Fair Play Ruling Does Not Go Far Enough
By Matthew Bazell
The race for the title sure ainít what it used to be
Whilst many of us welcome UEFAís gradually impending Fair Play ruling as an effective and necessary method of controlling debt, any hope that it will make the game more ethical off the pitch, and more competitive on it, is unrealistic. From the ethical standpoint, I say this because it will put an even larger emphasis on clubs to maximise revenue, thereby enabling them to spend even bigger figures on transfer fees and wages. That revenue, as always, will come from the supporters directly at the turnstile and indirectly from television subscription. It will be harder than ever now to call for a decrease in admission prices as clubs will point to the need to keep up with the biggest spenders. No high ticket-price will be viewed as unjustified, no sponsor too domineering and no sell-out unreasonable; if the Premier League needs an excuse to finally impose their games-abroad plan they will soon have one. In order to maintain any dignified soul the game has left, the last thing football needs is an extra incentive to aggressively aim to increase turnover.
From an on-field competitive point of view, the Fair Play ruling will do little to bridge the gap between the well-off clubs and everyone else, especially when the likes of Real Madrid and Barcelona are declaring yearly revenues which are close to half a billion. So perhaps a better regulation is a European transfer-spending limit stating that no club can spend more than, for example, £40 million per season. So if you spend more than that on just one player, thatís your shopping over with for the season. Many will claim that this wouldnít work, but itís actually no more restrictive than the current UEFA ruling that prevents a club from any transfer-dealings throughout the majority of the year.
Itís a simple definitive rule with a clear intention of creating more of a level playing field, which football in Europe is so lacking. I will concede that a transfer limit could be open to abuse as spare funds, normally used for transfers, could potentially be used to acquire players via even more outrageous salaries. So, for such a transfer ruling to work it would probably have to be accompanied by a wage-cap. Other forms of abuse from clubs might include underhand dealings and perks on the side, but that would be for the governing bodies to monitor, manage and potentially penalise. The impending Fair Play Rules are already open to abuse, as a club can obtain sponsorship revenue via the ownerís business for an outrageously inflated figure that will count as club revenue as opposed to a sugar-daddy donation.
Whether or not you agree with the suggestion of a transfer limit, we surely canít continue down this path where a minority of clubs can spend vulgar amounts of money that leave everyone else behind and make the outcome of a competition easier to predict before a ball has even been kicked. The Fair Play ruling will not prevent anyone from spending £100 million or more on one player just so long as the accountants can provide the back-up revenue spread-sheets. Like life, in football the rich get richer and there becomes a point where no-one else can break through and realistically compete.
Todayís football is a metaphor for modern capitalism - more money may be generated but it ends up in fewer hands. There may have always been a degree of hierarchy, but now itís unbreakable and soul-destroying. For example, La Liga has become the new version of the Scottish Premier League, only with higher-quality football. Not so long ago, a team like Valencia would put in a credible challenge for the top honours. Now Spainís third team are no more a threat than Hearts or Aberdeen. They may have finished third in 20011-12, but they were an incredible 39 points behind big-spending Real Madrid. Such a point gap between first and third is a wake-up call that serious measures have to be taken that go further than just enforcing spending within a turnover.
In England during the 1980s, teams such as Ipswich, Watford, Southampton and West Ham put in genuine title-challenges. At the start of the 2012-13 season, Southampton are 1500/1 to win the league and West Ham 2000/1. In fact, twelve out of twenty Premier League clubs are considered so weak that they have odds of at least four digits to one. Seventh favourites Newcastle are 125/1, which - years ago - would have been the odds for a relegation certainty, not a team considered one of the best in the league. In reference to a club like Nottingham Forest winning Europeís top honour twice in a row, as they did under Brian Clough, the universal viewpoint is that it will never happen again. The fact that weíre so willing to accept this is depressing, and at what point are we going to get bored and uninspired with watching just a few clubs rule the roost? For genuine Fair Play, the game needs far more effective regulations. In its current form it wonít ease the burden for the paying fan, nor will it bridge the gap between the most affluent clubs and everyone else.
Matthew Bazell is the author of Theatre of Silence: the Lost Soul of Football
11th September 2012
User Comment and Reaction
User comments on this article are now closed. If you want to continue the debate, why not do so on the Gooner Forum.
