By Tony Attwood
We first picked up on Fifa’s plans for handling loans in a different way back in 2018 with the article Fifa are considering banning loans as they target Chelsea and Juventus. But we’d been pondering the issue for years before that.
And now, tucked away, out of sight of any readers in the UK (as the media doesn’t want to excite them too much) there is a headline appearing across the media through Europe. Translated it reads, “Juventus’ transfer accounts under investigation”.
Now the immediate reaction could well be, so what? These foreigners are often up to no good. Probably cheating as well. But this story has an impact throughout European football – and it brings us back to the long-running loans issue in the Premier League.
And not just because this is Juventus – the impregnable club of Europe. The club that won nine Italian league titles in a row up to last season when suddenly, out of nowhere, they finished fourth, 11 points behind the winners, only making it into the Champions League by one point.
But of late things have not gone well. For example, Fabio Paratici was accused of trying to intimidate the referee by shouting at him at halftime and that intimidation scandal is running on and on in Italy. And yes, that is the same Paratici who became Managing Director of Football at Tottenham.
In August this year Juventus were accused of blatant racism by a member of their women’s team – which was a bit of a shock since Juventus’ women’s team are managed by Joe Montemurro, who you may recall was the manager of Arsenal’s women’s team until last summer. He was supposedly returning to Australia to spend more time with his family, but seemingly got waylayed.
But this latest affair could be more serious, as it opens the lid not just on something that happens in Italy but which is becoming rather popular across European football.
It involves the exchange of players between clubs for no reason other than to make the accounts of the clubs look better, and so avoid any suggestion that the clubs are breaking financial fair play rules. And when we mention FFP rules and loans, suddenly the name Chelsa might pop into our minds.
According to La Repubblica and Il Tempo, the Serie A supervisory committee in Italy has highlighted 62 dubious player movements between 2019 and 2021, 42 of which involved Juventus. And there is a growing suggestion that because the technique has been so successful in Italy of hiding losses by clubs in order to get around financial rules, the idea has already spread across Europe.
Now in 2020 the BBC reported that restrictions on the number of loan deals clubs can agree were about to come in as Fifa proposed that clubs could only have eight loan deals per season, and that this number would then be reduced to six from 2022-23.
The initial plan is to limit this rule to players aged 22 or over but it is planned to lower it, and this could have quite an impact because in 2021 Chelsea were reported by the BBC to have 28 players out on loan. And even without an age change they could be in trouble as 15 of their loanees are aged 22 or over. Fifa in its usual way of speaking said the new regulations are intended to “ensure that loans have a valid sporting purpose for youth development”.
The plan was that individual leagues would then be given a period of three years to implement similar rules for domestic loan deals.
Now that would seem not to be of interest to the Premier League, since their rules say clubs cannot register more than two players on loan at any one time and can only register four loans in total in one season and cannot sign more than one player from the same club on loan at any one time.
All of that looks pretty comprehensive, but it has a big gap in it. For there is still no limit on numbers of players that can leave clubs on loan. Hence Chelsea’s 28.
If this rule is pushed through then the manipulation of accounts by showing loan players’ worth as an asset for the clubs would be stopped, and clubs that move their accounts into profit (thus avoiding any financial fair play problems) would not be able to do that.
Of course I am not suggesting Chelsea is doing anything wrong, but the vast number of loans that they have been organising year on year with hardly any of the players ever coming back to play for Chelsea, has been arranged for some reason, and now via Juventus, we have a suggestion what it is – and what the authorities are thinking of doing about it.
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