NYON, Switzerland - UEFA has delivered its toughest message yet to clubs that continue to overspend in the chase for soccer’s top prizes as it ushered in a new set of rules that have been introduced to avoid “disaster” in European soccer.
In an exclusive interview with Goal.com, Gianni Infantino, the governing body’s general secretary, insisted that top clubs across Europe who fail to comply with the new Financial Fair Play legislation, which will be phased in from next month, will be excluded from the Champions League and Europa League.
He declared that the rules will be rigidly applied no matter the size of the club. Chelsea, Manchester City and Barcelona are among those who posted huge losses in their most recent set of financial accounts.
“Everyone knows the rules and we will go through with it,” Infantino said. “The question is, ‘will you really do something?’ And the answer is, ‘yes, of course’. The train has left the station, we have started and there is no way back.”
In an in-depth interview, Infantino declared:
- UEFA is acting now to avoid meltdown in soccer and to change how it operates forever
- The era of sugar daddies such as Roman Abramovich who could plough hundreds of millions into a club is over
- Financial Fair Play is not the perfect document and can be modified in future
- European soccer will still be dominated by elite clubs such as Real Madrid, Barcelona and Manchester United in future - despite the new legislation
- Tax-style inspections will be carried out on clubs who break the rules
“The whole European football movement felt the time is right now to do something, to establish some rules in order to have a better system. In 2009 top division clubs in Europe made a loss of €1.2 billion [£1.08bn]," Infantino said. "This is obviously something that if we don’t do something against it will lead us to disaster for European football.
“It should operate in a more rational way. Just like everyone of us is doing at home. If you have in your wallet €100, you can spend €100.”
As an initial compromise, clubs are allowed to record maximum total losses over the following three years of €45m (£40.6m). From 2014 to 2017, that overall permitted loss will fall to €30m (£27m).
Speaking to Goal.com at UEFA headquarters in Nyon, Infantino explained that UEFA is prepared to bare its teeth at clubs who do not meet the new requirements.
|"People think if it is a big club from a big country, it will be okay. Well, no. It is in the interests of all the clubs that the appropriate measures are taken"
- Gianni Infantino, UEFA general secretary
“You have to comply with the rules and if you do not comply with the rules there will be the ultimate sanctions,” he said. “We have already excluded clubs. This year we have punished five clubs who have qualified sportingly for our competitions but who were not admitted because they did not fulfil the club licensing criteria. For example, Mallorca in Spain. In the last five years, 27 clubs have not been admitted in our competitions either by the national associations or UEFA.
“People think if it is a club from a big country they will be okay. Well, no. If you don’t respect the rules then there are different sanctions possible, including exclusion.
“It is in the interests of all the clubs that the appropriate measures and sanctions are taken if they have to be.”
Based on their most recent published accounts, Manchester United, Barcelona, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City are among the European elite which would fall foul of the regulations.
However, Infantino said, “We have to be careful not to apply future rules to past situations. Until now it was not required to break even and you could have an owner who injects money. With the new rules it is possible, under certain conditions, for owners to inject money in the clubs but what is important is that the movement of football clubs is self-sustainable.
“Our objective has never been to punish anyone. Why should we do that? It is about helping and bringing the whole movement to a higher level.
“The aim is that in 10 years from now we will not see any more a €1.2bn loss from the professional football movement, that we will not have any more situations of deep financial debts at clubs. I hope that all these 660 clubs will, if not be breaking even, have a financial situation that allows them and all the other clubs to perform regularly in our competitions.”
Asked how the likes of Chelsea or Manchester City, who posted a £121m loss in their most recent set of accounts, can possibly come close to breaking even over the next three years, Infantino said, “Well, they will have to. Or at least they will have to break even within the exceptions possible. They know it."
"The rules have been known by everyone for more than one year so I’m sure they will have to have a strategy in place," he added. "If they are spending money, they must have an idea of getting a return on their investment. What is clear are the rules are there and the consequences as well.”
|"As the tax authorities do from time to time, there will be inspections and the club will need to produce evidence to justify expenses"
- Andrea Traverso, UEFA head of club licensing
Andrea Traverso, UEFA’s head of club licensing and the brains behind the financial fair play document, revealed that the governing body will carry out inspections on clubs who are struggling to meet the new requirements and will continue to scrutinise them closely for up to five years.
“Clubs will submit financial accounts to UEFA, the panel will monitor the financial information, they will scrutinise it against specific indicators. Those clubs flashing certain indicators will be picked up for further control. As the tax authorities do from time to time, there will be inspections and the club will need to produce evidence to justify expenses," Traverso told Goal.com.
“If, at the end of the inspection, the club has given satisfactory responses, then obviously nothing will be done. The whole mechanism will be done in co-operation with the national associations and the clubs themselves so that there will be a continuous dialogue over the whole period of monitoring from a minimum of three to a maximum of five years.”
Nevertheless, Infantino does not anticipate that the new rules will narrow the gap between rich and poor.
“Historically, the big clubs have always existed," he said. "In 10 years’ time the big clubs will still dominate European football. As it was 50 years ago.”
UEFA president Michel Platini is the driving force behind Financial Fair Play and has effectively pinned his reputation of it being successful. “It will work because everyone wants it to work,” added Infantino. “We are very confident about it. We have received and are receiving positive feedback. The questions are basically the same as you are asking. ‘Will you really do this?’ ‘If I am respecting the rules, then I want the other ones to do the same.’ The answer is yes.”
The UEFA general secretary says the era of sugar daddies such as City’s Sheikh Mansour and Chelsea’s Roman Abramovich is drawing to a close.
“I wouldn’t say the era is dead but I would say what is over is the sugar daddy who can put hundreds of millions in the club. This will no longer be possible," he added.
“Football shouldn’t become just a toy for a few rich people who can just play with it and, then, when they are tired, nobody knows what happens.”
Infantino discounts the possibility of a breakaway European league made up of clubs who are unwilling to comply with Financial Fair Play but he does admit that the rules might need some fine-tuning over time.
“It’s not the perfect document, we are aware of that,” he said. “It is the first time we have done something like this. We are learning as we go along but we are very confident that if we find something that needs to be addressed, we will correct it.
“Certainly there are loopholes but this is not the reason why we shouldn’t do it to start with. When we find out about the loopholes we will correct them.”
|To find out more about what the new Financial Fair Play rules will mean for soccer, pose your questions to Goal.com UK chief correspondent Wayne Veysey in Wednesday’s Q&A from 14:00 BST|