The next step for Financial Fair Play

It is fact that the gap between the “haves” and “have nots” in European football grows evermore larger. Last season in the English Premier League proved this adroitly when Manchester City midfielder Yaya Toure reportedly earned more per week than the entire Blackpool squad.

The same situation manifests itself in every league. Success breeds success: as results improve, sponsor and prize dollars (generally) increase. This allows clubs to spend more on improving their squad. Or it does so in theory. In practice, beneficiaries who see clubs as expensive playthings dump large amounts of money into teams according to their means: for some, a la Everton chairman Bill Kenwright. Others, like Man City owner Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, have deposited sums of money usually seen in the demands of Bond villains.

In order to make sure that all leagues don’t go the way of Scotland – or Spain – UEFA instituted their Financial Fair Play policy, which over the next two seasons will be enforced. This is ostensibly to cut down on the amount of oligarchs seeing their clubs as desirable holes in their pocket and cap clubs spending at a percentage of their incomings.

But by having his airline Emirates Air sponsor City’s ground, the City of Manchester Stadium, Sheikh Mansour seems to have successfully circumvented these guidelines. That the deal was struck isn’t an issue but the figures involved – reportedly ₤400 million pounds – dwarf those spent on a similar sponsorship deal for Arsenal’s home stadium seven years ago. That sum covers the transfer fees spent on Carlos Tevez, Sergio Aguero, Yaya Toure, Joleon Lescott, Gareth Barry, Nigel de Jong, Adam Johnson, Edin Dzeko, David Silva, Vincent Kompany, Mario Balotelli, Kolo Toure, James Milner and Alexander Kolarov – and have ₤125 million in change.

A salary cap has again been mooted but is obviously unworkable given the implications of a continent-wide application. Apparently Financial Fair Play is a step in the right direction, but a step in the right direction at best. If equalisation is a process the football world is serious about then further steps must be taken.

Means-testing billionaire team owners – there’s a phrase you don’t hear every day – would certainly equal out the proverbial playing field (say, cap owners’ private means at ₤1 billion),but would be as, if not more, unworkable as any proposed salary cap. While it would mean clubs would rely on business and football sense rather than just their position in the established order and well-disposed billionaires, it would prove very difficult to enforce. More problematically, it would also raise questions of what to do clubs already in the hands of the megawealthy.

Thus, the only way to strengthen these laws would be to investigate every sponsorship deal over a certain limit – say €1 million, policed by the individual leagues and required for registration of a team. Such deals – where a benefactor or his/her family simply reach into their pocket again as in this instance – would be judged invalid and clubs would risk point deductions. This way clubs could leverage their business sense and connections without actually receiving what amounts to donations.

This process, though it would take advanced forensic accountancy, wouldn’t undermine any established order and would force clubs to be more accountable for their money. As football has already gone the way of business, it makes sense to nudge it further along that road.

Matthew Wood contributes regularly to Soccerlens.  You can find more of his analysis and commentary at Balanced Sports or follow him on Twitter @balanced_sports

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