“I truly believe [Financial Fair Play] FFP is gone. I think it’s better to open the circus door and let everybody enjoy.”
It is not often that I find myself agreeing with the Premier League pantomime arch-villain and self-avowed “Special One”, nor is it a position I want to find myself in too often in the future, but for once I have to say I agree with José Mourinho and his comment above in response to the news on Monday that Manchester City had ‘successfully’ overturned their two-year European ban on appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (Cas).
Sure it smacks of sour grapes, envy even, from a man who built a significant part of his reputation on using the funds of a Russian oligarch to splash the cash as widely as possible to assemble a star-studded squad that delivered the Premier League title in two successive seasons, and saw Chelsea begin to establish themselves as one of the elite clubs in England and Europe, but, whisper it quietly, he has actually got a point.
Mourinho wasn’t alone in his resignation that the playing field is no more level now than it was back in 2010-11, when Financial Fair Play was introduced by UEFA to prevent clubs that qualify for its competitions from spending beyond their means and to stamp out what their president (at the time) Michel Platini called “financial doping” within football. Manager of reigning Champions League holders and current Premier League Champions Liverpool, Jürgen Klopp, was another of the most vocal and called the decision a bad day for football.
In the City camp the response was one of seeming delight at a victory, with Pep Guardiola suggesting: “Today is a good day, yesterday was a good day for football because we play by the same rules as all the clubs in Europe. If we had broken FFP, we would have been banned but we have to defend ourselves because we were right. People said we were cheating and lying and the presumption of innocence was not there. When we were proved right we were incredibly happy because we can defend what we have done on the pitch.”
Unfortunately for Pep, however, City weren’t proven right. The actual Cas ruling was that: “most of the alleged breaches reported by the adjudicatory chamber of the CFCB [UEFA’s Club Financial Control Body] were either not established or time-barred”. Not exactly the resounding seal of innocence that City seem to be suggesting. The crux of the charges levelled at City were that they committed “serious breaches” of FFP regulations as they had been found to have overstated sponsorship revenue and break-even information in the accounts they submitted to UEFA between 2012 and 2016. In addition, they were also found to have failed to co-operate with the investigation. Nothing in the Cas statement clears City of those charges, in fact the logical inference is that the delaying tactics helped them to overturn the European ban.
City’s escape with a relatively insignificant fine, for them at least, of €10 million (reduced from the original €30 million originally imposed by UEFA), pales into insignificance to the potential loss of revenue, the difficulty in being able to attract new players to the club or to retain those they already have, or even to hold onto Guardiola himself, had the ban been upheld. Now it is FFP and UEFA’s reputation that lie in tatters.
This sorry episode follows swiftly on the heels of PSG escaping a UEFA ban in the summer of 2018, despite having reportedly splurged a scarcely believable €402 million on Neymar and Kylian Mbappé a year before. As echoed in the City case, Cas ruled that the UEFA investigation into PSG financial affairs should be dropped as the closing and then re-opening of the case had not happened within the requisite 10 days as stipulated by UEFA’s own regulations. Of course, there is no suspicion at all in learning that the huge outlay was covered by income from sponsors as broad and diverse (sic) as: Qatari Telecom Company Ooredoo, the Qatar National Bank, and a massive amount from Qatar Tourism Authority, as explained by PSG’s Qatari owners!
Both cases beg the question of what the point of Financial Fair Play has been if it continues to allow clubs owned by sovereign states to simply carry on as they wish? So much for stamping out financial doping Monsieur Platini!
Worse still however are the implications for football going forward, Klopp went on to say that he feared for the future of football as we know it: “If you start doing it like nobody has to care anymore at all, and the richest people or countries can do what they want in football, then that could make the competition really difficult. I think that would lead automatically to a kind of world super league with 10 clubs.”
In essence the whole concept of FFP seemed for once as if the football authorities were doing the right thing in trying to protect the financial futures of their member clubs, in practice the implementation of the regulations has made it all too easy for two of the richest clubs in the world to escape punishment. Being cynical, as we always have to be when looking at UEFA, it might be suggested that this was the intention all along, to be seen to be acting to do the right thing without having to cut their nose off to spite their face by excluding the biggest clubs.
FFP was supposed to be a deterrent but now that PSG and City have demonstrated how sanctions can be averted, even without having to demonstrate innocence, it has to be questioned about whether it has any kind of future or whether it is in fact now dead in the water. In reality the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic may have a greater impact on reducing over-spending in football than FFP ever could.