UEFA and F1 to Complete Seasons Together in Abu Dhabi

UEFA and F1 to Complete Seasons Together in Abu Dhabi

An agreement has been made between UEFA and liberty media to ensure the commercial and sporting integrity of the Champions League and Formula 1 survive during the coronavirus outbreak. Plans have been drawn up for a closed-doors Super Tournament in Abu Dhabi. The state will host a truncated Champions League tournament from a single venue, with multiple matches staged each day.

The Abu Dhabi F1 circuit will be used for sprint races on the days between football matches. The track has several configurations and the belief is the spectacle of numerous shorter races – something seen in junior formulae – will go some way to make up for the loss of the high-flying global tour.

UEFA will invoke Clause 14.7 from its combined agreement with member associations to void domestic leagues to ensure their crown jewel competition can be completed. It’s understood there are reservations to the move in Madrid and Germany over fears Sheikh Mansour, a member of the Abu Dhabi royal family, could use the tournament for political favour following Manchester City’s trouble with Financial Fair Play.

Both Liberty Media and UEFA will increase their respective prize funds – with the assistance of the Abu Dhabi royal family – to convince teams and nations the benefits outweigh any downsides.

Once the deal is officially ratified, it’s expected the first two weeks in August will be revealed as dates for the tournament. Football will then go into a shortened pre-season phase, Formula 1 may pause the season again in the hope it can be revived later in the year.

Financial Fair Palter

Financial Fair Palter

A little over two years ago I made my opposition to Financial Fair Play clear in Financial Fair Prejudice. At the time the arguments against the system felt like the final futile attempts of resistance before football’s fair days of competiveness would be glazed over by a constant status quo. But this week Michel Platini proved that money’s more fluid than the previous positive counter-arguments. He announced that FFP would be eased this summer.

Victory at last? Not quite, well, not quite yet. It won’t be until the end of June we see exactly how much UEFA will ease the current rules. It also remains open to debate how they will do this and maintain a governable system. It is a step in the right direction. Or more accurately, a shuffle away from the wrong one.

Throughout various articles here I have attempted to demonstrate the reasons FFP is wholly unfair. That’s not to say I scoffed at Platini’s other remarks this week, namely the claim FFP was “working well.” To some degree, it is. If you recall, I have always been an advocate of a system that prevented a future Leeds or Portsmouth situation. My distaste for FFP has never meant I’ve overlooked this sentiment.

The figures themselves highlight the areas where FFP has been a positive force for change. But these should be used with caution, as other figures indicate an alternative version why FFP is being eased. Far be it from me to think ill of Platini or UEFA, or question their motives, but one could argue they aren’t acting out of benevolence at this point.

First, those good stats. The easiest demonstration is the net debt across all of Europe’s clubs. This has fallen from €1.7Bn to €400M over the three years from 2011 to 2014. Here in the Premier League transfer spending was the same in the recent January window as it was twelve months before, but notably less (by approximately £95M) than the 2011 January window. If we examine the club punished on our shores due to FFP, Manchester City, they have reduced their wage bill by £40M over this period.

Some will argue clubs, such as Manchester City, have shuffled some wages on their accounts (it’s reported support staff at Manchester City now are on the City Football Group’s payroll) but no one can deny a concerted effort has been made by England’s leading clubs to become more financially responsible. This is if we ignore the example set by Manchester United since their departure from the Champions League.

Newly crowned champions, Chelsea, did their business in the summer and reluctantly had to balance the books to bring in the signings they wanted. Arsenal have been doing this for years and continued to do so. The aforementioned City may not have spent as wisely but it was all within the tight confines their punishment afforded. Relegated Burnley resisted the urge to splash to survive and depart the top flight as a healthy model.

As a whole it appears that the majority are making the transition from potentially reckless to greener pastures.

This article now sets a record for the longest I’ve spoken about FFP without a criticism. Don’t worry, I have a few to hand. One last positive before we get there, and an example why we do need FFP to some (lesser) degree, the QPR model. They claim to be cutting costs but they are leaking money without any sign of on-field progression. Shareholders wrote off £60M worth of debt but they are still accountable to the Football League for financial irregularities. This alone could see them plummet through another division. Tony Fernandes isn’t fooling anyone when he says the club has learned from previous mistakes.

Fernandes is also the embodiment of the fair-weather rich chairman, fans of clubs without money threaten to those with new wealth. Manchester City fans have heard for the last few years, “What happens when they get bored and take their money with them?” It’s similar to what people levelled at Chelsea supporters when Roman Abramovich first appeared on the scene. He’s still going strong and so will Sheikh Monsour for years to come. It’s the QPR owner that has invested in a reckless, ill-advised, foolish manner, without an overarching plan or ways to improve club revenue streams, and he’s also the only one that has flirted with the idea of turning his back on football.

