It is a myth that financial fair play was brought in to screw Manchester City.
It was brought in to screw Chelsea.
The fact that, by the time the rules got on UEFA’s statute books, Roman Abramovich was among FFP’s most enthusiastic supporters merely shows the degree to which it had been manipulated into a protectionist charter.
Manchester City are facing a two-year Champions League ban and fine for FFP breaches
It was too late to keep Chelsea out by then, but a greater threat had emerged to Abramovich’s financial supremacy in English football. And that was Sheik Mansour and Manchester City.
So the very rules that the established elite hoped to use against Abramovich were then fully supported by Chelsea’s owner as a means to prevent another club eating at what was already quite a crowded top table.
Maybe, if they can ever claw their way back in, one day Ferran Soriano, City’s chief executive officer, will be an advocate of financial controls that make it hard for the next arriviste. He has already been very proactive in demanding a greater cut for the Premier League elite, foolishly believing City were part of the club.
Chelsea owner Roman Abramovic has become a key supporter of Financial Fair Play
And everybody is very interested in FFP now. Everybody is outraged that its sacred rules have been broken. But when it all began, not so much. Heavens, it was a dry topic back then.
La Direction Nationale du Controle de Gestion. The financial regulation employed in French football by the DNCG, that helped deliver seven straight titles to Olympique Lyonnais between 2002 and 2008, was the forerunner of financial fair play.
And you can only imagine the delight in the voice of any sports editor when their columnist announced he wanted to write about financial controls in Ligue 1 rather than Manchester United.
Still, they’re a generous lot at The Times, and I’ve still got all of those pieces on my laptop. So I know that November 7, 2007, was the first time I used the word ‘protectionist’ in connection with the wealthy clubs represented by the G14 group.
‘Yet for all these advantages, what bonds the G14 members is fear. Fear that they are not good enough to support their financial ambitions, fear that clubs from outside the group will usurp their position at the pinnacle of European football. They are, in essence, protectionist.’
Karl-Heinz Rummenigge was an early proponent of bringing protectionism into football
A column on March 12, 2008, referred to the ‘cosy Champions League elite’ and another on June 8, 2008, detailed Michel Platini’s antipathy towards the investment in and success of English football. And then, on June 30, 2008, the first column opposing FFP when the phrase had not even been minted.
‘Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, chairman of the executive board at Bayern Munich and head of the European Club Association, has come up with a progressive idea. It is called the closed shop. “Football is sick,” says Rummenigge. “I read that 85 per cent of clubs are running at a loss.”
‘Rummenigge’s recommendation is that wages should not exceed 55 per cent of turnover and he has the support of Michel Platini, UEFA president.
‘Conveniently, Rummenigge’s rule would not affect Munich, who have big support and are the most globally visible business in German football. It would not affect a club the size of Manchester United, either, who operate with wages substantially less than half of their colossal turnover.
‘But Chelsea, or any team looking to break into that cosy elite with investment through a generous benefactor? There would be no way in. Chelsea’s wage bill is 70 per cent of turnover because the club is waiting to grow in size commercially. Until then, its ambition is financed by its owner, Roman Abramovich.
‘This is every supporter’s dream: a rich man comes along and elevates your club. In time, if Chelsea are successful, the ledger will balance and the share of the turnover taken up by wages will decrease; and then there will be another presence in the already overcrowded elite.
‘That is what Rummenigge fears, really. He does not want to save football; he wants to save the establishment from upstart interlopers with a few quid. If he gets his way, there can be no surprises, no fairytales.
‘A Russian billionaire could not invest in his local club in Moscow. In England, Chelsea would always be mid-table, and Manchester United and Arsenal would be the only clubs with access to the best players. All bar a privileged few would operate in shackles.
‘To dress this up as a moral crusade is the worst hypocrisy; it is protectionism, nothing less.’
And what is significant about this is that Manchester City’s takeover did not occur until August 4, 2008, so 35 days later, without warning. There was no advance intelligence of it, no rumours, no rumblings. Nobody had a clue. So the City supporters who believe there is a conspiracy against their club are wrong.
The conspiracy was against Chelsea, and City ended up caught in the crossfire. At the time when the elite of Europe began pressuring Platini to freeze football at a moment in time, Manchester City were not on their radar. But nobody cared about those machinations then.
Alexandre Gaydamak caused downfall of Portsmouth when he withdrew his loans from club
Later, some would even buy into the idea that the shapers of FFP were concerned about clubs such as Portsmouth, but that isn’t true, either. Portsmouth’s financial crisis did not unfold until 2009, a year after Rummenigge proposed financial controls. This was about resisting competition at the top of football’s pyramid, not helping the little guys.
You want to stop Portsmouth’s fall happening again? Ban director loans. The reason the club got into trouble was that its owner, Alexandre Gaydamak, financed significant investment through loans in order to cement Portsmouth’s place in the Premier League and challenge for honours.
Then, when his personal circumstances changed, he wanted that money back.
The club did not have it because it was the product of Gaydamak’s wealth, not theirs, and the collapse began. In 2010, it was reported that Gaydamak was demanding £32million. One would think that if preventing the next Portsmouth was a priority of FFP, loans by owners — not a gifted investment, which is entirely different, because there is no payback — would be outlawed, but no.
Ipswich, for instance, owe in the region of £100million to their owner, Marcus Evans. Ipswich are in the third tier. What would happen if he walked away and tried to get as much as possible of that back? FFP has done nothing to prevent another Portsmouth. It was never about that.
Nor was it about fairness. The scenario presented in the 2008 column about Rummenigge’s grand plan — that Chelsea’s finances would in time level out — is exactly what happened. No rich man wants to be taken for a mug.
