – and what makes it all so fascinating is the simplicity of the plan that has been uncovered via the hacked emails.
It is not some convoluted, extraordinary, hard to follow set of accountancy, packed with words that no one without a degree in mumbo-jumbo could understand. No, not at all, for the story now is that every time Manchester City ran out of money, they had some more sent over from home. And Uefa turned a blind eye.
It’s a bit like a university student with rich parents who goes out partying and gambling and runs out of cash and calls mummy on the morning after. And then mummy not only hands over the money but puts it on her tax return as a legitimate expense. And the tax man lets it go.
Except this time, the source of the top ups, according to Football Leaks is the Abu Dhabi United Group owned by Mr Mansour. And the tax man turning a blind eye to obviously dodgy accounting is Uefa.
Much of the time it is a bit of a dull story with not much to grip the average reader of the Star or the Express or indeed the Mirror with its 40 a day rumour machine “Football London”, but let me give you this one brilliant bit where (it is alleged) Manchester City is running a bit low on the readies, and Jorge Chumillas, their chief financial officer knocks out an email in which he suggests that maybe the date of payment for the sponsors in Abu Dhabi might be changed to help the club’s cash flow. Simon Pearce, a member of the board sends back a note saying, “Of course, we can do what we want.” I love that bit.
Part two of this story will follow shortly. In the meanwhile if you are interested, and didn’t read our piece four years ago, you might like to go back and do that now. It’s quite good. Honest.
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