Roman and the Sheikh are successful business men. Most of these are rich because they are good with cash. They don’t consistently lose money. Rich football owners – those running the club with cash, not debt – are bound to apply similar rules. Losing cash isn’t in their DNA. The difference with Fernandes and his sporting ventures, QPR and the Caterham F1 team, have been treated like pet projects. Chelsea and Manchester City were extensions of successful business portfolios. As such they were examined and reshaped to flourish as a business. Success on the pitch was intertwined with eventual profits off it.

What irks me is the two-faced side emanating from Stamford Bridge in recent years. They should take applause for being an example of why FFP is bad for the game. The Chelsea model should be a term for how to achieve success. Instead they shade over their accelerated growth period and pretend they are on board with FFP for the good of the game. They’re on board to prevent new money clubs catching up with those in the elite party.

José Mourinho speaks as if he’s a crusader for FFP. That heavy spending – regardless of how it is sourced – should be stamped out. That this is Year One and the income you generate now is the only allowed money. No accelerated growth periods for anyone else. This is repulsive for more than one reason. Mourinho never mentions how Chelsea posted a £140M loss in 2005 in order to transform the club from also-rans into the outfit they are today.

During this heavy investment the model has seen Chelsea become the third largest generators of income in the Premier League. They only achieved this by spending in the first place. José also speaks as if they now comply because of the rules. This is a fallacy. In 2006, then Chelsea Chief Executive Peter Kenyon, claimed they would be self-sufficient within a year. His figures may have been out but the business model was clear: Roman didn’t want to run at a loss forever. Just like Sheikh Monsour, he knows to make a better business an initial loss has to be absorbed.

As usual Arsène Wenger sits in room complaining without many listening. This week’s snippet from Moan Corner was how UEFA lost FFP when it removed youth investment from the calculations. It seems Mr Wenger not only wanted to ensure the Have Nots never will have, but that the Always Haves also corner the youth market.

This encapsulates the reasons why the voices that at first appeared ignored, (I myself wrote: “There’s no point arguing against Financial Fair Play anymore,”) have suddenly found welcoming ears. The idea that clubs could never catch the big guns without being allowed to follow a well-implemented growth period, albeit running at a temporary loss, found traction. It did this slowly and with a dawning realisation across Europe.

The impending court cases levelled against UEFA have played their part. They highlight the moral hypocrisy of the current system but more worryingly for defence lawyers, the legal problems set off alarm bells. UEFA is tied to EU laws. And while the EU doesn’t want to see a sport in their lands defy current convention, they are accountable by their own mandates. Freedom of trade and competition laws being the major headaches.

Also, the money in football generates its own mini-economy. If the cash at the top is prevented from purchasing assets then smaller clubs find reduced revenue. Debts may reduce for those chasing the perfect model but ends can’t be met in smaller boardrooms. Blackburn Rovers are a solid example here. Their debt has increased by £24M in spite of reducing the wage bill. The secondary economy – but most important to me – is the impact on the fans. FFP, in its original form, will mean supporters pay the price as clubs try to balance the books.

Everything has a breaking strain. For the current FFP it came from European clubs struggling to stay on the top level without extra investment. They saw the Premier League sell its TV rights for £5.5Bn and realised the gap was about to become unbridgeable. Even Platini admits the Italians have asked for FFP to be eased even though it is other nations that currently benefit most from foreign investment. Monaco had already reacted by loaning out Falcao to remove his high wage from their books. Their loss was the gain of nineteen other clubs in the Premier League.

It’s possible big clubs like Manchester United – going through an accelerated growth period of their own – and Real Madrid lent on UEFA to lessen FFP because of the impending cases. They do operate with large debts; something that clubs like City and PSG have argued should be factored into calculations. Easing FFP takes the spot light away from those with big debt but large fan bases, reducing the microscopic moral investigation.

The most telling statement from Michel Platini was: “Any potential changes will look to encourage more growth, more competition and market stimulation while strengthening the emphasis on controlling spending and safeguarding financial stability.”

MCFCAc

He’s summoned up perfectly the Manchester City model, the very ethos I championed before FFP was introduced. But don’t worry Michel, hindsight is 20/20.

Backs to UEFA

Backs to UEFA

After another round of Champions League fixtures we once again find criticism directed toward UEFA. My own contempt for the corrupt and hypocritical organisation is well noted. Now some Manchester City fans are canvassing for supporters to turn their backs during the Champions League anthem at the next three European games. Whilst I support any movement against UEFA and their ideology, City fans have to be clear on the reasons why they are turning their backs, and why they are choosing to do it now.

