UEFA call it Financial Fair Play 2.0. Makes it seem like a reboot, an update, a new model. It’s not. It’s the same old garbage: an attempt by the established elite to place restrictions on new money and new challenges.
Another grab for power by the forces of entitlement. And as UEFA are terrified of the marquee names in their Champions League draw, no doubt they will capitulate and wave it through.
That is why Manchester City are doing transfer business again. That is why there is a rush to advance the transfers of Aymeric Laporte and Fred. They have to get inside the castle before the drawbridge is raised — and that’s not new, either.
The whole City project has been accelerated by UEFA’s attempts to shut it down. Other members of the City Football Group are not placed on this free-spending fast track; only the club that must comply with UEFA’s ever-changing moods and the restrictive practices of their rivals.
If UEFA were truly interested in competition, they would discuss wealth redistribution via Champions League prize money. More for the leagues, less for individual clubs. They don’t. They continue to kill domestic competitions around Europe by delivering huge sums to super clubs, making them untouchable.
The first incarnation of FFP did nothing to address this. It was merely a device to negate the impact of new money in old leagues.
The European Clubs Association couldn’t care less that BATE are usurping the traditional dominance of Dinamo Minsk in Belarus. They just don’t want Manchester City sitting where Manchester United should be. FFP is about nothing more than preservation of an elite.
Before FFP 1.0, there was FFP 0.0, the original vision of Michel Platini that had among its targets leveraged buyouts such as the Glazer takeover at Manchester United. That, however, veered a little too close to home, so Platini was manipulated into taking on owner investment instead.
The Glazers, who saddled United with enormous debt, were given a free pass; Sheik Mansour, who brought new money into football and greatly benefited the local area, was the enemy.
Transfers, wages, amortised agreements, finance costs and dividends would be set against gate receipts, TV revenue, advertising, merchandising, disposal of tangible fixed assets, finance, player sales and prize money. Clubs could only lose £26million, balanced over a three-year period.
That way City’s spending could be tied to income — and the income of a club that last won the league in 1968 could not possibly compete with the likes of Manchester United. The new clubs would be left to wither, unable to invest to grow. Even Chelsea backed this plan, having got where they needed to be under Roman Abramovich.
Buying in, he was now terrified of the competition if others did the same. Abramovich used to be the owner that Platini railed against. Then they ended up on the same side. That should have been the clue.
They moved fast, recruited well, achieved success and balanced the books. Revenue increased through sponsorships, TV deals, merchandising, prize money. They could win and also comply.
This is why FFP 2.0 is on the table in May. It is the latest attempt by Barcelona and Real Madrid, among others, to return to the good old days. If it fails, they will shift criteria again for FFP 3.0.
So, how will it work this time? Now FFP is going to be purely about transfers. The rest of it, all those revenue streams that were considered so vital to the efficient running of a club, are being as good as abandoned.
If the current proposals are accepted, there will be a simple calculation, outlawing a transfer loss of more than £90million in one season. This won’t just affect Manchester City, but all Premier League clubs, as Europe seeks to limit the impact of the new television deal.
It terrifies La Liga that Leicester are now within £1m of Atletico Madrid in the 2016-17 revenue tables; Serie A are appalled that their league leaders Napoli are pegged behind Southampton in riches.
If revenue is no longer factored in, the Premier League television deal can be contained and the established elite will sign up for this, even in England, as a way of reining in Manchester City.
To hear Antonio Conte complain about the financial power of the Manchester clubs is to hear the conversations that go on behind closed doors. ‘These two big clubs can be seriously dangerous for other teams in the world,’ he said. ‘They are very strong already, and want to invest.’
Indeed, as Chelsea once did. Just because Conte has spent January looking at players who would simply not be considered in Manchester does not mean the system is wrong. It just means Abramovich has got what he wants from it and now hopes to scale down the arms race. Tough. You started it.
And, who knows, if Chelsea had not spent in the region of £80m sacking managers since Abramovich’s arrival, maybe they would have been able to join the bidding for Alexis Sanchez?
This explains why City are in a hurry again, rushing to complete deals for Laporte and Fred this January. It should not be hard to comply with a net loss of £90m, but at the current rates, significant upgrades are expensive. City spent £220m remodelling Pep Guardiola’s squad in the summer, and even bringing in £90m on transfers they were still £130m down — and £40m outside the new UEFA spending deficit.
In the current climate, losses are not unimaginable.
Suppose Liverpool think they need another Virgil van Dijk, because one alone isn’t working. If the going rate is the same, that is £150m on central defenders — and how might Liverpool raise £60m without losing another of their key players?
Yes, selling Philippe Coutinho more than balances the books, but that was a one-off. How often do deals of that nature come around?
Indeed, while Arsene Wenger is always up for economic sanctions on everybody else, the £90m limit may come as a shock to his employers when he leaves and the grand rebuilding begins. How much do Arsenal need to get competitive again? A lot more than £90m, that’s for certain.
Chelsea, with their production line academy — Christian Atsu played seven minutes for Newcastle at Stamford Bridge on Sunday, which is seven minutes more than he played there in almost four years as a Chelsea player — will be rubbing their hands together. Abramovich, back in the game.
Say what you like about the way he handles players and managers, like so many in the favoured elite, he certainly knows how to get the best out of UEFA.