Has sports justice given the coup de grace to financial fair play? The brilliant victory obtained by Manchester City on Monday before the Arbitral Tribunal for Sport (CAS) raises the question of the viability of the system supposed to regulate European football and to frame its deficits.
- What is financial fair play? -
In force since 2011, the financial fair play (FPF) of UEFA aims to curb the uncontrolled development of debts of European clubs, in the interests of sports equity.
To be allowed to play in the Champions League or the Europa League, each club must ensure its financial equilibrium: it must not spend more than it earns.
Concretely, during a three-year period, clubs are allowed to spend 5 million euros more than they earn. Their losses can reach EUR 30 million over three years if they are fully covered by the owner.
Expenses for training centers, youth training and women's football are not taken into account.
- What assessment to date? -
The FPF has undoubtedly helped to reduce the debt level of European football.
According to the latest dedicated report from the European football governing body, analyzing the finances of more than 700 high-level clubs across the continent, these clubs posted a combined overall profit of 140 million in 2018. For comparison, over the three years before the establishment of the FPF, the combined losses amounted to more than five billion euros.
"I think the FPF is a good idea," said Liverpool coach Jurgen Klopp. "He is there to protect the teams and the competition, so that nobody spends too much and the clubs make sure that the money they want to spend comes from good sources."
Some believe, on the contrary, that the FPF serves the interests of historic giants such as Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, FC Barcelona and even Manchester United.
The FPF would thus protect the position of these clubs with a strong heritage, real brands known around the world, generating huge revenues and therefore immense spending power.
- Why was City not convicted? -
The CAS canceled on appeal the two-year suspension of European competitions inflicted in Manchester City by UEFA last February for non-compliance with the FPF.
The English club was accused of overstating contracts signed with sponsors linked to the Abu Dhabi United group, also owned by City owner Sheikh Mansour, in order to comply with the rules.
Similar accusations had been made against another "new rich man", PSG, detained by a Qatari investment fund, but who had won his court battle in 2019, the CAS validating his appeal.
- Can the FPF survive? -
"The decision is a disaster," said Portuguese Tottenham coach José Mourinho, for whom "financial fair play is dead".
Like him, many voices believe that the Manchester City victory marks the end of the FPF.
But UEFA said it remained "committed to its principles", adding: "In recent years, financial fair play has played an important role in the protection of clubs and their financial sustainability".
In the summary of its decision, the CAS explained that the alleged facts were "either not established or prescribed", without calling into question the very basis of the FPF.
If it turns out, in the more detailed dossier that the CAS is to publish soon, that it is this five-year prescription that prevented City's ban, then nothing would change on the substance of the regulation. UEFA could continue to condemn offending clubs, hoping to remain within the five-year limit so as not to be rebutted by the CAS on appeal.
"I really hope the FPF will stay," said Jurgen Klopp, "otherwise it would lead to a + World League + which would depend on who owns the clubs and not on the names of the clubs."
© 2020 AFP