UEFA’s financial targets: crossing the line or fair play?
July 24, 2012 5 Comments
By Andrea Masini
Usually, AC Milan’s dealings are always strictly connected to the political career of its owner Silvio Berlusconi. In 2009, when the Brazilian player Kakà was about to be sold to Manchester City, Berlusconi interrupted a negotiation that would have cost him a lot in terms of votes in the upcoming European elections. The signing up of Ronaldinho was often mentioned during electoral meetings as an example of a promise to the fans that had been kept. Lately, Berlusconi said that Cristiano Ronaldo might wear one day the rossoneri shirt. However, the recent transfer of Thiago Silva and Zlatan Ibrahimovic from AC Milan to Paris Saint-Germain for 62 million euro doesn’t have anything to do with Berlusconi and politics. This time, it’s all about money.
Football fans all over Europe know well how once troubled and not very successful clubs have now reached the top of their leagues. It has all been very simple. They have been taken over by extremely wealthy owners, willing to bring the club to the football Hall of Fame. It has happen to Chelsea and Manchester City in the English Premier League, to Malaga in Spain and lately to Paris Saint-Germain in the French Ligue 1. Is it fair to invest millions of euro in football in times of crisis? Probably, during these dark times, it’s suitable to find foreign investors to maintain the football circus. Panem et circenses, “bread and games”, were the main ingredients of mass distraction according to the ruling class of the Roman empire. However, in this article the question “Is it fair play?” refers to the economic competition between “old”, traditional clubs and the newcomers. Is it fair to bring fresh money to invest and spend millions of euro to buy the best players? Is it part of the game or is it unfair competition with the other clubs?
The financial fair play project was introduced by UEFA’s chairman Michel Platini in 2009. According to this, clubs should have a balanced budget in order to reach the final goal of financial self-sufficiency. Also, there are certain investment goals to be pursued. Firstly, investments should improve the infrastructures of the club, particularly the stadium. Secondly, the development of the club’s youth teams should be a privileged target. Finally, clubs should put the brakes on players’ salaries and transfer costs, in order to decrease inflation in the football market. Hence, the definition of financial fair play doesn’t consider unfair that some clubs are wealthier than others. Nevertheless, rich clubs should also stick to the investment goals set by UEFA.
As things stand now, the wealthiest football clubs of Europe surely comply with the first goal. Stadiums have been renovated and surrounded by leisure infrastructures (hotels, restaurants, etc.). But when it comes to the other two main investment targets, these clubs do not adhere to the rules of financial fair play. There doesn’t seem to be a focus on the youth teams. Instead, they have a short-term strategy based on buying the best players around, like Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva. As a consequence of this strategy, the wealthiest football clubs completely break the third main principle of financial fair play. By offering outstanding contracts to players and paying huge amounts of money for their transfers, the rich newcomers of European football do nothing but increase the inflation in the football marketplace. In doing so, they have a monopoly on the strongest players, creating a bigger and bigger gap between themselves and less wealthy clubs.
Is it fair play? On the one hand, it is. Foreign investments, especially in the football circus, and particularly in times of economic crisis, are more than welcome. There is nothing wrong with Malaga, Manchester City or Paris Saint-Germain replacing AC Milan, Juventus or Manchester United as the unbeatable teams in their respective leagues. On the other hand, the new tycoons of European football are not playing fair, in that they do not completely adhere to UEFA’s investment guidelines. They are paying too much for transfers and players’ contracts, and they do not have a long-term plan to grow young players in the youth teams. In this sense, Barcelona’s cantera (the “reserve” of champions coming from youth teams) is the right model to follow. Only if the new powers of European football start to play fair can there be a future for the game of football. If they don’t, we might have a “football-bubble”, ready to explode.