Image courtesy of getwestlondon.co.uk
Image courtesy of getwestlondon.co.uk

In September 2009, it was agreed that Financial Fair Play would e introduced to stop clubs from spending large amounts of money irrespective of what they were bringing in.  The best example of why it was introduced is Manchester City who, in September 2008, were taken over by The Abu Dhabi United Group.  In the season before they were taken over, they finished 9th in the Premier League, but in the new owners’ first season they spent £122 million.  This was clearly not money they had brought in themselves, with them having an average attendance of 42000 for home games.  They had also only sold £7 million worth of players in the summer before.  However, they were able to spend that amount of money even though their stature as a club did not allow them to balance the books without the help of a group of billionaires.

I feel it was definitely necessary to impose some restrictions on how much clubs are able to spend because it is simply not right that a mid table team who generates less income gets more of a reward than a top side who is generating more income but simply doesn’t have the financial strength to be able to challenge for top players and instead has to work with a low budget.  However, the new Financial Fair Play regulations do not seem to be working at the moment.  In May 2014, Manchester City broke Financial Fair Play (FFP) and were fined £49 million and had their Champions League squad for the next season brought down by two players to 21.  In a club statement, City said: ‘we only fielded 21 players in this year’s Champions League and we weren’t planning on spending £49 million on players this summer.’  This shows that the FFP regulations do not seem to be working. The fact of the matter is that clubs like Manchester City who break FFP can pay off £49 million without a second thought.  Clearly, if the punishment is one that the club can cope with it will not deter them from breaking FFP again.

Also in May 2014, Queens Park Rangers were promoted to the Premier league after beating Derby 1-0 in the play off final.  Football League clubs were not allowed to make losses of over £8 million due to FFP, but QPR made losses of over eight times that.  Worse still, due to Rangers being promoted, the Football League was not able to punish them as they were a Premier League club.  This would have meant that QPR would have completely got away with breaking FFP, but they were relegated back into the Championship last season, meaning that they were back in the clutches of the Football League.  Negotiations are ongoing about how the saga will end, but the most likely result is that QPR will be given a transfer embargo, although there have been suggestions that they could be kicked out of the football League and moved into the National League. This has not stopped Rangers from spending £5.25 million this summer on new players.  This would suggest that FFP has had little impact and, far from discouraging clubs like QPR to keep their finances in check, is encouraging clubs like Derby to spend, with them already having brought in £10.5 million worth of players.

So – what are the options for changing FFP, if any changes were to be made?  One option would be to keep the current restrictions in place but make sure that any teams that broke the rules were financially crippled. There would be no fixed amount that the club would be fined, only an amount to be sure that they were not in a position to spend money on players for a while.  Hopefully, this would not have to be enforced too often because once an example had been made of the first club to break it, clubs would be wary of the same thing happening to them so would keep well within the restrictions, however if it was used it could lead to the club going out of business.

Another option would be to make the rules even tighter and make it so that teams simply wouldn’t be allowed to spend any money on players that they had not brought in by selling players.  It would mean there could be no confusion as to what clubs were allowed to do and each specific case would be clear as to whether or not clubs could go through with the transfer.  It could increase the loyalty shown by clubs to players because they would know that they would not simply be able to buy a replacement for them straight away so they would be more open to giving them more time to impress.  It could also allow younger players to get more first team football.  However, it could lead to English football falling behind the rest of Europe as we would no longer be able to attract world class players.

A third option would be to simply scrap Financial Fair Play.  This would allow clubs to throw their money around freely, buying whoever they want at any price.  This would help to attract world class players to the League because of the promise of more money, but it would also lead to inflated ticket prices and younger players not being given a chance.  The main argument for this would be: it doesn’t matter if clubs are where they are because of money if that’s the case for everyone.  Nobody would complain about clubs in man City’s situation if every club was in that situation.  It would turn the game into a franchise very quickly, but would almost definitely improve the standard of play.

If I were in charge of deciding what to do about FFP, I would use the first option – introduce very harsh punishments but with the same rules.  I feel this would stop clubs overspending because of fear of going into administration as a result of FFP.  It would mean sad endings for any rule-breakers, but would, I think, be the most effective in stopping the rules being broken in the first place.  If it were me, I would make sure both QPR and Manchester City were punished for breaking FFP far more than they have been so that the footballing community would take not and ensure that they were careful about their finances.

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