I get the feeling that Financial Fair Play (FFP) – that saving grace of European football – is going to start getting very messy.
It was always going to end in tears because the problems with FFP are clear to see but we’re starting to see the real battle.
You’ve got Manchester City accused of breaching UEFA’s rules and Championship clubs trying to force the Football League into revising its regulations. When I say revise, I mean tone down and soften. The resistance to FFP is getting stronger.
The concept itself is all very well – the theory that football would be a better sport if every club in England and Europe had an even playing field – but I’ve always thought that FFP is barking up the wrong tree. And it’s arriving on our doorstep years too late.
To an extent it will cause a bit of trouble for the wealthiest clubs because their income and their spending will be closely examined, and the authorities will find fault with some of it. For example, UEFA is clearly keen on making sure that massive sponsorship deals for stadiums and so on aren’t just ways of keeping owner investment off the books.
But really, FFP is a bigger issue for smaller clubs. If teams in the lower leagues comply with it and stick to the rules then they’ll probably be more sustainable and well-run.
But they can forget about ambition and any attempts to climb through the divisions rapidly or close the gap on the real big hitters in the Premier League.
That goes for Leeds United as much as anyone else. They’ve had a brutal time during the very decade when spectacular investment came to the Premier League.
They’ve been left a mile behind by Chelsea, Manchester United and Manchester City and the only way they can possibly match up in terms of expenditure and competition is if they acquire a seriously rich owner; a man with the wealth of a billionaire. Because that’s the level that City operate at.
Massimo Cellino is said to have money and plenty of it. But if Leeds are genuinely limited to annual losses of £8m or so and Cellino himself can only put a few million in each year, it’ll take forever to get to Manchester City’s level. In fact, it’ll never happen. What is fair about that?
Football opened its doors to hugely wealthy owners a long time ago and by trying to pull the shutters down again, they’re doing a big favour to the elite who sneaked inside before the party ended. Yes, there’s a chance that someone will try and make an example of Manchester City but whoever gets done for this first will go to every court in the land and probably the Court of Arbitration too. The biggest financial scandal will be the lawyers’ bills.
Frankly, I don’t have any problem whatsoever with a billionaire from the Middle East coming to England and spending a fortune of his own money, no matter how much he loses – provided he covers all of those losses. People say the players at City get paid too much. Well, they also pay 50 per cent tax so the economy does alright out of them. And why should someone with infinite cash be told how to spend it? When you think about it, it doesn’t make any sense.
Where I have a problem – and where the likes of UEFA should have a problem – is with people who buy a club and load it with debt. I’ll give you a name – Gulf Finance House. According to recent accounts, the bank came to Leeds and loaded it with debt. I think we all agree that the club was in an utter mess when Cellino bought the bank out last week. So in one breath, people are promoting FFP. Yet in another, they’re approving companies like GFH as fit and proper owners, despite the fact that the bank’s financial plan involves mountains of loans.
The reality of football is that it’ll never be an even contest. It never has been.
Take the Championship. Every season you have clubs dropping down from the Premier League with vast parachute payments.
Yes, they’ve got horrific wage bills to deal with but it’s still a big advantage. And those parachute payments last for a few years – long enough to get your house in order.
The way I see it, if you’re poor now then you’re going to stay poor if FFP works the way it’s supposed to.
If you’re rich, the rules will probably help you to stay ahead of the pack.
Because the wealthy clubs have laid the expensive ground already.
It’s all those miles behind them in Leeds United’s mould who need to catch up.
And there’s only one way to bridge the gap now – by spending an absolute fortune.