▪ That seems unlikely. Seasoned FFP-watchers expect Uefa to retain some stipulation in their rules that large losses should be reduced in the medium term. General secretary Gianni Infantino appeared to hint as much yesterday when he said changes would maintain a focus on “safeguarding financial stability”.
Chelsea and Manchester City could be given licence to return to free-spending ways this summer after European chiefs indicated they are ready to relax controversial financial fair play (FFP) rules.
Michel Platini, the president of governing body Uefa and a driving force behind FFP, said yesterday that he expected the regulations, which have been labelled anti-competitive, to be “eased” next month.
“We will say this openly: I think we’ll ease things, but it will be the executive committee who decide if it is to be eased or something like that, and the outcome will be known by the end of June,” Platini said.
FFP experts believe Uefa may allow clubs to make significant losses once again, without risking bans from the Champions League or Europa League, if they can provide evidence of secure funding.
Such a move would unshackle the likes of Chelsea and City to draw on the vast wealth of their owners Roman Abramovich and Sheikh Mansour and rival Europe’s biggest clubs in the transfer market.
Chelsea were credited with interest in Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi earlier this season. While a bid for the three-time Ballon d’Or winner was possible anyway, a rule change would make it far easier.
Current rules prevent clubs from losing more than €30m (£21.7m) over a rolling three-year period. City were forced to accept a £49m fine, spending restrictions and a reduced squad after being found guilty of making excessive losses 12 months ago, while French champions Paris Saint-Germain received similar sanctions.
Leading sports lawyer and FFP commentator Daniel Geey said Uefa could adopt measures similar to those in the Premier League, which allow clubs to lose up to £35m a season as long as owners provide reassurances as to the team’s solvency by way of future financial information and evidence of sufficient secure funding. Uefa would still likely demand a reduction in losses with a view to breaking even in the medium-term, he added.
“One of the accusations levelled against FFP is that it locks in the status quo and then deters aspirational spending,” Geey, a senior associate at Fieldfisher in London, told City A.M.
“What I think would be considered by some a sensible halfway house [is if] clubs are able to spend over and above what they earn so long as the excess spending figure is guaranteed by the club’s owner, and the club has a longer term plan within three to five years to meet the break-even threshold.”
Geey said such changes would benefit clubs with wealthy benefactor owners such as Chelsea, City and PSG. He said: “Any club that has a benefactor owner who is happy to provide spending guarantees, if that’s what UEFA decide to implement, would then be in a better position to spend.”
Chelsea have adhered to FFP, curbing the lavish spending that characterised the seasons after Ambramovich’s 2003 takeover and even making an £18.4m profit last season, raising questions as to whether the Russian billionaire would revert if allowed by Uefa reform. “It just depends on Mr Abramovich’s strategy,” Geey added. “But it might mean that he is able to invest more, over and above the club’s revenue generating activities already, which might put them in an even stronger position.”
Uefa general secretary Gianni Infantino said any changes would be designed to “encourage more growth, more competition and market stimulation while strengthening the emphasis on controlling spending and safeguarding financial stability”.
A spokesperson for the European Club Association, which represents leading teams, told City A.M. that talks with Uefa had been ongoing for six months and had proven “productive”.
Lawyers representing agents and fans who argue that FFP should be deemed illegal under European law hinted they may drop complaints to the European Commission and courts in Brussels and Paris in light of Platini’s remarks.
“We welcome the formal announcement of a change in the rules in line with the demands expressed by our clients in their various legal actions,” said Jean-Louis Dupont. “When the exact content and scope of these changes are known, we will consider with our clients how this development, which on first sight appears favourable, is likely to meet their legitimate expectations and influence the conduct of ongoing actions.”
Q+A: RELAXATION OF FINANCIAL FAIR PLAY
Why is this happening?
▪ Some of Europe’s most powerful clubs want to be able to spend more freely and have lobbied Uefa to relax FFP. Uefa appear willing to do so if they can continue to ensure clubs do not risk going out of business.
Who is likely to benefit?
▪ Clubs whose benefactor owners have deep pockets but are currently restricted by FFP’s break-even requirement. Chelsea, Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain, who have all spent vast sums following takeovers by billionaire investors, are the most obvious examples.
Will clubs be able to spend big indefinitely?