Lisbon (AFP) – UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin on Thursday promised to make sweeping changes to Financial Fair Play rules in the wake of Manchester City’s successful appeal against a ban from the Champions League, but renewed his pledge to fight against the dominance of a select few super clubs in the sport.
In an exclusive interview with AFP in Lisbon, where the ‘Final Eight’ of this season’s Champions League is being played, Ceferin pulled no punches as he said the lack of competitive balance in the European game threatened to eventually “kill football” if left unchecked, and dismissed the idea of a closed ‘Super League’ as “boring”.
They are themes which the Slovenian regularly touched on in the early years of his reign as UEFA chief after becoming the permanent successor in 2016 to Michel Platini.
And he put aside European football’s ongoing struggle to emerge from the coronavirus crisis to revert his focus back to these threats to the sport after pondering the future of Financial Fair Play.
“It is not just about that decision,” Ceferin said when asked about the rules after City contested their two-year Champions League ban for “serious breaches” and won their appeal.
The Court of Arbitration for Sport explained the allegations against the Abu Dhabi-owned club were “either not established or time-barred”. City were instead fined 10 million euros.
But Ceferin had already been open about the need to at least adapt the rules.
“Financial Fair Play was a very successful tool, because the losses in European football are almost gone, but we have to modernise,” he said.
“We have to start thinking where we go from here, not just because of this case.”
– ‘Times change’ –
He added: “Times change in every industry, and football became a different thing to what it was 10 years ago, let alone 20 years ago.”
At Champions League level, the biggest change over the last decade has been the rise of clubs like PSG and City.
Both are in Lisbon, with the French champions having won through to the semi-finals by coming from behind to beat Atalanta 2-1 on Wednesday.
It is the first time PSG have reached the last four of the Champions League since the Qatari takeover of the club in 2011. City can join them by beating Lyon in the quarter-finals on Saturday.
There is the prospect that the two clubs owned by rival Gulf states could meet in the final on August 23, as even traditional giants of the game struggle to keep up — PSG are believed to pay Neymar an annual salary equivalent to Atalanta’s entire wage bill.
As he struggles to find a way of at least “keeping the dream alive” for smaller clubs, Ceferin has in the past mooted the idea of a “luxury tax”, slapped on the biggest clubs and used to redistribute wealth.
“People mix competitive balance and Financial Fair Play, and competitive balance means that we have to see if the ones who spend too much have to pay for the ones who don’t,” said Ceferin, who was re-elected for a new four-year term in February 2019.
“That if the ones who spend a lot of money, we allow them to do that, but at the same time they have to show solidarity.”
The economic fallout from the pandemic threatens to only widen the gap between the haves and the have-nots in football, and the spectre of a closed elite league will resurface in the future.
However, Ceferin is confident that UEFA’s brand is too well established and believes such a ‘Super League’ will not come to pass, at least any time soon.
“Any ‘Super League’ of 10, 12, 24 clubs will become boring. Even when you hear the anthem of the Champions League you know what is going on, and I don’t see it as a possible success, even if they tried to do it.
“And trust me, when I speak to the big clubs, there is one club that is mentioning from time to time, and half of a club mentioning from time to time, the rest fully understand that this is the best football competition, the best sports competition in the world, and I don’t see this as a big danger.”
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