UEFA bureaucrats – the money men who regulate European football and, fair to say, a right set of continental bankers – have battered the newly crowned Champions of England into submission...or have they?
At first glance Manchester City have incurred the wrath of the despot Michel Platini and had their backside spanked.
Much to the delight of the likes of Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Real Madrid, even those Euro competition non-starters from Trafford Borough – all historical members of the self-styled, and even more self-centred G14 cartel, UEFA have attempted to flex their muscles on the sky blue side of Manchester.
A £49m fine, a reduction in the size of City’s Champions League squad for next season, constraints on this summer’s transfer budget, a salary cap and specific stipulations on any operating losses for the next two years, would appear to give credence to UEFA taking a hard line.
Closer scrutiny might suggest otherwise.
Disappointingly in some ways, City have elected not to go the whole 9 yards and challenge the fundamental validity of Financial Fair Play. Both by name and by nature, FFP is a contradiction in terms.
Back in the mists of time Napoleon Platini/Michel Bonaparte (either way, a power-crazed dictator) unveiled a UEFA master plan to safeguard the integrity, essence and existence of football clubs under its jurisdiction.
The blueprint was designed to stop unscrupulous owners driving their clubs into the dirt, fast-tracking them to oblivion with reckless spending, mismanagement and placing self interest before the needs and desires of the greater good e.g. the club, its employees, supporters and the community it served.
Portsmouth is a prime example, Leeds United another, of clubs who went to the brink of extinction, ‘mortgaged’ up to the hilt, debt-ridden and ready to drop off the proverbial precipice.
On that inherently ‘pure’ premise, FFP might, just might have had merit, but if such good intentions were ever the motivation, they were quickly obliterated by the avarice of those who gorged themselves at European football’s high table.
Prima facie FFP appears flawed in that it represents a restraint of trade under European competition law. It’s difficult to imagine any other ‘industry’ where an owner or third party is effectively prevented from investing in a company.
Likewise, how can it be right that employees i.e. Manchester City footballers, are prevented from exercising their right to work? This will be the case with four players who would otherwise have been named in the 2014/15 Champions League squad.
Whether FFP will yet be successfully challenged through the courts remains to be seen. Whereas UEFA might be privately relieved, if not to say smug, over their authority not being challenged by Sheikh Mansour’s legal eagles, it doesn’t mean they have a free pass in perpetuity.
For now, City – owned by Abu Dhabi royalty and confronted with European dictators - have delved into the realms of a great British concept, that of compromise, to navigate their first FFP spat.
Despite the club’s understandable outrage at being lumped in the same category as PSG – the Qatar-backed French champions who have made negligible attempts to comply with FFP – City made a cool, calm and collected assessment of their position, reflective of the manner in which Sheikh Mansour conducts his business.
Chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak was reportedly livid that, having been led to believe City had actually done enough to appease the UEFA jobsworths, the regulators moved the goal posts at the 11th hour and did the dirty on the club.
City’s response has been dignified and quietly defiant. UEFA can indulge in a bout of peacock-strutting, self importance, but ultimately the Etihad ‘project’ continues to chart a steady course.
The £48.86m fiscal penalty could be reduced to as little as £17m if City deliver on undertakings in 2013/14 and the following season.
The punitive measure is not set against any future FFP checks and, in reality, Sheikh Mansour won’t miss what amounts to pocket change for the multi-billionaire.
City have been set new fiscal targets to hit for the financial years ending in 2014 and 2015 which are tighter than the standard FFP requirements. Perversely, there is an upside in that the losses of the previous two years, which would otherwise have been factored in, will now be set aside. City are confident of hitting the new 'bespoke' UEFA targets comfortably.
A UEFA imposed £49m net transfer spend this summer is broadly in line with City’s plans and can be supplemented by any income generated from player sales. It shouldn’t impact unduly on Manuel Pellegrini’s acquisition plans.
Transfer speculation is already picking up momentum with claims that City will initiate a mass exodus of their present English players.
Gareth Barry and Joleon Lescott are now out of contract, Scott Sinclair and Jack Rodwell are likely to be sold, whereas Micah Richards and James Milner, both entering the final year of their contracts, are reported to want to move for more regular starting berths.
