Financial Fair Play in Football Explained

Financial Fair Play is part and parcel of football these days, but just what is it meant to do in the sport?


Your guide to the regulations which were designed to ensure football clubs around Europe kept lids on their finances.

When a UEFA review in 2009 revealed that around 50 percent of top-flight European clubs were incurring losses, some of them eye-watering, it decided it was time to act.

Some of the numbers being bandied around were simply breath-taking.

Inter Milan had been allowed to pile up £1.2billion of debt over a decade or more, Real Madrid’s debt had almost trebled to £300m in the space of year and even Portsmouth, a small town club in England, were operating at a loss of close to £60m.

Finding a Solution to Serial Over-spenders

UEFA decided that to combat the might of some of the world’s most powerful clubs – and to save many other clubs from their own recklessness – new regulations were needed.

Rules were drafted which featured sanctions against clubs who exceeded spending over a number of seasons, they were agreed in September 2009 with a phased implementation across Europe.

Widely accepted by most clubs and federations (yet still watered down intermittently) the basic premise is that clubs are permitted to spend no more than 5 million euros than they earn over a three-year period.

If they do sanctions range from reprimands and fines to points deductions, embargos and ultimately even being kicked out of – and excluded from in the future – UEFA competitions.

Sustainable and Responsible or Downright Unfair?

The idea of Financial Fair Play (FFP) is that by encouraging sustainable business models, it somehow levels the playing field. And they were well received as well-intended.

Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, the former German international striker and ex-chairman of the European Club Association, declared FFP as: “Measures that will shape the future of European club football into a more responsible business.”

In reality that could not be further from the truth and they have led to plenty of dissent.

The complaint from smaller clubs is that constraints on their spending are unfairly punitive compared to those on the bigger clubs who are bankrolled in the millions rather than thousands by super-rich owners and supporters.

The 5m euros limit, for example, was hiked up to 30m for clubs whose owners can pump in those extra levels of cash, granting them a far greater freedom to spend and another illustration of how the rules seem to weigh heavily in favour of the big boys.

In short, there is a hierarchy in football based on spending and FFP only serves to emphasise the gulf.

All Change For the Future

Tweaks to FFP have been ongoing until 2022 when they were radically overhauled by new financial sustainability rules, a package based on the pillars of solvency, stability and cost control.

Despite yet more good intentions, clubs are still finding creative ways of ‘beating the system’.

How, everyone asked, were Barcelona, for example, able to buy player after player despite being a reported 1.3bn euros in debt?

Regulating football spending was always likely to prove a minefield and the last decade or so has emphasised that. Financial Fair Play was a blunt instrument of sorts but a necessary one, though there are many who question whether it has worked at all.

Steve Davies is an occasional contributor to the MansionBet Blog. He holds a keen interest in many sports, with Darts taking the first position.
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