Destr0 9:37am 11th Sep 2012
I often wonder how there is no salary or even transfer cap as suggested above similar to many US sports. Surely there can be a limit to salaries, say 75M per year per team and anything above that is subject to a penalty of some sort. Not a luxury tax like baseball because many teams would go over that, but a serious penalty, like the loss of points. Sure, some teams will try to get around it by deferring payments or offsetting salaries in some form, but surely something can be implemented. Merely relying on the clubs to regulate themselves means the EPL will also follow the La Liga/SPL model, with perhaps 4 teams contending versus 2. But I think that this can't be done league by leauge, it has to come from UEFA and FIFA if need be. Perhaps it's all crazy talk, but something has to change. And if not a salary cap, then definitely a transfer cap, hell, maybe even both. - Post No. 28815
Munitionsman 10:09am 11th Sep 2012
Good post. In Australian rules there is salary cap and there is a variety of teams that will the flag. It's exciting and interesting. Like football used to be. Still love the ePl and watch every gunners game with passion but let's face it, the game is dying. And the likes of corrupt platini and co are not goIng to save it at there own cost. - Post No. 28816
anonymous 10:42am 11th Sep 2012
It will shatter AW's vision that clubs like Arsenal will benefit from this ruling. So there is a degree of understanding,in his economic perception,is alarmingly wrong. BACK TO THE DRAWING BOARD? - Post No. 28817
Angry & Frustrated 11:22am 11th Sep 2012
The game as we knew it has been destroyed by money, and anything that could be introduced which would even out the playing field, would be a good thing in my eyes. The problem is that the big clubs will simply up sticks and breakaway if they think their current monopoly is under threat. This would de-value the remaining teams severely, but perhaps were this to happen actual sanity would return, and in the long run might become a more popular product than the over hyped money is all breakaway super league that would be formed by the wealthy clubs. We only need to look at our lower leagues to see genuine competition, although even here parachute payments give huge benefits to those having left the premier league recently, giving them an unfair advantage. The question is for how much longer are people prepared to pay exorbitant prices for tickets or subscriptions to TV stations when the outcome is practically predetermined rendering the actual competition predictably boring? Not for much longer I hope, and that would then hopefully be the wake up call desperately needed by all! - Post No. 28818
Carlos 12:00pm 11th Sep 2012
You are right in everything you write. Unfortunately there is neither the appetite nor the wherewithall to do anything about it. As for Platini, who was always so vociferous in his condemnation of debt and spending in the Premier League, I eagerly await his comments on PSG's sumer transfer dealings. - Post No. 28819
GG89 12:49pm 11th Sep 2012
Its well known in Spain that Madrid and Barcelona football clubs don't pay taxes because they are associations controlled by a membership i.e. they are owned by people who are not personally seeking a profit. Those two clubs dominate that league without the sugar daddies that we have in the English game. How many owners would offer the fans the chance to have elections and handover control to the members? None I imagine. PHW recent comment on the fans not respecting AW at the beginning of last season and his comments coming when the Gooners look like having a team that gels as equals as AW always wants was after one away win against a team bang out of form and luck. Meanwhile he pocketted 4m pounds by selling his shares to Silent Stan. Of course he wants us to keep quiet, keep the masses under the thumb of the ruling class rather than offer them something BIG... If he were really interested in us then whereīs the movement toward the biggest two club in the world in FCB and RMFC....??? Iīm not a raving marxist, just think sport should be handed down to the biggest proportion of stakeholders the much ignored, trod on, paying... Effing Fans. - Post No. 28821
Bouffant Gazelle 13:46pm 11th Sep 2012
"at what point are we going to get bored and uninspired with watching just a few clubs rule the roost?" Sadly I have reached it! - Post No. 28822
maguiresbridge gooner 16:15pm 11th Sep 2012
Agree can't see FFP making much of a difference if any at all to many super rich men getting richer the same can be said of a salary cap as your words under the picture says nice try but doomed to fail. - Post No. 28824
Big Andy 17:19pm 11th Sep 2012
Platini was a brilliant footballer, but he is a pretty useless administrator. Any fool can see that Financial Fair Play is both unworkable and, ironically, unfair itself. It won't do much to change the curent status quo, and it will prevent smaller clubs from ever being able to challenge the giants of Europe. The ONLY way to create a level playing field, and to make the game truly competetive again, is to introduce an overall wage cap. Each club, no matter what size, should be limited to the amount that it could spend on wages. That would prevent most of the world's best players congregating at a small handful of wealthy clubs. Then titles will be decided by managers with the most talent when it comes to buying, coaching and motivating players - not just the clubs with the biggest bank accounts. - Post No. 28825
Ron 17:23pm 11th Sep 2012
Well written Matthew. All spot on. Platini wants a system that will tame the richly owed clubs in the PL though, rather more than he wishes to tame your Barcas, Madrids et al, thats his weakness. Hes stealthily corrupt really and follows their bidding as best he can. The game needs them, it doesnt need A club little old Chelsea and no marks Man C. Theres no way he ll allow a constraint system to fetter the existing heirarchy of Clubs whove dominated football for so long. Minus them theres no need for him and his like hes no where to go!. You ask when we reasch the point of tirig with the same old predictable football. Im there too. Given up on spending any cash on it. Its dying rapidly by the year and has been doing since 2005. Its a very sick beast and other sports are showing it up for what it is ie Olympics here this Summer and Andy Murray etc and to a lesser extent, Test cricket too. Im out of it and feel glad that i am. Still follow the Gunners of course, but the passion went a few years back. - Post No. 28826
