Monday, May 18, 2015

SHELLING OUT AND SAVING UP

Michel Platini, remembered these days less and less as one of the most beautifully balanced midfield craftsmen ever seen gliding across a football pitch and more for his pronoucements from inside a baggy but expensive suit about FFP and related niceties, has seemingly opened another can of worms with the news that UEFA may well be considering relaxing their own carefully constructed financial fair play regulations this summer.

If this comes as music to the ears of some, it must be making those at Manchester City and Paris St Germain vibrate with indignation. In the long run, however, it is likely to be good news for well run clubs like City, who have done their best to comply with stringent UEFA legislation.

The president of UEFA has intimated that there may well be some changes afoot, with the limits that clubs have been battling to stay inside set to be remodelled and, therefore, those clubs cut a little more slack.

City, who some have said were rumoured to be close to taking UEFA to court over the huge fine handed down to them last summer, might just be regretting not doing so now, after a massive curb on transfers and Champions League squad numbers played a significant part in a disappointing season for the Blues. With defensive woes knocking a considerable hole in City's performance over the season, it is intriguing to know what (or more poignantly who) any extra cash might have been spent on instead of the likes of Bacary Sagna and Willy Caballero. Practically all City's restricted budget was blown on the ill-fated Eliaquim Mangala from FC Porto.
 
"I understand that we are in a world of false bottoms, but we say this openly. I think we’ll lighten things up."

False bottoms indeed. And plastic party noses too, somebody at the back of the hall added quietly.

FFP rules were first implemented 4 years ago, to attempt to curb certain clubs from spending what UEFA deemed to be "beyond their means", but allowed certain clubs massively in debt to carry on regardless. Those clubs under wealthy new ownership appeared to have to tread water. The moves were enthusiastically received by the drawbridge crew of Manchester United, Milan and Bayern Munich, aware that new money could mean only one thing, the one element that puts the greatest frighteners on all of the elite clubs - extra competition on a broadly flat playing field.
City have done their best to fit in and the latest financial figures showed they are in a much improved financial position. Manchester United (£145.5m), Liverpool (£113m), Arsenal (£92.5m) and Chelsea (£82.6m) have all spent more than City's £68m net since the penalties were introduced two years ago.

The monster clubs of Europe, grown fat on yearly Champions League pay outs that have allowed them to maintain a slot ahead of the challengers in their domestic leagues now find themselves in a brave new world where Zenit can afford to pay €40m for Alex Witsel and still have plenty left over for Hulk, whilst Monaco thought nothing of shelling out €45m for Porto's James Rodriguez.

Suddenly in a bit of a dither, United, Barcelona, Bayern and Real Madrid have started to do what they have always been able to do down the years: shell out big fees in a desperate bid to lock the stable doors before too many of the horses have the chance to bolt.

One or two horses have already fled across the prairies. The others didn’t make it out of the ranch before the irate farmer burnt the place to the ground. It has always been a thing of wonderment when viewing which English clubs voted for FFP in the Premier League, like turkeys voting for prolonged and lusty Christmas banquetting. Stand up and take a bow, flightless birds Everton and Aston Villa, suddenly smitten by the idea of never ever being able to compete on anything like a high European level again. European winners both, they now look utterly plucked.

For others, a summer of intrigue is opening up coquettishly on the horizon. Liverpool’s American owners FSG went on record as saying that they bought the club on the back of FFP, citing it as a 'key aspect' to their continued interest in the deal. Arsene Wenger, the author of the financial doping quote, has since taken comfortably to paying some of the Premier league's highest tarnsfer fees for the likes of Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez. The dizzying changes of attitude and position could only really take place in football or politics, where morals dissolve quicker than a water borne aspirin, when exposed to fast corroding cash.

"This will be for the Uefa Executive Committee to decide. You’ll know the outcome at the end of June," said Platini today.
There will be penty of interested parties waiting to see what these outcomes are. Taking a
Moratti: "No more shelling out"
cursory glance at the Serie A table will tell any avid accountants what FFP has ended up securing for the likes of Milan duo Inter and Milan. Grown heavy on sustained big boy status, the pair now find themselves rubbing shoulders in the still waters of Serie A midtable. Milan, long in favour of anything that kept them at the top of the tree, have seen FFP explode in their faces, as Berlusconi’s patronage nears an end. Inter too, for decades propped up by the millions of the Moratti shipping family, have seen the false bottom fall out of their football world.

Both now find themselves vying for elbow room with Hellas Verona. Milan, Sacchi's Milan, the elegante double European champions, the last team to retain the trophy, slum it three points ahead of Sassuolo, counting points and pennies.

Moratti it was, who famously bleated to Platini (along with Chelsea's Roman Abramovitch) that he "didn't want to shell out" anymore. Milan too are said to be now deeply in favour of this mooted relaxing of the stringent FFP rules. They've leant one way and now they are leaning the other. They are lucky that Platini's language has softened somewhat since he announced with one eye on City's spending that "FFP regulations must be strictly adhered to". Suddenly, now that some of these clubs are being deeply inconvenienced by it, it seems to be time to loosen the ropes again. One has to admire the barely concealed self-indulgence.

Perhaps the recently announced FFP fines for this season should have been a forewarning of all this, as significantly deflated fines were handed out to Sporting Lisbon, Monaco, Kuban Krasnodar and others recently, making City's €49m fine look like the unbalanced victimisation many called it to be when it was announced.

It would seem that the very clubs that FFP seemed set to protect are now experiencing the opposite effect. Manchester United, up to their ears in their fascinating Glazernomics, which have seen the club mired in huge debt, found it necessary to break the bank vaults last summer with an stonishing outlay on Di Maria, Falcao (perhaps the most profligate transfer in football history), Herrera, Rojo, Blind and Shaw. For a king’s ransom, they look like securing 4th place.

Do not underestimate what it means to them to be back on the Champions League ladder, however, as this is where the Money has always been coralled. United will be happy to be back in the fold, even if they do have to negotiate a potentially tricky qualifying round first. What Milan and Inter wouldn’t give for that.

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