Category Archives: World Football

FFP prepares a toothless snarl at PSG and Man City

“Our lawyers are very competent.” – PSG president Nasser al-Khelaifi

UEFA’s Financial Fair Play (FFP) rules promised the end of big spending, the end of clubs going bankrupt, and the rise of football as a self-sustaining enterprise. Their rules, along with the Football Association’s version of the same rule, were supposed to create a level playing field by punishing teams with ‘sugar daddy owners’ who spent beyond their means on transfers and salaries and who wracked up huge debts. But judging by the leaked news that UEFA is merely going to install a luxury tax and a sort of salary cap, along with the revelation that the Football Association is probably going to scrap their own version of FFP, and coupled with the unbridled spending of the last few years at all levels of football in England, it looks as if the lion of Financial Fair Play is simply a toothless old kitten.

UEFA have identified 76 teams who are under scrutiny this year but the two teams who are receiving the majority of the press are Man City and Paris St. Germain and for good reason. Man City lost £150m over the two year period where they were allowed a measly £37m in losses. Despite losing 4 times the allowed amount, nearly every reporter who has written about this topic seems to think that Man City are only due to receive a slap on the wrist from UEFA. From what I have read on The Times and Guardian Man City looks set to accept a fine and possibly some players will be excluded from competing next season.

Many fans, especially of the self-sustaining clubs like Arsenal, were hoping that UEFA would show some real courage and actually ban clubs like Man City from the Champions League but that looks highly unlikely since any club subject to such a ban would certainly sue in the Court of Arbitration for Sport. Instead of litigation, UEFA are keen to work with clubs on “settlements” and Man City are reportedly ok with the terms that UEFA are offering.

From what I gather, City will pay a “luxury tax” of sorts (it’s being called a fine in some reports) and then they will be asked to exclude a certain number of players from Champions League play next season. The number of players excluded will be based on salary, so for example we could see “£10m worth of City players” barred from the Champions League next season.

One of the places where many fans are curious to see how UEFA will react in in some of the sweetheart deals that wealthy owners and states are offering clubs in order to balance their books. Man City have had their sponsorship with Etihad examined and from what I gather UEFA looks set to rule that deal OK. Part of this is down to City’s willingness to work with UEFA on “coming in to compliance”.

PSG on the other hand is reportedly being “haughty” in negotiations with UEFA. PSG is a Qatari owned club and were awarded a backdated deal worth €200m a year with the Qatar Tourism Authority. The backdated deal wiped their debt of €130m last year, the equivalent of a teenager coming up short in his till one day and the very next day “finding” a backdated check from himself covering the cost. UEFA is investigatig the deal but PSG’s president is quoted at the start of this article with his basic response: “we have lawyers.”

Your team has to be in the one of the two UEFA competitions (Champions League and Europa League) in order to be subject to these penalties. Thus, Liverpool, who have made nearly £100m in losses in the last two years doesn’t even get investigated by UEFA, this year. However, if Liverpool finish in the top four, which seems very likely considering their position on the table, they will be eligible for European competitions next year and will then be subject to scrutiny.

Liverpool is a great example of how toothless these rules really are. The Scousers were on the verge of bankruptcy with £400m in debt when the Boston group stepped in and saved them from administration. Since then, much of the debt on the books has been retired (through inter-company, interest free loans) but the club continue to make huge losses season after season. This is precisely the kind of situation we were told that both UEFA’s FFP and the Football Association FFP rules would prevent: no team should be on the verge of bankruptcy only to receive a temporary reprieve and then start spending ludicrously again.

It will be interesting to see how UEFA deal with Liverpool’s books next year. They have lost money consistently year in and year out and only “retire” debt through inter-company loans. Chelsea have found similarly creative ways to cook their books. The so-called £2m in profits they made last year were actually £19m in losses if you don’t count their canceled shares in a joint venture with BSkyB, which Chelsea simply subsumed (e.g. Abramovich gifted). Chelsea has gone on to lose £50m again this season, but since the rules are structured so that losses are cumulative over two years, Chelsea once again avoid running into FFP’s toothless buzzsaw.

