by Tony Attwood
“Arsenal breaching FFP rules” is being covered in a lot of the media today with headlines such as “Arsenal placed on UEFA’s FFP watchlist as 10 clubs set to be sanctioned next month” and “Arsenal among clubs on UEFA’s Financial Fair Play ‘watchlist’ after spending spree” and “Arsenal ‘added’ to UEFA watchlist amid Financial Fair Play concerns”
Those three headlines come from the Express, the Mirror and Football.London all three of which are owned by the same company – Reach plc, with all three regularly feeding anti-Arsenal tales from each other to make it look as if the stories are everywhere. They often cite each other as sources, too.
What the Times, the seeming originator of today’s anti-Arsenal tale actually says is that “Arsenal are on Uefa’s FFP watchlist” and they “are among 20 European clubs on a Uefa watchlist of teams who may be in danger of breaching Financial Fair Play (FFP) rules.”
Now we know that ten clubs were said to be in breach of the regs ast time around including Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain, Juventus, Inter Milan and Roma. And we know that Barcelona is a basket case, but are still getting away with it, and playing in the league and Uefa has accepted that.
So this all seems a bit odd, and indeed when one starts to look it is clear that the situation is far more complicated than the media, in its constant desire to knock Arsenal, are making out.
Because of the pandemic, owners of clubs have been allowed by Uefa’s FFP rules to cover increased losses caused by football’s shutdown due to Covid-19. This change in the rules was introduced as a set of special measures for clubs in the Champions League and Europa League.
That arrangement was wirtten as it was, because it was assumed that any club likely to be breaking FFP rules would be in one of the European tournaments.
As a result clubs in Uefa competitions can make losses beyond the permitted €30m over a rolling three-year period, and the owners can cover those losses. But quite reasonably clubs that were outside the European competitions have complained that this has given others an unreasonable advantage.
Arsenal have been particularly hard hit because, as the club predicted at the time of its move from Highbury that the new stadium would generate 50% of its income, rather than the 30% or less that many clubs use as a model.
Thus the rather strict rules that applied before the pandemic and which Man City avoided by having an official tractor sponsor of the club, have been pretty much abandoned. Further the 2020 financial year has been rolled over so that two financial years are assessed together. Further, losses beyond the €30m are now allowed and owners can put money into the club either in loans or shares. Indeed if there were no exceptions, Barcelona FC would not now exist.
What makes the current media hysteria all the more interesting is that Arsenal have yet even to file their final accounts, and the club itself has said that it is compliant with Uefa’s rules. Arsenal have also said it has not had any communication from Uefa suggesting that it is looking into Arsenal. So, accounts not published, nothing from Uefa at all, special exceptions all round… It’s a Daily Mail anti-Arsenal fantasy tale which the rest of the media have dutifully lapped up.
Indeed Uefa has a very good reason not to be looking at any club in this regard at the moment since it is facing an all-or-nothing European court ruling in four months, against which there can be no appeal, which will decide if Uefa can claim monopoly rights over football tournaments in Europe, and thus effectively ban Super League.
If Uefa win that in the court, then the three remaining Super League clubs will be in what I believe is technically called “a right pickle” as Uefa can fine and ban them, and what then happens to debt zombie Barcelona is anyone’s guess. But if Uefa loses, Super League is back, and the three remaining clubs will demand the presence of the other nine, or else mega-fines which were in the contract to stop clubs from opting in and opting out. Uefa might survive but other clubs can set up their own competitions as and how they want and simply by-pass Uefa.
It is also clear that the notion that “Arsenal are placed on a UEFA watchlist with Barcelona and PSG for potentially breaching Financial Fair Play rules” as the Mail proclaims is fantasy, as there is no evidence at all of their being a “watchlist”. “Watchlist” implies that the club is being closely observed day by day, which is a load of mindless twaddle since we are talking about past accounts, not current accounts. Indeed Uefa always works from each club’s audited accounts; nothing else. One might as well say that the Daily Mail has been put on an Untold Arsenal watchlist, although we do try not to look at it very often for fear of contamination. So such a phrase wouldn’t mean anything, but we could say it just to see if anyone was dumb enough to believe it.
Indeed so overboard are the Mail by this notion they also have the headline, “20 European clubs have been placed on a UEFA watchlist for the year 2021-22”
Interestingly most journalists have a page or four listing some of their achievements and articles. Sam Brookes doesn’t, so I can’t comment further. You may draw your own conclusions however, if you wish.
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