“Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw – each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done.” Corinthians 3:12-13
When the angel comes out of heaven with the key to the Abyss and holding that great big chain thingy, I guess we’re in for a whole world of pain that we’re not going to get out of any time soon. In football terms at least, exactly that has come to pass for the nine clubs who trespassed against UEFA’s financial fair play rules. Judgement Day was for them last Friday and the hellfire that is already licking their feet will be felt for what could feel like an eternity for the clubs involved.
First it is worth recapitulating on what sanctions UEFA devised for the clubs in question. This season’s Premier League champions, Manchester City – who made a cumulative cash loss of £340.6 million (€418.5 million) in the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons that counted under FFP calculations – have received several lashes of the FFP whip. These included:
1. A £16.3 million (€20 million) fine, with another £32.6 million (€40 million) suspended
2. A summer-2014 transfer-spending cap of £49.2 million (€60 million)
3. A cap on 2013-14 season losses of £16.3 million (€20 million), reducing to £8.2 million (€10 million) in 2014-15 [NB: UEFA’s standard FFP rules permit teams to lose £36.75 million (€45 million) over those two seasons]
4. A cap on what players are paid, maintaining payments at 2013-14 levels
5. A reduction in City’s Champions League playing squad to 21 players for the 2014-15 season
Eight other clubs (Anzhi Makhachkala, Bursaspor, Galatasaray, Levski Sofia, Paris Saint-Germain, Rubin Kazan, Trabzonspor and Zenit St Petersburg) have also been sanctioned. Levski and the Turkish clubs each received £163,000 (€200,000) fines with wage caps for a year, the Russian clubs were hit with Champions League squad reductions alongside fines of between £1.6 million and £9.6 million (€2-€12 million). PSG’s fine was, like City’s, £48.9 million (€60 million), two-thirds of which was also suspended.
Manchester City clearly found the sanctions unjust. This much was made clear in their statement last Friday. “In normal circumstances the club would wish to pursue its case and present its position through every avenue of recourse,” they announced. In other words: given half a chance we’d sue UEFA until the pips squeaked. But City have instead demurred in favour of participation in next season’s Champions League “for our fans, for our partners and in the interests of the commercial operations of the club.”
Khaldoon Al-Mubarak, City’s chairman, was still upset at a public-speaking engagement on Tuesday. “FFP preserves other models I disagree with,” he muttered darkly.
Meanwhile PSG, alongside City the other club hardest hit, also expressed hints of dismay at UEFA’s decisions. “We have accepted UEFA’s sanctions,” the Parc des Princes club’s president, Nasser al-Khelaïfi, told Le Parisien, a French daily. “Beyond that it’s not for me to say if they’re fair or unfair. We’re OK with it. For us it’s finished – we’re already working on other things. And we won’t attack these sanctions as we don’t want to make enemies.”
Or, perhaps just as likely, PSG did not fancy their chances of litigious success: as I pointed out in this column two weeks ago [http://www.insideworldfootball.com/matt-scott/14587-matt-scott-regulating-modern-football-is-no-child-s-play-just-ask-barbie], UEFA has shown itself to be a thoughtful and collegiate regulator. Still, there were also hints of haughty Parisian defiance. “We’ll buy the players we want to buy,” Khelaïfi said.
All this umbrage can be balanced against the disappointment of some fans who feel that for clubs with almost-inexhaustible resources, the headline fines were too light and only a Champions League exclusion would have caused them to flinch. But this misses the point. The sanctions have to be proportionate and these settlements are the equivalent of a plea bargain in a US criminal trial.
Indeed the real rub of it was felt not in the announcement from UEFA on the sanctions or the clubs’ statements in response but in how the people in football who matter the most feel about it: the footballers. And Tuesday gave us an intriguing insight into how that will pan out.
“There’s a big possibility Yaya will leave this summer,” Dimitry Seluk, agent to Manchester City’s best midfield player, Yaya Touré, told The Sun. “Yaya is very upset.”
We were told this is because the club “forgot” his birthday. Right-oh. Surely only the most credulous of City devotees would believe that. I for one read it as a pretext for agitation for a move away from the Etihad Stadium. As Seluk pointed out: “He is a defensive midfielder and scored more Premier League goals than anyone at City. Only Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge scored more goals.”
Touré added (after initially making light of the comments): “Everything Dimitry said is true. He speaks for me. I will give an interview after [the] World Cup to explain.”
The background to it is this: Touré scored 20 Premier League goals this season, a fifth of his club’s total. From central midfield. This makes him one of world football’s most desired properties. Ordinarily clubs would defend themselves against the advances of competitor-suitors and reward a player like Touré’s pivotal performance by simply improving the terms on his contract. But from now on, at City, such perquisites will be in short supply. For, taken in the round, the smorgasbord of sanctions placed on City is actually quite restrictive.
In an inflating football-cost environment, the Premier League champions are already faced with a breakeven requirement that is more stringent than for other clubs (see point 3 above). This might normally be counteracted with the sales of fringe players, generating cash from transfer fees and creating flexibility in the club’s wage bill.
Well-remunerated players like Joleon Lescott, James Milner, Jack Rodwell, Micah Richards and Richard Wright – England internationals all – might have been considered prime real estate to liquidate. Between them they started 23 City games this season so can hardly be central to Manuel Pellegrini’s plans. However, a separate set of UEFA regulations might make trading them difficult. As the sports lawyer Daniel Geey points out on his blog site, there is a further requirement for Champions League-participant clubs to field eight “homegrown” players from next season — those developed in the territory in which they play their domestic football. So if City sell any or all of that quintet they must replace them with qualifying players, putting pressure on the sub-£50 million spending cap.
Sure, City could raise money from selling the disaffected Touré but, as his outspoken agent’s birthday outburst underlined, he is not getting any younger. Despite Touré’s undoubted football talents, what kind of fee can any 31-year-old with precious little resale value command? Even the best one in the world in his position? And what of other players? Might they too consider themselves ripe for a rise after contributing to their club’s success this season? How many of them will instruct their agents to hold City’s feet to the fire if they are denied, confecting a story of disaffection per Dimitry Seluk?
For all the accusations of UEFA cravenness from some fans, objective analysis surely leads to the conclusion that UEFA has been both creative and courageous. Strong sanctions have been brought against clubs who have ignored important regulations, whose signposts loomed large for years in advance. Perhaps Touré’s example might point to something wider for City and PSG, perhaps not. For the moment, the Revelations FFP brings on remain to be seen. But it already seems clear that, in this new regulatory era, building a football foundation on gold and silver provides no foundation at all.
Journalist and broadcaster Matt Scott wrote the Digger column for The Guardian newspaper for five years and is now a columnist for Insideworldfootball. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.