Last week, UEFA levied severe Financial Fair Play (FFP) sanctions against Manchester City FC and Paris Saint-Germain, among several clubs. In the wake of the settlement that averted a potential court case for the governing body of European football, much has been written about FFP. I have for a long while felt that FFP is a system designed specifically to protect the biggest clubs in European football. The current hierarchy in the European game sees an established elite club of 10-12 teams all from big western European leagues dominate the continental game. I have argued that FFP locks in the monopoly for these clubs and prevents future rivals from emerging.
Aston Villa, one of the largest and best supported clubs in England, is now for sale. However, Villa, coming from an economically deprived area compared to the top London clubs, is under the FFP regime a less attractive business proposition than it would have been six years ago when Sheik Mansour of Abu Dhabi bought Manchester City. The reason is that Villa can never charge the same for tickets or merchandise that Arsenal or Chelsea do, giving those London clubs a built-in institutionally sanctioned advantage over Villa under this system.
Last week, Soccerly columnist Simon Evans proposed another solution: An American-styled salary cap. Evans’ solution is the fairest and most equitable one proposed yet and certainly “fairer” than UEFA’s hybrid FFP that essentially picks winners and losers and locks those winners and losers in permanently. With a level playing field under a salary cap imposed at varying levels over all UEFA member top-flight leagues, clubs would equal opportunities and equal access to success.
UEFA has already determined based on its implementation of FFP that investment in football is not something they interested in. Growing the sport by attracting new investors that can increase revenues and profits for all clubs throughout Europe is obviously not something UEFA wants to encourage. By implementing FFP, UEFA has discouraged investment in football clubs outside the established order and particularly clubs in economically disadvantaged areas such as the Midlands or northeast of England.
The fairest solution that prevents clubs from slipping into oblivion would be a salary cap similar to Major League Soccer in the United States or the A-League in Australia. An outright cap on salaries would prevent both the “financial doping” that so many FFP advocates claim is ruining the sport as well as giving smaller clubs the opportunity to succeed something UEFA once claimed it wanted to see happen but has recently backed off from.
While the idea of a salary cap may seem draconian, FFP is not fair. And while I preferred the previous free market approach to any other, a cap on salaries is in my view far preferable to current FFP con.