'Financial doping' or just jealousy? PSG’s controversial FFP story starring Neymar & Mbappe

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UEFA have opened an investigation into the Qatari-owned club's "recent transfer activity" but are PSG in the wrong — or is the whole system flawed?


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No matter where one's loyalties lie, it was hard not to feel a little sympathy for Brendan Rodgers when it emerged that Celtic would not only have to face a Paris Saint-Germain side featuring Neymar in this season's Champions League but also Kylian Mbappe.

"If PSG sign Mbappe too, you may as well rip up FFP!" the Bhoys boss fumed ahead of deadline day.

Certainly, Monaco vice-president Vadim Vasilyev was just as intrigued to hear exactly how PSG intended to adhere to UEFA's Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations when the capital club made an official approach for the 18-year-old striker just before the close of the summer transfer window.

"The talks were very complicated," the Russian told TASS. "We couldn't understand how they could sign the player without breaking the FFP regulations."

It was a fair point. Mbappe, the most exciting teenager in the world, arriving at the Parc des Princes in the same summer PSG had broken the transfer world record by paying €222 million for Neymar left many within football utterly bemused.

Rodgers Al-Khelaif PSG FFP PS

To many, it seemed like the clearest case yet of what Arsene Wenger had infamously christened "financial doping". How, in a supposed era of self-sustainability and tighter spending restrictions governed by UEFA's FFP regulations, had PSG managed to legally sign two of the most valuable players in the world in the space of a month?

Jurgen Klopp was perplexed. "I thought that [Financial] Fair Play was made so that situations like that can't happen," the Liverpool boss admitted before adding, scathingly, "But then, [FFP] is more of a suggestion than a real rule."

Perhaps stung by the very public questioning of their FFP regulations, UEFA opened an investigation into PSG — the second such time they had done so, having punished the Qatari-funded Parisians in May 2014 when the club's sponsorship agreement with the Qatar Tourism Authority was deemed to have an unfair value by an independent investigation panel.

Along with a €60m fine — reduced to €20m after the meeting of FFP targets a year on — PSG had their Champions League squad limited to 21 players in 2014-15 and subjected to a series of spending restrictions.

This time around, though, the focus was "the compliance of the club with the break-even requirement, particularly in light of its recent transfer activity.

"UEFA considers FFP to be a crucial governance mechanism, which aims to ensure the financial sustainability of European Club Football."

Indeed, FFP, the brain-child of former UEFA president Michel Platini, was approved in 2010 in an effort to force clubs to spend within their means — to bring an end to them racking up huge debts and running the risk of bankruptcy.

According to UEFA themselves, FFP essentially means that clubs "have to prove they have paid their bills". If they haven't, they can be excluded from competing in continental competitions.

Basically, the goal is to ensure that all clubs adhere to their break-even requirements over three-year periods. But they can spend up to €5m more than they earn in every assessment period "if it is entirely covered by a direct contribution/payment from the club owner(s) or related party".

The current overdraft limit is €30m (2015-16, 2016-17, 2017-18) but what PSG have rather cleverly done is persuaded Monaco to allow them to take Mbappe on loan for a season before then paying their Ligue 1 rivals €180m to buy the player outright.

Neymar Kylian Mbappe PSG

This is nothing new within the world of football, of course, with Italian clubs, in particular, having used this book-balancing device to great effect for years. All PSG have done is ensured that the deals for Neymar and Mbappe will not appear on the same budget sheet, thus making it far easier for them to meet the FFP guidelines.

Of course, some pundits and financial experts were already questioning how the Neymar transfer did not breach the regulations on its own.

After all, PSG had not only met Neymar's €222m buy-out clause, they had also handed the Selecao star a five-year contract with an annual net wage of €30m, and paid a further €40m in commission bonuses to the Brazilian’s father and agent, Neymar Santos Sr.

Under the FFP regulations, wages cannot account for more than 70 per cent of a club's income. In 2016, 54% of PSG's revenue was being spent on their players' salaries.

