Financial Fair Play at the highest levels of professional football is basically a good idea. If you think it’s a bad thing for clubs to operate prudently then you can hardly complain when your club comes unstuck.
But back in the real world, the game and the business isn’t so black and white. Say you’re a club who’s been relegated from the Premier League. How do you react? On one hand you’re supposed to be abiding by strict financial rules but on the other you’re scared stiff of remaining in the Championship for too long. You have a clear choice: stick or twist.
That isn’t really a hypothetical situation. It’s Queens Park Rangers. They came down from the Premier League at the end of last season and frankly they’ve given FFP no attention at all, or none that I can see. Their priority is to win promotion straight away and you can see how desperate they are to do it. The signing of Ravel Morrison tells you that. How much money must he be costing?
QPR have tried to do what Newcastle United did when they were relegated a few years back. It’s completely unfeasible to keep an entire Premier League squad together and Newcastle, like QPR, had to make sacrifices. But they didn’t make too many. They kept hold of players who were earning way above the average wage in the Championship and they won the title at a canter.
That wouldn’t have happened with a weaker squad so the gamble at St James’ Park paid off big-time. It was money well spent. And if QPR get out of the Championship in one go, they’ll tell you that splashing the cash was the right thing to do. But what does it say about FFP and the supposed commitment of clubs to the rules when certain sides are basically continuing to do as they please?
My own view of FFP is that it could have been done differently. I’m not really in favour of the idea of limiting losses or cash injections by owners to a set level. Personally, I’d much rather have seen the introduction of a wage cap to properly keep a lid on the biggest expenditure the average club face, and I do think it’s a route that the lower leagues in particular might have to go down eventually.
That to me seems like the only way in which competition can be essentially fair. Under the current system, I expect the rich to get richer and the poor to get poorerWe’ve seen already how some of the biggest clubs are pulling in massive sponsorship deals, producing the sort of income that teams in the same division can only dream of and will never earn. More and more revenue will flow towards the most successful sides with the highest crowds and largest grounds. You might ask what’s new about that. But wasn’t the point of FFP that things were supposed to change?
The interesting aspect with QPR is that they’re by no means certain to get out of the Championship this season. I haven’t looked back at past divisions but I have a feeling that Newcastle were home and hosed by now. All things being equal, QPR should have been too. They’ve got the best squad and the most expensive squad; players like Joey Barton who, whatever you think of him as a bloke, is an immense asset at Championship level. But they’re down in fourth and their form isn’t brilliant. They’ve got Leeds United tomorrow and Leeds United’s season is at a do-or-die stage. It’s a cracking game at a time when QPR would love a nice simple one.
The bottom line is that the credibility of FFP might be put to the test very soon. If QPR don’t go up, we’re going to find out what the rules and sanctions threatened by the Football League actually mean. Will there be punishment and will it make any difference?
Or will it just be a token gesture that amounts to a slap on the wrist? For all that’s been said about the theory of FFP, I don’t think any of us know how it’ll work in practice.
According to reports, several Championship clubs – QPR included – are now likely to challenge the Football League’s FFP rules. That says a lot about how comfortable the game is with the initiative.
It’s the same old story. We all want what’s best for the game but only after we’ve first got what’s best for our club.
It’s human nature at the end of the day.