City lawyer warns top football clubs

A LEADING City lawyer and adviser has warned that European chiefs are gearing up to take a hard line on financial fair play (FFP) rules.

The warning comes days after Premier League champions Manchester City announced a £97.9m loss for 2011-12, raising fears they could breach governing body Uefa’s regulations.

Uefa’s FFP rules allow clubs to make a maximum €45m (£36.6m) loss between 2011 and 2013 or risk exclusion from European competitions starting with the 2014-15 season.

Doubts have been raised over Uefa president Michel Platini’s preparedness to actually ban teams, given their financial resources and ability to seek legal redress, but Slaughter and May’s Nigel Boardman believes clubs should be wary.

“Everything we have seen and heard thus far suggests that Uefa will continue to pursue the rigorous enforcement of financial fair play,” Boardman, who has advised several Premier League and Football League clubs, writes in today’s City A.M.

“Uefa is bolstering its legal department and making friends in high places at the European Commission in order to pave the way for successful enforcement of the break-even requirement from 2013/14. Uefa has displayed a level of commitment to the cause which does not bode well for clubs intending to push boundaries.”

City could escape a ban even if they exceed Uefa’s threshold by arguing that they have displayed a positive trend by cutting their losses from £197.5m in 2010-11.

But there is pressure on Uefa to heavily scrutinise Abu Dhabi-backed City’s record-breaking £400m sponsorship deal with the kingdom’s carrier Etihad Airways.

“Was their deal at arm’s length or a phoney deal? That needs to be looked at,” Boardman said.

“From the outside it’s hard to answer those questions. They are trending in the right direction and are likely to be treated with leniency.”

City appear the most at-risk of England’s top flight, with Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham all recording a profit in their latest accounts.

Premier League clubs have held talks about implementing their own version of FFP, although there remains some disagreement over what measures to apply.

Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United are all broadly in favour of financial fair play, whereas Fulham’s Mohammed Al Fayed is widely believed to be an opponent.