5 Reasons Why the UEFA Financial Fair Play Regulations Are a Bad Idea
UEFA president Michel Platini (Getty Images)
The UEFA Financial Fair Play (FFP) Regulations were first put into play in 2011-12 as a means of leveling the playing field in European football over the next few seasons. The premise is simple: operate a sustainable business model, or face UEFA sanctions.
Clubs that operate at a huge loss thanks to wealthy investors will now be encouraged to break even in order to prevent them from gaining an unfair advantage over less moneyed rivals.
A Belgian agent named Daniel Striani, however, has launched a legal challenge against the FFP rules, arguing that they will restrict the amount of money he can earn. After all, if less clubs are paying less money for star players, there are less 15 percent commissions for him.
While it is virtually impossible to feel sympathy for the plight of an agent, the FFP rules are far from a perfect solution to football's financial problems. Here are five reasons why the new regulations are flawed...
1. They Will Help Keep the Power Within the Richest Clubs
The likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Manchester Utd aren't top clubs because they have received the backing of a Middle Eastern sheikh or a Russian oligarch; they have slowly built their power, wealth and support over decades of success on the pitch.
Even with FFP, the clubs who have historically ruled Europe's major leagues will continue to hold most of the power, as they have built up too much support to fail. In fact, the regulations will merely increase the power of the traditionally wealthy clubs, as their dominance will no longer be challenged by the nouveau riche outfits like Chelsea or Pairs Saint-Germain.
With the power base frozen among a smaller group of teams—and no one able to break their hegemony—a break-away European Super League seems inevitable.
2. They Will Be Extremely Difficult to Police
UEFA have warned the likes of PSG and Manchester City that they will be unable to "cheat" the FFP rules (via The Guardian), but they are already engaging in questionable sponsorship practices designed to keep them in line when the regulations are fully introduced next spring.
Manchester City have a deal in place with Etihad airlines worth £400 million over ten years, and a further three of their sponsors (Etisalat, Aabar and Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority) are run by the United Arab Emirates Government, of which owner Sheikh Mansour is a minister and member of the ruling family.
Paris Saint-Germain are paid an eye-watering €200 million per season by the Qatar Tourism Authority, who have very close links with the Qatar Investment Authority that owns the club.
In 2012, Chelsea started a sponsorship deal with Gazprom, a Russian gas and oil company. Need we remind you of the industry in which Roman Abramovich made his millions.
By effectively sponsoring themselves with inflated deals, several clubs are flouting the FFP rules by artificially inflating their turnover to allow for extra spending. Attempting to clamp down on these deals would be a legal minefield.
FFP also invites concerning practices such as third-party ownership, where a player is actually owned (in part of full) by another company or wealthy individual. This scenario caused plenty of problems during Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano's transfer to West Ham.
There is nothing to stop a Middle Eastern investment group from owning a large proportion of players on a certain team, thus keeping their transfer fees off the books.
3. They Will Make Things Less Exciting
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Two seasons before Sheikh Mansour invested in Manchester City—who won last season's Premier League on the final day in one of the most thrilling football moments of all time—they finished in 14th position.
Less than a decade before Roman Abramovich brought his riches to Stamford Bridge, Chelsea consistently finished in the bottom half of the league.
You may question their methods, but the sudden rise of clubs like these has certainly made European football a more exciting—and unpredictable—place.
And the excitement isn't just being felt in England; Ligue 1 has only ever produced one European Cup winner (Marseille in 1993) but Paris Saint-Germain's new 'project' is designed around winning the Champions League and putting French football back on the map.
Malaga have been hit with an FFP ban for unpaid bills, but if their owner Sheikh Abdullah Al Thani actually cared about the club, imagine the impact they could have had in La Liga? The big two would finally have a serious challenger to their supremacy.
The extra cash injection that certain clubs have received from their sugar daddies also makes for exhilarating transfer news. Knowing that several clubs might pay upwards of £54 million for Edinson Cavani this summer is ridiculous, but it's an enjoyable part of the theatre of the beautiful game.
This game, after all, is about entertainment, and these rich clubs are keeping us entertained.
It might not be fair that some clubs are getting extra financial assistance, but why is it any less fair to the teams that have built up their wealth over decades of dominance? They still have more resources than smaller teams, and little will change that.
There are countless reasons why football is always going to be unfair, and the playing field will never truly be level. So why take away the thrill of a new team attempting to become the biggest in the world?
4. They Might Be Illegal
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The aforementioned agent Daniel Striani is legally challenging FFP rules because they hinder his potential earnings. But the rules will also hinder the earnings of players and reduce transfer fee inflation, which is, in the opinion of Striani's lawyer, "anti-competitive" and a serious breach of European law.
The lawyer—the same man who famously won the Bosman ruling—also says the rules impinge several fundamental EU freedoms: "the 'break-even' rule infringes other EU fundamental freedoms: free movement of capital (as far as club owners are concerned), free movement of workers (players) and free movement of services (players agents)." (quote via The Guardian)
The rules will also face numerous legal challenges from around Europe. If the proposed 75 percent tax law is passed in France, PSG will have to pay significantly higher gross wages to stay competitive with the rest of Europe. They will surely contest FFP as a further hindrance to their business.
Furthermore, English clubs will be hindered by the "parachute payments" and various stipends they are required to distribute to the lower leagues—none of which can be offset against FFP calculations. Bundesliga, La Liga and Serie A clubs are obliged to give no such payments and hence have an advantage in their quest to break even.
5. They Will Hit the Fans' Pockets...Hard
While exorbitant player wages may start to fall and reckless (and exciting!) spending may cease, major European clubs are still going to have huge wage bills after FFP is fully implemented.
Who is going to have to help Europe's premier sides break even? You are.
Ticket prices will almost certainly increase as clubs strive to balance their books. TV rights deals will shoot even further into the stratosphere, meaning your subscription package will get more expensive. If a working class Chelsea fan hasn't been priced out of a trip to Stamford Bridge already, he soon will be.
Of course, this feature is playing devil's advocate, as the FFP regulations will have many benefits. Yet the cost of these benefits remains to be seen...