UEFA's Financial Fair Play (FFP) rules have been a topic of conversation in the European game since they were first mooted in 2009. Pitched as a means of preventing football clubs from spending more than they earn to "buy" success, they seem like a good idea in principle.
The execution, however, has thus far been less than effective.
Since FFP came into effect in 2011-12, Malaga have been the biggest casualty, suffering a European ban for unpaid bills. This week, however, it is understood that big-spending nouveau riche sides Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain will be punished for breaching the "break even" rules.
Yet these two behemoth sides will not be banned from UEFA competitions for flaunting the balance of turnover and expenditure. Instead, they will be given a fine and a "sporting sanction."
According to The Guardian, that sporting sanction may be a reduction of the standard 25-man squad for Champions League games and possibly a salary cap for the competition too, potentially ruling some high-earners out of the line-up.
Firstly, the fine seems like an utterly feckless punishment. A financial penalty will not be an impediment for a club like PSG—they would probably dismiss it as a "tax" on their success, or write if off as a cost of doing business.
The concept of the fine is also quite troublesome: Making a team who are spending recklessly spend even more money by lining UEFA's coffers hardly seems helpful—it could contribute to their demise.
The sporting sanctions, meanwhile, are well intentioned, but quite also toothless. A club can cope with a limited squad size in the Champions League, but that might only effect them for six games of the season. In the grand scheme of a season and all the competitions a team will compete in, this does not feel like a proportional penalty for unfair overspending.
If UEFA are serious about FFP, harsher sporting sanctions must be introduced. Bans from European competitions, stadium closures and points deductions in domestic leagues will have a much greater effect in enforcing the rules.
If clubs are given points deduction for going into administration, why not issue a similar penalty for the kind of overspending that can often lead to financial meltdown? It's important to remember that Financial Fair Play is not just for the oil-rich giants of Europe—it is to prevent the another Portsmouth or Leeds-style implosion.
The wooly and imprecise FFP sanctions are also subject to appeal. Not only can the club in question launch an appeal against the punishment—which, in light of the suspension of Barcelona's recent transfer ban, seems like an effective way of quashing the sanctions—but those clubs who are "directly affected" can also appeal if the punishment is deemed to be too lenient.
As an example, The Guardian note that Everton or Arsenal might lodge an appeal with UEFA if they think City have escaped lightly. It sounds like the lack of strong boundaries and the make-it-up-as-we-go-along punishments will be a breeding ground for endless appeals, loopholes and litigious battles.
The concept of FFP itself is also rife with problems. Clubs like Chelsea, Manchester City and PSG—who have grown rapidly through considerable investment before the rules came into effect—are essentially "locked in" to a band of Europe's elite. No other club will be able to rise and challenge the hegemony at the top of the European game because FFP—when enforced—prohibits that kind of unsustainable growth.
Furthermore, there is the problem of clubs using their connections to circumvent UEFA's "break even" test. Man City, for example, have a lucrative £400 million deal in place with Etihad Airlines, while PSG are paid an incredible €200 million per season by the Qatar Tourism Authority. Both businesses have close links with the respective owners of their clubs, creating the impression that they are effectively paying themselves large amounts to help their turnover exceed expenditure.
Whether the two clubs are breaking UEFA's "related party" rules with these big-money sponsorship deals forms a large part of the debate concerning their punishment.
Le Parisien (via The Daily Mail) are saying that a desire to fall in line with FFP will curb PSG's "outrageous" summer spending plans, but this report is based on the supposition that the Ligue 1 leaders are actually concerned with acquiescing to FFP. Until a stiffer punishment is brought in, they will surely have bigger fish to fry, such as the controversial French 75 percent tax law that will seriously compromise their ability to attract the best talent in Europe.
Incidentally, FFP makes no provisions for the new tax law which could massively inflate Ligue 1 wages.
FFP is in its infancy and UEFA are clearly taking baby steps towards "helping" its domestic members become more sustainable. Perhaps this is a wise approach, as issuing points deductions to clubs who are ultimately successful and making money for Europe's governing body might seem draconian. But if they wish to actually change the financial model of the big spenders, UEFA need to show some teeth.
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