In the end, I would say that some of these revelations are disheartening except that what we are seeing leaked out of UEFA ahead of the actual decision at the end of the month is exactly what many feared. Financial Fair Play, whether it is the UEFA version or the Football Association version is not going to change the football landscape much. We’ve tried these sorts of soft caps in the USA and they simply don’t work. If you want to limit spending, if you want to control players costs, and if you want to make the playing field more level, European football needs to take an example from American Gridiron football and install a hard salary cap.

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P.S. Tim Payton sent me a link to Oliver Kay’s piece on FFP in which Kay compares Man U to Man City: one club’s owners bought the team, loaded it with debt, and then took huge sums out and the other club’s owners transformed the club by pouring hundreds of millions of pounds in. The underlying argument of the Kay piece is that the Man U model is the real problem because they are taking money out of football, that Man U helped write FFP in order to protect their narrow self interests, and that billionaires should be allowed to spend recklessly.

It’s a variation on the “billionaire in every pot” argument that I have seen passed around for a while now. Basically, it is unfair to stop billionaires investing, that keeps small to middle teams small, and every team should get their own billionaire!

There is a pervasive notion that there are only two options: spend or do not spend. But the real answer is far more complex. There are many tiers to football and simply allowing billionaires to pick and choose which teams they are going to “invest” in is only going to benefit those few lucky teams who get chosen. Moreover, billionaires are going to pick teams with the kind of infrastructure ready for them to maximize their investments. The chances that some Oligharch is going to buy up Wigan and dump $1bn into the club are fairly small, I reckon.

Everyone else without a billionaire, regardless of history, and even perhaps in spite of hard work, will be relegated to the “have nots” pile. Manchester City is not blazing a trail for a new model, they are simply wanting to overthrow the old structure and put themselves at the top of a new one with new haves and new have nots. Along the way, the money that they have to spend in order to catch up, and catch up suddenly ruins the football market for everyone who doesn’t have a sugar daddy.

That last bit about catching up suddenly is a crucial component to this argument that no one wants to talk about. No one has a problem if Chelsea wanted to hire a manager who could, through prudent dealings in the transfer market and shrewd coaching, take their team from being a bus stop in Fulham to a Champions League club. What Chelsea, City, PSG, and Monaco have done is dump huge sums in to a sport that they know very little about in order to grow a business. These clubs’ early dealings prove that they don’t understand football, but rather just rely on huge sums of money to buy their way to glory.

Ironically, it’s the people who claim to be most traditionalist who support these billionaires. This despite the demonstrable fact that these billionaires know nothing about the sport and are merely dead set on overthrowing the very traditions that people claim to support.

No one wants their team to have all the money hoovered out of the coffers the way that Manchester United’s owners have over their time in charge. But the idea that FFP is the problem and that the billionaire model is the answer is risible. Chelsea and City could have become superpower clubs without insane investment, but it would have taken longer, it would have taken managers who knew how to spend wisely and not just buy the world’s most expensive players.

In short, they would have to have done it the Arsenal way.

Kieran_Gibbs_2861687b

Marriner’s mistaken identity covers up bigger problems with Premier League referees

Referee Andre Marriner was involved in a shocking identity mixup in Arsenal’s big loss to Chelsea on Saturday, erroneously sending off Kieran Gibbs for a handball committed by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Marriner has subsequently been accused of racism as the two players bear some resemblance to each other and Arsenal fans have been demanding that Marriner be dropped for at least a week if not for the remainder of the season. But those accusations I feel are wide of the mark and actually help to hide what appears to be a much clearer problem. If you watch the replays you can clearly see that Marriner didn’t see the handball himself and only after hearing something in his earpiece then brandished a red card to Kieran Gibbs, despite the rather vehement protests of Oxlade-Chamberlain telling the referee that he was the one who had handled the ball. This raises a huge question for me, did referee Andre Marriner receive advice in his earpiece telling him to send “the Arsenal left back” off for handball?

