Champions League | Europa League Chris Winterburn gives his opinion
With UEFA‘s Financial Fair Play (FFP) rules having been suspended as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the impact it has had on finances within football clubs, it’s worth looking at why it failed beforehand.
Ahead of its reimplementation, UEFA need to rethink the specifics of the rules.
In its previous guise, UEFA‘s FFP did nothing, especially as the only clubs to really suffer by trying to comply were the middle class of European football.
Those clubs that had to spend money simply to qualify for the competition, and then not earning enough to balance their books.
Often, people forget the origins of FFP and why it was actually brought into the sport, with them often looking at the situation as some form of rigged system to prevent new clubs from achieving European success.
In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, the world was in a mess and one which it has never really progressed out of in every facet of life.
Football clubs across the continent were all of a sudden in danger of going bankrupt and thus FFP was initially thought of as a system which would protect clubs from themselves, stopping them spending money they didn’t really have in the pursuit of success and making it back after the success had arrived.
FFP was essentially a measure to prevent club’s gambling their own future. However, it’s implementation of a book-balancing measure hasn’t been fit for purpose, because it has inadvertently created a chasm between clubs in UEFA competitions.
If we take a club the size of Sparta Prague, for example, they will always be required to not spend more than they bring in, but this latter number is always going to be vastly smaller than what Real Madrid or Paris Saint-Germain bring in, so those two clubs can spend more anyway, without risk of breaking the rules.
Yet, in the case of both Manchester City and PSG, they were found by UEFA to have significantly and repeatedly broken the rules, intentionally, with only their high-cost lawyers using the Court of Arbitration for Sport as a get-out clause to prevent any serious punishment.
Would Sparta Prague have received such treatment by CAS? Would they have been able to afford the legal case itself? I think the answer is pretty obviously no. There is the competitive imbalance.
How can UEFA have a FFP system that essentially has different brackets for different teams, especially if the biggest teams can just ignore the rules anyway.
The world is different now to when FFP was thought up; the old system simply isn’t relevant any longer.
The situation is no longer about protecting clubs, with the advent of Manchester City and PSG‘s state-backed spending meaning that there is a very real need for actual blanket rules for competitive legitimacy.
I believe there is only one solution for that and it would mean UEFA totally chaning how the rules of FFP work, and the COVID-19-enforced suspension has given them a chance to do just that.
First of all, let clubs spend whatever they want. It’s their money/their own problem; you can’t police how people in life use their own money within the confines of the law, so don’t do it to sporting institutions either.
The only way to ensure competitive legitimacy is to bring in an outgoing funds cap and apply it to the 25-man squad teams are required to submit at the beginning of whichever UEFA competition they are in.
European football’s governing body should produce ‘UEFA Licenses‘ which are given out to clubs who include their financial figures along with their squad list.
A number should be given as a maximum which a club can pay out to their 25 players in the form of bonuses, salaries and any payments.
So, for example, a team like Manchester City are allowed to stockpile their club with players worth 40-50 million euros, but they are then still beholden to the same finance cap as Sparta Prague in UEFA competition.
Let’s say the figure is 110 million euros per year, which may be a little low, not every one of Manchester City‘s stars could be registered in their Champions League squad. If they didn’t follow that protocol then UEFA wouldn’t issue them a license for that season.
There could be no hiding salary payments as bonuses either, it would just be a straight look at what money is coming out of the club per calendar year and what is going to the total 25 players registered by that club for UEFA competitions.
All of sudden, you have a fairer tournament format which staves off calls for a European Super League, and teams aren’t spending recklessly because they reap no benefit in Europe from doing so, which addresses the actual spending problem FFP was designed for, albeit indirectly.