Every time I have written about Financial Fair Play the strong undercurrent has been a dislike toward UEFA. That particular system is anything but fair, they weren’t acting as caring overseers, the system wouldn’t even have prevented a Leeds or Portsmouth situation. It reeked of corruption, ensuring the status quo in football for the European “Big Boys.” They traversed the boundaries of sport and business, failing to ensure clarity or complete legality with either.

When they issued fines, this captured cash wasn’t distributed into grass root schemes, struggling lower league clubs, or even charities. It was fed back to the compliant clubs playing at the top European level. They should have already been filtering money from their vast profits, across all of Europe, to the smaller clubs that facilitate emerging players within the lower leagues. Instead of being a benevolent group they have edged ever closer to a Fascist regime bordering on evil Totalitarianism. They dangle high prize money for their premier competition whilst threatening handcuffs for those that can compete with healthy cash.

It’s only now, after the event and sanctions imposed on Manchester City and PSG, that UEFA have even considered clubs, such as Manchester United, facing questions over loans that form part of their finances. These help highlight that UEFA doesn’t care about fairness. In a democracy, argument and counter-argument are heard equally, then an agreed system is formed. UEFA rule with an iron-fist. Bully and ignore as they please. If they cared about the health of the sport, of the people within the game, they wouldn’t have allowed Poland and Ukraine to spend billions to host the European championships, then face ruin. There should be a moral obligation to protect clubs or national associations from such grotesque overspend. But as long as UEFA are dangling the carrot they’re hardly likely to tire of the tease.

It’s ruling with such an iron-fist which makes remarks made after the “behind closed doors” CSKA Moscow v Manchester City Champions League tie, all the more ridiculous. CSKA were the ones facing a punishment for racist behaviour. Yet, on the night, they somehow had around 600 fans in the stadium. As City captain Vincent Kompany asked: “You say no fans, all of a sudden you turn up and the team that has no fans is Man City. So who’s getting punished? Who’s being done for racism, Man City or Moscow?”

MCFC Mos

It’s almost a rhetorical question. Clearly the punishment also affected Manchester City, perhaps to a greater degree. I am not suggesting, nor is anyone associated with the club even as they launch a complaint, that the Moscow fans swayed the match. But the principle of the matter is what makes it note worthy. It’s almost a sick joke when UEFA claim there was no breach. That club delegations, media, security staff, UEFA and guests of sponsorship partners are allowed into behind closed door matches. It’s that last one on the list that tells the story: Sponsorship Partners. Greedy UEFA. Always money over morals.

They claim they can’t dictate who those guests are. They make the rules and shirk the responsibility all too often. If UEFA stated only people in pink shirts could enter, guess what, we’d all be wearing pink shirts or face being ejected from our seats. They obviously need clubs, media and security there. But they could have prevented guests of sponsors. They may have lost some cash, but is money from one game’s set of guests more important than a solid stance against racism?

UEFA No racism

To UEFA it probably is. This is an organisation that threatened action against players if they walked from the field of play during racist chants, then applauded that action when the world supported AC Milan for doing just that. They are so out of touch with public opinion and common decency that their judgement can no longer be trusted. City shouldn’t have been playing that came in Moscow in front of 600 CSKA fans. It should have been in a neutral country’s stadium filled to the rafters with Blues.  But they don’t really care about racism, half the time they come across as if the subject is an awkward annoyance to them; and they don’t care about Manchester City, we’re like the one-legged ginger step-child that needs glasses.

So as a City fan (I also happen to have been a step-child, ginger, and a wearer of spectacles) we face the decision to turn our backs when UEFA play their anthem. I agree with the sentiment. The debacle in Russia is the straw that has broken the camel’s back for many a Blue. However, I’m worried it puts City fans on dangerous ground. Surely the time for a stance against UEFA was at the first Champions League game. The droplets of faeces we’ve had on us this week are just spray from a larger, on-going, shower.

To make a stand now we risk looking bitter. That our disappointing result is more to do with the turning of backs than UEFA’s actions. Too much focus is placed on the Champions League. For me the measure of a team’s greatness is domestic success. When both Liverpool and Chelsea last claimed UEFA’s top prize they failed to secure a top four finish at home. However, the world sees it different. City’s owners see it different. Had City already secured a Champions League trophy, a stand against UEFA would hold much more weight. Instead there’s a risk our positive defiance will be pushed away with nonchalance.

MCFC Backs UEFA

Over the coming weeks we need to articulate all our grievances regarding UEFA to prevent our protest appearing two-faced. At the moment UEFA stand unopposed, everyone is bending to their rules, the rules bending further to support the evil regime. If people do take notice we need to have a clear message: That UEFA needs to change or be replaced entirely.