Financial Fair Play (FFP) was supposed to be Michel Platini’s way of straightening out a game that has been financially crooked for a long time. By encouraging teams to break even on their expenditure, it supposedly ensured an even playing field for all. But is this really the case?
Firstly, an outline of FFP is probably necessary. Without getting too in-depth about it, the aim of the new ruleset is, as mentioned before, to encourage clubs to break even on their spending, or at the very least maintain an acceptable level of loss. Specifically, from this season onwards clubs who wish to have a UEFA licence – which is required for European competition, and is routinely applied for by almost all Premier League sides, for example – must not have losses exceeding €30 million if the owner is injecting funds into the club, and €5 million if they aren’t. Stadium costs are not included in these calculations, neither are developments on youth facilities nor training grounds. Sanctions can include fines, points deductions, transfer embargos such as that currently being inflicted on Barcelona, and even exclusion from UEFA competitions, such as when Malaga CF were excluded from the 2013/14 Europa League for not paying bills.
Essentially, the aim of these new rules is to prevent nouveau-riche clubs like Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain – both being linked with FFP-related sanctions recently – and Malaga from springing up from mediocrity, buoyed by billions being pumped in from nonchalant oligarchs and sheikhs, becoming a superpower over a short time span. Any provisional new owners of a football club will need to have a long-term plan of stability in order to elicit success. However, it is relatively easy for the already-powerful clubs to get around. For example, Chelsea regularly purchase players and loan them out, creating an audience of potential suitors without them having played much for the first team, then selling them on for profit. A notable example is Kevin de Bruyne, who was bought from Genk for £7 million in January 2012, then loaned back to Genk and later Werder Bremen, creating a European audience. He was then sold to Wolfsburg for £17 million in January 2014, having made just three appearances for Chelsea.
So what does this all mean for clubs such as Tottenham, Everton, even the newly-risen Southampton; namely, clubs on the cusp of regular Champions League, but needing one last push to cement themselves? Firstly, they are at a disadvantage from the off, as external sources of income – like television deals, gate receipts and sponsorships – are given out more to large clubs like Real Madrid and Manchester United. It is only natural that success on the pitch requires a substantial outlay off the pitch, creating a spiral which these “nearly clubs” cannot escape. Without the multi-millions provided by external sources of income, the significant investment required to push these clubs on suddenly becomes a lot harder to find. The main way of generating income is, therefore, transfer fees.
The problems of this have been well-noted, with Tottenham’s sale of Gareth Bale being the ultimate example. Having received £86 million from Real Madrid for the Welsh ace, Spurs then spent just over £100 million on new faces; in theory, the sure-fire way to glory. This was not the case. In order to qualify for the Champions League, it makes sense that a team generally needs to have Champions League-standard players. Not being in the competition makes it much harder to attract elite players, so the seven footballers Tottenham recruited with the Bale money were, to put it bluntly, not up to task. And, just like that, the Lilywhites’ best chance in years of joining the elite were scuppered. Without the seemingly-infinite funds of the elite teams, Tottenham could well be waiting a long time to get another shot as mass-recruiting Champions League-level players to help them qualify for Europe’s top competition.
In the modern age of football, money truly rules over all. Essentially, Financial Fair Play prevents smaller teams from joining the elite due to the fact that they have no means of generating the astronomical transfer fees to sign top players apart from selling their best players, which in itself is counter-productive. As a result, the rich clubs get even richer, furthering the gap between them and the chasing pack. Therefore, while these new rules claim to even out the playing field, all they have done is make football less equal than ever.