Theo Jensen 18:33pm 11th Sep 2012
They should just simplify it and not allow owners to make loans or give cash to the clubs they own. An alternative thing they could do would be to give more money to clubs that qualify for the European competitions who do so within their own financial means. The other thing which would be better but difficult to instigate is a change in culture and perception- where people view what Chelsea and City have done (buying silverware effectively) as carrying no real prestige. Not hopeful with any of those sadly... - Post No. 28827
Dan h 18:41pm 11th Sep 2012
Wage cap for me is the way to bring a sense of reality back to football in all nations.If implemented correctly it would also secure many clubs survive what could be a very rough next 10 years or so.Look around europes stadiums empty seats everywhere none more so than Spain country with 28% unemployment!Germany's bundesliga sensibly priced it may be the only main european league that the fans don't seem to feel taken for a ride.This country may just have got a record t.v deal but several clubs have already spent & budgeted for the additional money already suicidal!We may be the most watched league it has worldwide appeal at present but it all goes in cycles remember seria A used to be the money league boom & bust it can happen anywhere.Nothing worse for advertisers & sponsors than seeing rows of empty seats football has lost it's soul Matthew you are right. - Post No. 28828
maguiresbridge gooner 21:33pm 11th Sep 2012
Ron spot on with your comment about taming the rich PL clubs and thats mostly what its all about. - Post No. 28830
Gare Kekeke 22:40pm 11th Sep 2012
Good article Matthew. FFP is great in theory but I canít see it working. Only desperados like Gazidis & Wenger think it will have a positive effect on our club. There are too many loopholes that UEFA at this moment in time canít or wonít look at e.g. Man Cityís stadium naming rights deal with Etihad. Itís interesting that this article was published on the day UEFA have announced that they have withheld the prize money for 23 of its clubs and not one of them were English. So much for the long-held theory amongst some Gooners that the petrol-dollars clubs Chelsea & Man City will decline once FFP kicks in. whilst I donít oppose the self-sustaining model that the club have adopted, I do feel we have gone too far with it. Steve Bouldís excellent coaching with the players on the defensive side of our game since his summer appointment suggests spending lots of money is not the answer to make us more competitive. Up The Arsenal! - Post No. 28831
Arsenal FC 1886/2006 We used to be a Football Club 4:32am 12th Sep 2012
Financial fair play is a Utopian fantasy that will only be directed at English Clubs and all the Billionaires will have found ways round it long before it will supposedly take place. Talk of Salary caps as in US/OZ Sports is pie in the sky ,Football is a Global Market not a closed shop 1 nation game and people who want the best will find ways around it. UEFA like FIFA have never done anything that didn't empower or advantage the richest clubs against the poorest so we cannot look to them for salvation . - Post No. 28832
billthered 7:03am 12th Sep 2012
Why did Prattini give all the clubs forewarning about FFP thats like the government telling us that there is going to be a fuel shortage and we all go out and fill the car up.It should have been done overnight if he had the game at heart, but he will pander to the rich like everyone before him we are just the sheep when one dies two more come along.But our team will always be our team and we all hope that we come good in the end,here's hoping. - Post No. 28833
the_drizzle 8:19am 12th Sep 2012
This post is a bit misleading and unnecessarily cynical. As it stands, football is one of the most poorly-conceived, inept pieces of business in the world. It is plainly unsustainable at the current rate, and anything that brings wages in line with revenue will be a welcome change. There is almost no risk that the clubs will pass costs onto consumers and the reason is simple: if they could have, they already would have. Do you think a ruthless businessman like Roman Ambromovich is eager to pony up 400 million of his own cash when he could simply recoup those fees in higher ticket prices? Do you think Arsenal and United are doing their fans a favor with their current ticket pricing? Of course not. Those prices are already maximized at near monopolist levels and any further price hikes would only decrease demand. Likewise, the risk of inflated sponsorship from an owner's company is minimal. For example, if City take a shirt sponsorship deal from Sheikh Inc., any funds that go towards revenues will need to be offset against the funds that they lost from not using an outside sponsor. Over time, this will serve as a considerable tax that will curb any manipulation. As far as markers go, revenue is a fairly clean one (and ultimately its just a more antitrust-friendly way of imposing a salary cap). FFP certainly wont bring instant parity -- as evidenced by the fact that Alex Ferguson is a strong advocate -- but I think it will curb many of the excesses that presently plague the sport. - Post No. 28834
UTU 12:32pm 12th Sep 2012
Nothing will change untill the fans stop paying stupid money. The German League is the best value for money because their Fans will not accept high ticket prices they organise themselves, protest and take action. - Post No. 28837
Adrian Wagenaar 18:14pm 12th Sep 2012
Really thoughtful article - Matthew speaks for many of us who have given up paying stupid money to watch PL football. IMO the best way forward is for the Premier League to receive all the SKY money and then sign up all the PL players on a central contract, with a wage cap. At the start of a new season all the clubs can pick players from than pool on a handicap basis. I believe a system something like this is run in American Football. Then you may again see a so called "unfashionable club" winning the league. - Post No. 28841
Red Mist 8:48am 13th Sep 2012
Are Man city not an unfashionable club? they were in league one only a few years back. As we were known as the bank of England club do we really have any right to sneer at clubs who spend and win like we did way back? - Post No. 28845
9th December 2013
Online Ed: Spoils shared at home to Everton