Changes to the financial controls of clubs in Europe looked doomed to failure


By Tony Attwood

It is always interesting to see the treatment that clubs and their managers are given by the media.   Unai Emery, while at Arsenal was portrayed as inept, and lacking in insight but now he is seen as a master tactician having knocked Bayern Munich out of the Champions League with Villareal.

Ah, Unai Emery – derided in the English media, turned on by some Arsenal fans, and ultimately kicked out of Arsenal on 29 November 2019 when Arsenal were 8th.  The following season we were eighth again, so maybe it wasn’t just Emery.

But the fact that the defeat of Bayern Munich by an Emery driven team is such a surprise reveals the poverty of competition in Europe.  

Some years ago we played a little game here of predicting the winners of the league in Germany, France, Scotland, Spain, Italy and England, early in each season, and year after year we got the vast majority right.

Germany was Bayern Munich, year on year on year – nine years running in fact.   Spain was a bit trickier because Real Madrid and Barcelona tended to share it and Atletico popped up with one of their occasional wins last season.  But it was still not that difficult.

In Italy, Juventus won it nine times in a row before Inter popped up with one of their occasional titles last season.  In Scotland Celtic had nine wins in a row before Rangers came along and stopped them getting the 1oth last season.

In France PSG got the title seven times in eight years, although Lille pushed them into second place last season.

Only England seems to be able to stop the one (or occasionally two) horse race although whatever happens this season only two clubs will have won the title in the last five years.  Although to be fair Arsenal did win the First Division five times in eight years in the 1930s.

And I mention all this again because there is a problem when one or two teams dominate football.   Because for everyone it gets a bit, well, Greek – given that Olympiacos have won the league 20 times in the last 25 years.

To try and reduce the ability of the top clubs always to wrap up the league in their own country, and add a bit more to the competition, the European Football Association has reformed the financial fair play regulations.  This, rather curiously will allow the clubs to run up larger deficits – something that is necessary given the state of many clubs’ finances, and Manchester City’s ability to get its own way through the appeals courts, and the English courts, but at the same time prohibit them from spending all the money on salaries and transfer fees.

As Aleksander Ceferin announced recently, “The main innovation will be the introduction of a control of the cost of the teams.”

So clubs can go ahead and run up debts but there is going to be a “salary cap”, which means that clubs will have to limit their players’ and coaches’ salaries, transfer fees and agents’ commissions to 70% of their revenues from the 2025/2026 season.

The delay is to allow for current contracts to go through their course – clubs now know what future contracts will have to look like.   The rules show that 90% of revenues can be spent on salaries in 2023/2024, then 80% of revenues for the 2024/2025 season.

Fines will be imposed on the offending clubs according to the extent of the overrun, which will then be distributed among the clubs that have kept their houses in order.  There will also be recruitment bans, loan restrictions, demotion from one European competition to another and penalty points in the “mini-leagues” that will replace the group stages from 2024.

The present Champions League season begins with participants divided into eight groups of four. From the 2024/25 season, there will be a single league made up of all 36 competing clubs – meaning four extra clubs participate.

Under the new format, teams will play four matches extra and rather than playing home and  away  against three teams they will play ten different teams, half at home.  

But the problem of club income is not addressed by any of these rules and as the most recent set of leaked documents show, clubs are perfectly able to say to sponsors, “We need another $100 million in sponsorship money so we can balance the books.”   And so the Official Tractor Sponsor of the club dutifully pays it over, having received it first from the club owner, who in turn took it out of his country’s oil reserves.

So the chances are, nothing much changes.

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