Fees for Sinclair, Rodwell, Richards and Milner could top £30m, but it would put the onus on City to find other English/homegrown talent, to meet both Premier League and Champions League criteria of having eight in a 25-man squad.
Fairness would surely dictate a lowering of the ratio in City’s CL squad which will number 21 and not 25? The 8 in 25 equation should be diluted to a maximum of 7 in 21, possibly even less, but lest we forget this is Platini, this is UEFA and they can’t stomach the prospect of City winning their showcase event too soon.
Of all the sanctions this is the one that will most exercise the grey matter within the Etihad hierarchy. It will also have a bearing on City’s transfer dealings and whether they will feel compelled to buy English, at inflated Premier League prices.
Southampton’s Luke Shaw and Adam Lallana and Everton’s Ross Barkley and Leighton Baines, would all be worthy additions to Pellegrini’s squad, albeit at extortionate transfer fees.
Alternatively, it could see City’s young talent being prematurely exposed to top level European football, with Karim Rekik, Emyr Huws and Ronnie Lopes among those who could figure in the CL numbers game.
It’s one thing assembling a squad that complies with FFP and competition stipulations, but they need to be paid the going rate.
Under the UEFA judgement, City will not be permitted to exceed the 2013/14 salary total. This can be circumnavigated via sensible base salaries supplemented by large bonuses, based on success.
City Chief Executive, Ferran Soriano is implementing this ‘model’ – similar to the one he created at Barcelona during the Catalan giant’s halcyon years. It’s one where bonuses and incentives fall outside the UEFA regulations.
It could of course, have been so much better for City if UEFA hadn’t reneged on what City thought had been achieved and unofficially agreed. That said, it isn’t widely known what UEFA’s original settlement offer entailed.
Have City negotiated to the point where, what would have been deemed totally unacceptable sanctions, have been removed by UEFA?
Confident that the club is already at a break even point and on the cusp of annual net profits in years to come, City will be free of any UEFA sanctions or restrictions by the start of the 2015-16 season.
Having already taken their place at the high table of European club football, City will remain so, free from the snide, insidious and sanctimonious lobbying of debt-ridden Eurocrats such as Real Madrid, Barcelona and Manure and holier-than-thou, Bayern Munich and their jailed tax-evading President, Uli Hoeness.
The biggest regret of the whole lopsided and ill-conceived affair is that FFP remains intact...at least for now.
It could all change if a Belgian lawyer, instrumental in the Bosman Ruling of 1995, is successful with a legal challenge on the grounds that FFP places illegal restrictions on the potential earnings of an individual.
Jean-Louis Dupont was a leading protagonist in the landmark case of Jean-Marc Bosman, which established freedom of movement for footballers who – subject to certain criteria – could leave their club at the conclusion of their contract, without their ex-employers being able to demand a transfer fee.
Dupont, in representing an Italian football agent, Daniel Striani will outline five effects of FFP which he claims are anti-competitive, claiming that the "break-even rule" will restrict investment in clubs; will entrench the existing status quo; reduce the number of transfers and therefore dampen salary levels of players. Ultimately he will argue that it will affect Striani's own income.
It may seem far removed from the sanctions imposed on Manchester City and will undoubtedly take years for the courts to resolve, but if successful, Dupont would once again be changing the landscape of European football for a second time.
If, as and when UEFA are once again found wanting in the courts, it should be purely academic from City’s perspective – by then City will be ‘in’ with the ‘in-crowd’.
Nonetheless, if they were to remain true to Sheikh Mansour’s entrepreneurial spirit, they could rejoice in witnessing UEFA getting their nose bloodied.
Any system that allows debt-ridden clubs to dictate the rules to efficient, well run and debt free rivals simply cannot and must not be allowed to stand.
As any City fan will testify, their club has and will continue to fulfil the dream in their hearts ...it’s only fair that others should not be denied the opportunity because of a process devoid of virtue and riddled with vice.
By David Walker
SPECIAL ACKNOWLEDGEMENT – Sincere thanks to Colin Savage, a fellow blue, for the giving of his time and invaluable insight into FFP.