UEFA’s Financial Fair Play regulations are no longer fit for purpose

La Repubblica (Matteo Pinci) What use is Financial Fair Play if a sheikh can bypass it in no time at all? Or if 5 clubs have already spent over €100m in the transfer market before July has even finished? In a summer that has seen €2.5bn spent on transfers so far, the financial controls that UEFA hoped would prevent clubs spending beyond their means are being stretched to their very limits. The case of Neymar has brought this to the fore once more, as PSG haven’t given up on the €222m youngster; despite Pique’s reassurances, Neymar hasn’t really decided whether or not to stay at Barcelona, or whether to accept the crazy offer made to him by the Parisian sheikhs, made to him for one reason in particular: a ‘payback’, after Barca tried every which way to sign Verratti from them.

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UEFA regulations would prevent PSG from paying such a considerable amount, but they don’t take the club’s extensive ownership structure into account. 4 different companies under the Qatar Investment Authority umbrella sponsor PSG (for €225m in total). And there would be no problem at all for them to hire Neymar to endorse one of their many products across their various businesses by paying the required €222m release clause, and then to allow Paris to sign him for free. This strategy is similar to that of the famous ‘third party’ ownership model (where players are owned through investment funds), which is explicitly banned by FIFA. But there is a ready-made solution: any team in Qatar’s domestic league – they are all linked to the state – could sign Neymar, as they are obviously not constrained by UEFA regulations: they could pay the release clause, and then send the Brazilian star to PSG. It would be a real slap in the face to those who set up Financial Fair Play in 2009 under Platini.

It would certainly not be the first: look at Manchester City, who have a turnover of €435m but who have already spent €240m in the transfer market and spend €200m on wages. But the Premier League – which brings in €4.8bn in revenue – can count on lucrative income from TV rights. It’s different for Milan, who have been able to spend over €200m on new players and increase their wage bill to €160m, €40m more than a year ago, and see a potential loss of €40m through amortisation alone in next year’s annual accounts. Some of their more dedicated fans have been asking themselves: “how will we avoid punishment from UEFA?” Easy: Fassone has already begun negotiations for a Settlement Agreement with UEFA, which will ensure they avoid heavy punishments.

And this is the biggest problem with Financial Fair Play. For a long time now, every team that has exceeded the apparently very strict FFP regulations has been able to come to an agreement with UEFA. Who will sit down and negotiate with them. As a result, PSG and Man City were able to reduce the sanctions they received in 2014, effectively nullifying them. Roma and Inter were able to do the same. In fact, it means endlessly moving the Financial Fair Play goalposts on a case by case basis, and the restrictions imposed on the ‘undisciplined’ clubs are merely slaps on the wrist. UEFA’s current president, Ceferin, is aware that the system is creaking, and is proposing new solutions to it such as wage caps. But the big clubs are asking for freedom to invest what they want in the transfer market. The financial controls were created to reduce clubs’ debts (-80% in 8 years). But, right now, there is a risk that they will have the exact opposite effect.

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