There are two distinct and different ways of viewing Financial Fair Play and who knows, perhaps the truth lies somewhere in between.
Conceived by UEFA in 2009 and put into practice two years later, FFP was, and is, a set of regulations designed to ensure that clubs do not spend beyond their means, or else face sanctions.
By placing a limitation on expenditure it was hoped that we would never again see historical clubs such as Portsmouth and Leeds almost go to the wall due to sheer recklessness and over-ambition and that’s not to suggest the problem was the exclusive preserve of the Premier League.
In 2010 alone AC Milan posted a net loss of just shy of €70m while around this period the total debt of La Liga was estimated to be in the region of £2.5 billion.
With TV revenue pouring into the game but player’s wages and fees becoming ever-more exorbitant, football was in very real danger of eating itself. FFP was a framework intended to stop that from happening.
The alternative perception of the regulations, however, leads us to when they first came into being, and who was behind them.
In September 2008, Manchester City was purchased by the Abu Dhabi United Group (ADUG), a private equity company owned by Sheikh Mansour and this instantly made them a favourite in the live betting markets, not to mention the wealthiest football club in the world, with seemingly limitless resources at their disposal.
Three years later, PSG was bought out by Qatar Sports Investments (QSI) and suddenly they too had incalculable riches and significant means to take on Europe’s elite.
A trend was becoming a pattern, that of extraordinarily affluent individuals or groups – typically from the Middle East - taking control of clubs and with football’s landscape dramatically changing the established giants of the game became overtly threatened by this.
So much so, they needed to do something about it.
Granted, a surmisal such as this has a touch of conspiracy theory about it but then we consider the major players involving in the conception and construction of FFP, almost all of whom were prominent figures – or formerly prominent figures - at Manchester United, Liverpool, Real Madrid and Milan.
Having enjoyed decades and more of unchallenged dominance, these grand institutions were now finding themselves outspent and out-manoeuvred so is it really so far-fetched to suggest that they used their substantial power to guarantee that from 2011 forward it was revenue that counted, much less so investment?
If so, then FFP was not the benevolent act it was first painted as, somewhat hilariously reported on at the time as an attempt to level the playing field.
Instead, it was a pulling up of the drawbridge, it’s intention – grounded only in self-interest – to make sure there would be no more Manchester Citys or PSGs, taking up precious Champions League qualification spots and out-bidding the elite for the best players.
In 2020, respected Daily Mail journalist Martin Samuel went one further. He called FFP a ‘UEFA protection racket’.
Regardless, Financial Fair Play has been a fundamental part of football now for over ten years and what’s the betting it’s here to stay? A conversation should be had therefore determining whether or not it has thus far been a success.
Which it has, or at least to an extent, should we keep to its central premise, irrespective of the motivations behind its introduction and existence.
In 2019, figures emerged revealing that across Europe there has been a 92% decline in net loss, meaning much fewer clubs are burdened with unmanageable debt. Of course, this can only be a good thing.
And yet, clubs over-extending financially was only ever part of the problem, another being escalating transfer fees and wages that perennially threaten to throw football into crisis. In the past decade both have accelerated at an alarming rate with FFP powerless to stop it.
As for ensuring clubs no longer went to the wall, where was FFP in assisting Macclesfield or Bury? It transpired in the first instance that Bury’s player wages amounted to 140% of their turnover while Macclesfield Town was sadly wound up in 2020 with debts totalling close to a million pounds.
Soon after Bury’s demise, the EFL concluded its own version of FFP needed to be tightened up and modified.
Moreover, in broader terms, the regulations can be perceived as being fundamentally unfair, the very opposite of the ethos included in its name.
How can it be right that clubs such as Leicester and Everton – who both have billionaire owners – are severely restricted in how much they can spend, while Manchester United – who have been run appallingly by the Glazer family – are free to blow £100m on a player each transfer window because the Red Devils sell an abundance of shirts?
How can it be right that Newcastle win a proverbial lottery in gaining Saudi Arabian backing but are denied the capacity to properly capitalise on their good fortune? That goes against basic tenets of a free market economy.
The Financial Fair Play regulations, as we know them, have serious flaws – both in practical and ethical terms – that undermine them at every turn.
They need to go or be changed for the better.
*Credit for the main photo belongs to AP Photo*
FIRST PUBLISHED: 16th March 2023