Thursday, 17 January 2013

Standing up for big spending football clubs isn't egalitarian


There is a perverse article in The Times today by Stefan Syzmanski, which argues that UEFA’s Financial Fair Play (FFP) rules are elitist.  I’m afraid I can’t link the article, because the newspaper expects people to pay for journalism.

FFP requires football clubs to stay solvent and dictates that their spending must be covered by income generated through football activities.  The aim is to ensure competition and prevent wealthy owners from bankrolling star-studded teams without any regard for sustainability.  The Premier League is still having a discussion about whether to adopt UEFA’s code, but four clubs, Liverpool, Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal, are lobbying to ensure that it comes into force.

Syzmanski’s piece says that ‘big clubs’ are attempting to prevent smaller teams from challenging their ascendency.  It’s a truly depressing thought that the only way to challenge football’s elite is to spend astronomical sums of money.

The tendency for clubs to become the playthings of rich owners is severely damaging the sport.  Older elements of ‘football mobility’, like building a strong youth system, attracting more fans, developing a stadium and appointing an astute manager, are being replaced by cheque-book chairmen, who pay astronomical sums to recruit journeymen players.

It is actually very refreshing that Pep Guardiola, the former Barcelona manager, has decided to take charge of Bayern Munich, a proper football club, rather than Chelsea or Manchester City.  English sides could learn a great deal from their German counterparts, whose spending is restricted, who charge fans a sensible price for admission to games and create a steady stream of home-grown talent for their national team.

Smaller clubs, like Greuther Furth or FC Augsburg, have certainly not been prevented from reaching the top tier of football in Germany.  If the Premier League adopts the FFP it will ensure that teams which reach the top in England concentrate on player development, rather than spending money they don’t have on overpaid professionals from overseas. 

Before a club’s bank balance became the main criterion for its success the likes of Nottingham Forest and Aston Villa were able to win league titles and European Cups, while Man Utd and Arsenal often struggled to challenge.  It’s simply nonsense to suggest that more money has created more mobility in English football.

It is right for UEFA to ask clubs in its member associations to operate as going concerns.  It is right that it acts to restrict outrageous salaries which have put some teams out of business.  If the owner of Dogsnot Athletic is prevented from propelling his toy to the top of the Premier League by spending ill-gotten billions on pampered mercenaries from Bolivia, then all the better.