The facts in this case are very clear. Chelsea’s Eden Hazard took a shot that was going well wide of the goal. In a moment of panic, Oxlade-Chamberlain dove, like a keeper, and punched the ball slightly. Neither Andre Marriner nor the sideline official waved for the foul because on first glance it looked like Ox had headed the ball wide instead of handling. But then Marriner is seen tapping his earpiece, a two-way communication device which allows all four officials to communicate, and at that point, Marriner blows up for the foul and produces a red card to Gibbs. The Arsenal players surround the ref and tell him that it wasn’t Gibbs but rather Ox who handled the ball and you can see Marriner actually have a conversation with Ox asking him “oh, it’s you who handled the ball? It’s you?”  (~1min) and then shaking his head and pointing Gibbs to go to the showers.

After the match, Marriner apologized to Arsenal for the identity mixup. Arsenal appealed the red card, Gibbs was cleared, and Oxlade-Chamberlain was also cleared of the red card because his handball was not a red card offence since he didn’t deny an obvious goalscoring opportunity. Marriner has been subsequently backed by the PGMOL (the group that governs officials in the UK) and will referee next weekend.

The facts in this case lead to only one conclusion. Someone, somewhere, someone that Andre Marriner trusts completely, whispered in Marriner’s ear to “send off the Arsenal left back for handball”. This idea that he was only following orders explains why Marriner has been absolved of any wrongdoing and the idea that someone else got the call and the identity of the player wrong explains why Ox and Gibbs have also been absolved of any wrongdoing. The Football Association and the PGMOL have, implicitly, taken the blame for blowing this call.

They have taken the blame but they haven’t explained themselves. Who made that call? Was it the fourth official, Anthony Taylor? Anthony Taylor is the referee who gifted Chelsea a goal in their 4-1 win over Cardiff when he allowed Eto’o to kick the ball out of the hands of the Cardiff keeper. He also controversially sent Jose Mourinho to the stands for his constant protestations in that match. Prompting former referee Graham Poll to call for Taylor to be rested. He wasn’t.

Taylor also sent off two players in Everton’s 2-1 win over West Ham last season and both players’ red cards were rescinded. Taylor is scheduled to referee three matches this week, two as fourth official, more than any other official, unless he is dropped. After all, both matches he’s officiated this week were fraught with controversy — Taylor was the official for Tottenham’s come from behind 3-2 win over Southampton and was heavily criticized by Southampton manager Mauricio Pochettino.

And if it wasn’t Taylor, whose every call seems to be a circus, then who was it and how did they make it? In order for Marriner to ignore the pleadings of Oxlade-Chamberlain and stand his ground in sending off Gibbs he had to have a level of certainty which is a bit unnerving, considering the fact that he hadn’t even seen the infringement. Did someone in a booth somewhere, watching the replay on television, make the call?

The implications for that last sentence should send shivers down the spine of every football fan in England because it means that the FA have been surreptitiously using video replay to help make calls and that they are such bungling buffoons that they can’t even use video replay to get the identity of a player correct, much less get the call right.

The controversy from this game has been over whether Andre Marriner is incapable of telling the difference between two similarly complected black players. But that controversy only serves to hide the true problems from this match: that someone else made that call, that they might have been using video replay, that they got the call completely wrong down to the identity of the player who supposedly made the infringement, and that the FA and PGMOL are hiding the facts in this case and trying to sweep this under the rug.

This isn’t about Arsenal. All football fans should be very concerned by the events in this match because they point to a system so irrevocably broken that a referee can look a player in the face, who is telling him that he committed a foul, and send off the wrong guy. And that referee didn’t even see the foul.

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Bird chest

EXCLUSIVE: Wayne Rooney invoice for Manchester United v. Olympiakos

Rooney v. OlympiakosThis bill is for half this week’s wages. Next week, Rooney has no games, meaning he will earn £300k for doing nothing!

Which is pretty much what he did against Olympiakos as well.

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