July 18, 2017

UEFA: Goliath’s Slingshot


Monopolies are an enemy of bulging pockets. The lack of competition makes customers divert their attention to where they can get it. This is disastrous for a sport like football, where people paying attention is the main monetising feature.

When the UEFA President, Aleksander Ceferin, said he wanted to introduce the idea of salary caps, it was unsurprising to many because it would begin to level the field where the top teams seem to be detaching themselves, even more, from the rest. Then again, it should be unsurprising to UEFA and FIFA seeing as they are the ones who have facilitated this situation where the bigger clubs are ballooning so much that the lesser clubs are given less of chance to thrive or join that elite club

It is not the first time that leveling the playing field has been proposed but this one has been introduced, although with much less backlash seeing as it was a less earth-shattering change than salary caps. No one knows how the UEFA coefficients are calculated but we all know that they are important in determining the seeding for group stage draws in the European competitions. Much praise was given to the European governing body when they announced the idea of champions being seeded in to Pot 1 of the Champions League as a reward for being the winners of their league. This was most beneficial for the smaller teams that had managed the feat of winning one of the 7 best leagues in Europe, as Leicester did in 2015/16. Their seeding in Pot 1 could be look at as one of the reasons why they were able to get as far as the quarter-finals in last year’s Champions League.

Power Struggle

But UEFA aren’t renowned for decisions that are popular among the consensus and when it was announced that history would be considered when calculating coefficients, it was met with much derision. It was another example of UEFA pandering to the top teams in Europe, all in their attempt to make sure they are placated enough so the giants in Europe do not become too unhappy as to form a European Super League, something that would undermine UEFA’s centrepiece competition, the Champions League. The top four nations having four representatives going straight to the group stages was another change with the historical success coefficient. The most likely recipients are England, Spain, Germany and Italy, eliminating the playoff round for these countries from 2018/19.

This all stems from the formation of the G14: a group of fourteen, later expanded to eighteen, of the European superpowers from England, Spain, Italy, Netherlands, France, Germany and Portugal, with a tenuous relationship with UEFA. The main arguments of the group were for insurance if players were injured on international duty and compensation for releasing players for the World Cup and Euros. It took eight years to get this but one of the stipulations of getting these international assurances from UEFA and FIFA was for the G14 to disband, the former’s president in Michel Platini calling it an ‘elitist’ organisation.

The end of this body led to the creation of the ECA, the organisation that serves 103 clubs in all 53 UEFA nations. A scare in 2011 aside, the relationship between the ECA and UEFA has been good overall. By 2012, ECA and UEFA signed a deal going until 2018 where the European Clubs would have to respect UEFA and FIFA’s rules and regulations. A further deal, signed two years ago, now goes on until 2022, including positions on UEFA’s executive board, more decision-making power for the UEFA Clubs Competitions Committee and more money from Euro 2020 and the UEFA Champions League.

The problem is however, like the Guardian states in the article about the ECA potentially forming a European Super League, the interests of these mostly benefit the elite. The G14 may have been disbanded but the precedence that was set by the governing bodies giving into their demands was just the precipice for the yielding of power towards the clubs and not even all, but just the elite clubs in the world. The Guardian named nine teams: Real Madrid, AC Milan, Liverpool, Internazionale, Manchester United, Barcelona, Arsenal, Chelsea and Bayern Munich in the aforementioned article and when you look at the changes made to the entry to the Champions League, it helps those most at the top of the European tree. All this serves to confirm is that the money is so much at the top that dropping off makes it harder to come back so by essentially eliminating the chance of it ever happening again. This is just the latest example of the top clubs trying to widen the gap between themselves and the rest to make it as unassailable as possible. They are willing to push for rules making it so that deeper progression into the Champions League, thus more revenue through prize money and bigger share of their country’s TV rights, is more likely by lessening the opportunity of being sent out in the playoffs or in the group stages due to harder groups.

FFP – Fair to whom?

At the end of the day, it all comes down to money. The Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations were another example of the big clubs seemingly benefiting from their history again, shutting the door on more competitors threatening their place at the seat of the table of the elite. It was dressed as regulations to stop teams from falling foul of crashing and burning when chasing for success, like Portsmouth did in pursuit of being a bigger club: in effect, spending within your means. It deterred the attraction of foreign owners coming in and investing into a club to make into a success because it was just as afraid of foreign owners leveraging buyouts against the stake of club and riddling them with, sometimes, insurmountable debt. The motives may have been clean but it led to rules where the Man Utds and Real Madrids of this world were never in fear of being pushed out by more teams being financially ‘doped’ to success. Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain were the profile cases of sanctions, both supported by the oil of UAE. The rules have since been relaxed, allowing for heavy investment but only once it has been approved by UEFA, shown within a plan that aims to get them back to even spending with 3 years, introduced in 2015.

Even with this relaxation, teams will still be penalised, namely those in leagues where the TV revenue is not high enough to sustain the spending required to be at the level of the Champions League. This is particularly the case in Serie A, where teams heavily stripped back, because of the losses that were being accrued, in order to comply with FFP. AC Milan deputy vice-chairman and CEO, Adriano Galliani said “FFP hurts Italy”, going on to explain that domestic owners such as Silvio Berlusconi and Massimo Moratti could no longer fund the clubs like they used to. Both have been bought by Asian investors, the red half to the Chinese, and Indonesian for the blue half in Milan. Even with this, Inter are still potentially at risk of failing FFP for the upcoming season, along with AS Roma.

Co-Ownership and TPO

It has become harder still for Italian clubs with the abolishment of co-ownership. A useful tool for youth development or lessening the cost of buying the player in the future, co-ownership were common practice before it was banned in 2015. The player being half yours was more enticing to lesser teams when getting players from larger clubs cause there was greater chance of said player being involved long term in comparison with loans. Also, there was less hoarding at clubs. Players got to play more, talent was more spread.

However, FIFA and UEFA’s general dislike of less than 100% ownership by one club saw the end of this. Co-ownership was the little brother of third-party ownership. The risks were greater, the problems were more troubling but the rewards were worth. But it were the risk and problems that prompted the Premier League is ban it outright after the Tevez Saga and FIFA 2 years ago. The biggest concern is with the practice is the idea of outside influences enforcing things to benefit them and not the sport and with a conflict of interests.

However, like Jorge Mendes expressed in his interview with Dan Roan of the BBC, the issue here is that better policing is in order rather than stopping it full stop because the stopping of it is another thing that widens the gap between the elite and the rest.

What’s the fix?

And this is the whole problem with UEFA. They try to pander to all sectors of the game but at the end, they will listen to those who bring in the most because they don’t want the cash-flow to stop. They introduce this idea in everyone’s head that in order to get them to listen to what you have to say, you need to be able to hurt them in the pockets. It is not the only reason clubs want to be successful, not even a large reason, but it is part of it. Being a successful club means you are able to shape the future of the sport and that is why smaller teams were willing to spend out of pocket and risk getting to the top or bring in third parties to split the risk of an investment. Then UEFA stops these practices because the problems that rise because of it are so harmful to those that engage in them.

In the end, UEFA are always taking the slingshot away from David and giving it to Goliath, but the idea of salary caps would be like giving David a machine gun. I mean, it would end up killing them both. Owners will no longer have an incentive to invest because at the end of the day, the players’ are gonna want the best money no matter how much the transfer fee is. It’s an issue that needs to be addressed but it needs to be done well. Who trusts UEFA to do so?

About this author


I enjoy writing about football