The recent announcements from UEFA placing restrictions on the amount that clubs can spend (with books to be balanced over a rolling three year period) are the latest in a worrying trend of interference – the introduction of red tape has come to be the hallmark of the Platini presidency.
The question is not whether cutting the debt of football clubs in general is a good idea, it clearly is. With an ever increasing number of clubs in ‘financial peril’ (20 percent by UEFA’s calculations) some kind of mandate stipulating the security of clubs finances may sound like an obvious response.
But look more deeply and the situation is not so simple. There is no reason why an individual of great wealth should not take over a club and spend his or her money in the way he sees fit. Indeed, such a takeover will often rescue a club from debt. Football is a competitive business – that is its attraction. As such, risks need to be taken and, since the beginning of professional football, rich people or local businessmen have kept clubs going, risking their own money for a variety of motives. If a club were to invest a lot of money in good, young players that would not produce a return for several years, they would fall foul of the new rules, in spite of their sensible (if risky) business plan. Who had heard of Cristiano Ronaldo when he went to Manchester United in 2003 for 12.24M? To say that this long-sighted outlook put Manchester United in ‘financial peril’ is evidently false.
I have never encountered a chairman whose intention is to run a club into the ground. It shatters reputations, breaks the fans hearts, and most importantly loses money. It is frankly ridiculous to suggest that now that Gianni Infantino has said that it’s probably not a good idea to be in debt, that the chairmen of the league will change their behaviour in the slightest.
Clubs go bankrupt because they invest in bad players, because their manager isn’t good enough, or because fans are unwilling to support the team. This is part and parcel of the game and leads to turnover of clubs at every level of the sport. What is being suggested will lead to those clubs that are currently of large non-performance related means (those with the largest commercial rights deals and so on) sitting at the top permanently with no thrusting, risk taking clubs being able to push them off the perch. It sounds very much like comfortable European corporatism applied to one business that should be fiercely competitive.