All of them, from Abramovich to Jack Walker at Blackburn, even Sheik Mansour, want their clubs to become self-financing after the initial investment. Walker would not let Ray Harford buy a winger to replace Stuart Ripley, victim of a long-term injury.
Manchester City have turned down players including Fred over financial concerns
Chelsea HAVE always been a selling club under Abramovich, and have used an outstanding youth system as a revenue stream. Manchester City have pulled out of major deals lately — for Fred and Harry Maguire, for instance — because the price outstripped their perceived value.
This isn’t down to FFP. It is that old cliche: speculate to accumulate. And when the speculation reaps dividends, stop speculating. Liverpool spent huge money on a very good goalkeeper and centre half. They did not then continue spending at the same level, because the job was done.
Real financial fair play would address wealth distribution in the Champions League. To oppose FFP is not to support laissez-faire capitalism in which wealthy owners indulge in an investment arms race. It is to see this version of it as nothing more than a protectionist racket, and wish UEFA had the strength to take on major clubs and domestic leagues that are increasingly uncompetitive.
When DNCG regulation helped Lyon win seven titles, France had the second most uncompetitive league in Europe, after Moldova. Now, such runs are the norm. Juventus are closing in on a ninth straight title, Bayern Munich could win their eighth, Paris Saint-Germain their seventh in eight, Benfica will have won six in seven if they can hold off Porto,
Further afield, BATE Borisov won 13 consecutive titles in Belarus, Olympiacos 19 in 21 in Greece, Ludogorets Razgrad eight on the turn in Bulgaria. Why? Champions League money, mainly, making a handful of clubs — or just one in some of the smaller countries — disproportionately wealthy.
In the 2018-19 European season, UEFA expected £189.4million to be distributed as a solidarity payment across all the leagues in Europe, which sounds a lot, until it is considered that £2.08billion is the sum reserved for clubs competing in the Champions League, UEFA Super Cup and Europa League.
Liverpool’s revenue for winning the Champions League was roughly half the entire solidarity payment for the rest of Europe. This is fair play, apparently.
When they won Champions League, Liverpool got half the solidarity payment for all of Europe
Now think what might happen if the majority of prize money went to leagues, not clubs, and was distributed evenly. The competing UEFA clubs would still get a significant share, but not so much that, like Ludogorets Razgrad, they become unassailable — already seven points clear after 21 games this season.
In England, we know the impact of the new television deal on the traditional also-rans. Leicester have won the title and are on course to reach the Champions League again. Wolves are thriving domestically and in the Europa League. Sheffield United are in contention for a European place, too.
This is healthy. Other domestic leagues do not have the Premier League’s advantages in the overseas markets, but UEFA could help compensate for that. Instead, they work with protectionists and cosy cartels, terrified they might carry out threats to break away.
There are 55 full members of UEFA and if the solidarity payments were divided equally, they would amount to £3.4million each. Divide that between, say, 18 clubs, and it amounts to £191,524. Versus £91.6million for Liverpool. Sounds fair.
Still, there has been a lot of revisionism around the morality and competence of UEFA these last few days. Earlier this season, it would have been possible to think of it as the gruesome organisation that cared more for minuscule infringements of protocol around sponsorships and procedure than it did for instances of racism.
Now we are to understand that not since the Apostles has there been a nobler band of men. Among them are some of the finest legal minds available, beyond question or reproach, even when forgetting their own rules and deadlines, the silly scatterbrains, which is how Paris Saint-Germain escaped investigation.
UEFA closed their case against PSG, then reopened it two months later, only to be informed that the limit on such an action is 10 days. Nothing to see here, obviously.
Jean-Luc Dehaene is another who, like an injured player, is remembered more fondly in his absence.
Former UEFA chief Michel Platini staunchly defended the creation of Financial Fair Play
Every mention of the man who oversaw and helped shape the rules of FFP discusses his brilliance statesmanship. There is, of course, another view. Here’s an extract from an interview in 2013.
Samuel: One of the people you have got in charge of financial fair play is Jean-Luc Dehaene. He was in charge of a bank that needed to be bailed out for £5.18bn. Not Euros, pounds. How can he be in charge of financial fair play? He was meant to come here to speak and the bank went skint on that day and he had to cancel. How can he be telling a football club, this is how you run your football club?
Platini: What do you want I answer?
Samuel: Just an answer. How?
Platini: OK. I miss a penalty one day and I score a goal the day after.
Samuel: It’s a bit bigger than that, Michel, come on.
Platini: OK, it’s not an answer. But he is at the beginning of the procedure, he has a contract for some years and we will see at the end of his contract what we can do. But he is from the beginning, let us finish the procedure and then we will see what’s happened. But he was Prime Minister of Belgium with big success. OK, he lost one goal, he is not a bad player because he lost one goal.
Samuel: His bank lost £9.73bn.
Platini: OK, two goals.
Jean-Luc Dehaene’s Dexia Holdings had to be bailed out after nearly collapsing in 2012
In fact, Dexia Holdings, on February 23, 2012, nearly took Europe’s entire monetary system down. The Euro would have collapsed without the bail out.
When Dehaene died in 2014, a lawyer at Manchester City made a crass joke. Yet this, and the reinvention of the saintly UEFA, is being allowed to shroud the reality: flawed men and flawed systems designed not for purpose but to protect.
Whatever Manchester City have done wrong, never forget that the entire playing field was shaped by the elite of European football for their own gain. This monstrous reimagining of fairness has been obvious since 2007. So it was never about Manchester City. Whatever you think of them, the game as it has now been framed by UEFA and a privileged elite, is bent.