However, even with Neymar's colossal €60m gross wage, and Mbappe's €20m a year pay packet, PSG's salary spending still only constitutes 68.5% of their income, meaning they are not contravening FFP requirements.

The greater issue for PSG, though, will be their overall expenditure.

They made a €10m profit in 2016, but having Neymar and Mbappe on their books has now seen their annual expenses rise by approximately €124m (€80m in wages and €44m in amortization of the Neymar transfer fee), and that figure will rise to about €160m from 2018-19, when the annual depreciation of €36m on the €180m that PSG are paying for the Frenchman is taken into account.

PSG believe that this surge in spending will be offset by the boost in merchandising sales that they have triggered by acquiring two of the most marketable footballers on the planet.

Javier Tebas LFP

However, it is the area of commercial income which PSG's critics question most in relation to FFP.

According to Deloitte’s 2017 Football Money League, PSG already make over €300m a year from commercial revenue, accounting for 58% of their annual income. This means they claim to make more money commercially than behemoths Barcelona and Real Madrid.

Sceptics have asked how a club that was only formed in 1970, have never won the Champions League (and only two French league titles until 2013) and are not even the most popular team in France (that honour goes to Marseille) can possibly generate the most commercial income from around the world?

Of course, the fact that PSG have a €175M sponsorship deal with the Qatar Tourism Authority certainly helps, but it naturally leads to more questions.

La Liga president Javier Tebas (pictured above) blasted: "PSG accounts reflect that they have more commercial income than Real Madrid, which is to say that their brand value is bigger. Well, that is impossible.

"They are laughing at the system. You have got to say it in these terms. We caught them p***ing in the swimming pool. If Neymar is up on the diving board, he's p***ing from the diving board. At least we need to open a file, this needs to be investigated.

"We carried out this study of all the accounts, comparing the different income streams, sponsorship, etc. PSG has a lot more from sponsorship than Manchester United. That is impossible. That is financial doping."

PSG have reacted angrily to claims they are doing anything wrong.

"For people worrying about FFP," PSG president Nasser Al-Khelaifi said at Mbappe's unveiling, "go and have a coffee! We're fine — there are no problems. What we've done is completely transparent and legal. As for what the media says, we honestly don’t care."

Meanwhile, French Football Federation (FFF) president Noel Le Graet claimed that the only ones complaining about PSG's spending are Europe's elite clubs.

"There is a bit of jealousy, I think," he argued. "In the big boys' playground, it's a bit difficult for them to accept a little newcomer."

FIFPro PSG FFP PS

However, that is not really the case. Rodgers has publicly argued that there is something very wrong with the present system when even a side like Celtic, who boast great local support in Glasgow and Ireland, and a far greater history than that of PSG, cannot possibly compete in an era of such outrageous outlays on players.

"Since FFP was brought in, you could argue [that the spending has] gone the other way," the English coach mused. "It's obscene now."

And this is the major issue: as things stand, there is no proof that PSG have broken any rules. What they have done, though, is shown UEFA’s FFP initiative to have failed dismally in its two main objectives: to control spending, and to close the gap between the haves and have-nots in European football.

"The world-record transfer of Brazilian Neymar from Barcelona to PSG is the latest example of how football is ever more the domain of a select group of rich, mostly European-based clubs," FIFPro general-secretary Theo van Seggelen has pointed out.

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"Football's enormous wealth is trapped, research shows, within a few leagues and clubs when it could be redistributed more efficiently and fairly to help protect competitive balance, which is one of the fundamental objectives of the transfer system.

"FIFPro claims the inflated and distorted market, with escalating transfer fees at the heart of it, has helped to destroy competitive balance. The transfer rules governed by FIFA are anti-competitive, unjustified and illegal."

At the very least, we can cay that UEFA's FFP regulations are not working. PSG have proven that, so maybe Rodgers is right. Maybe it's time to rip them up and start again.

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