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Will English clubs get their finances in order in time to satisfy Uefa?

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David Bond | 06:30 UK time, Friday, 8 April 2011

Having made gigantic losses last year, it's no surprise Chelsea and Manchester City would fail Uefa's new Financial Fair Play regulations were they being applied today.

But Uefa's devilishly complicated rules do not simply measure profit or loss. They have been written to assess the financial performance of the pure football side of each club.

So, in the simplest of terms; transfers, players' wages and the costs of staging games are subtracted from gate revenue, media and sponsorship income. Any club consistently living beyond their means face expulsion from lucrative European competition, the Champions and Europa Leagues.

So, to try and get a clearer picture of how Premier League clubs might measure up against Uefa's criteria, the BBC commissioned the financial analyst and blogger Andy Green to examine the most recent club accounts for 2009/2010.

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Dan Roan examines the Financial Fair Play rules for Football Focus

The end result makes interesting reading and suggests a number of leading English clubs are going to find it a challenge to comply.

Even though the regulations allow teams to record cumulative losses of £39m from 2013 to 2015 and a further £26m from 2015 to 2018, the deficits being run up now won't be easy to turn around.

The solution should be straightforward - slash your football costs or grow your football revenue. That's much harder in reality.

Take Chelsea, for example. They made a £70m pre-tax loss, but by Uefa's measures they recorded a slightly better break-even result of -£52m in 2010. That figure does not include the January transfer splurge of £71m on Fernando Torres and David Luiz. Nor the inflationary effect they will have on the club's wage bill.

The rules state wages of Premier League players signed before June 2010 will not need to be taken into account but those from the August 2010 and January 2011 transfer windows will.

To prevent clubs simply splashing out before the rules bite, Uefa requires clubs to spread the cost of a transfer over the life of the player's contract. So Torres will cost Chelsea £10m a year until 2015. To put that into context, that's 5% of the Chelsea income Uefa recognises.

The catch-22 is that clubs like Chelsea can't afford not to be in the Champions League.
So, do they risk failing Uefa's regulations by strengthening their team or do they ensure they comply but risk sliding down the table and failing to qualify in a top four position?

It's the same for Manchester City. The club might insist that, having spent more than £350m on players since Sheikh Mansour took over in 2008, the costs of those deals will still be felt for many years to come.

To make things even harder for teams, only certain types of revenue will be permitted by Uefa. Increasing ground capacity or naming rights deals are fine but a huge injection of cash from a new sponsor with links to a club's owner or parent company will be ruled out unless it can be proved they are paying the going market rate.

After all the ultimate aim of Financial Fair Play is to stop super rich benefactors from simply writing off massive losses which Uefa believes distorts the integrity of the game.

Both Chelsea and Manchester City say they are comfortable they will comply with the rules when they come into force.

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Gianni Infantino feels English clubs have an advantage

And Uefa's general secretary Gianni Infantino told me in an interview last month he believed English clubs had the best chance of meeting the standard because they made more money than clubs in other parts of Europe.

But unless Chelsea move to a new ground or sell off a large number of players it's hard to see how they can ever reach that elusive break-even target.

As for City, the strategy is based on growing sponsorship, marketing and media revenues once they join the elite of the Champions League.

One of the criticisms of the new rules is that they don't take parent company debts into account. Instead they only measure annual interest payments. It means Uefa's rules would not stop another Glazer style takeover of an English club.

That's why Manchester United would comfortably comply with Uefa's regulations were they in force today. Despite making a £79m pre tax loss in 2010, that was mainly down to one off debt charges relating to the £500m bond refinancing and currency exchange rate swaps.

And the vast sums of money United generate as a football club (£300m according to Uefa's criteria and far more than any rival club) ensures that the regular debt repayments - totalling about £45m - are easily met.

The other criticism, aired by Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore during his grilling by MPs on the Culture Select Committee earlier this week, is that the rules will lock in the natural order, making it harder for smaller clubs backed by wealthy owners to spend their way to a higher level.

"Football is aspirational," he argued. "And there's nothing wrong with that."

Maybe so, but it would still be possible, as it used to be, for clubs with smaller grounds and less income to move up the table and even into Europe by developing young talent and growing naturally.

Those in favour of Uefa Financial Fair Play believe that is better than the 'get big quick' approach which has landed teams like Liverpool, Portsmouth and Leeds in such deep trouble.

Clearly all clubs have time to comply and it will be years until these rules really bite. And this study is nothing more than a hypothetical exercise to show where English clubs are ahead of the first monitoring period which kicks in on 1 June.

The true test will only come when a big club like Chelsea or Manchester City fail to comply many years from now. The big question then will be: Is Uefa really prepared to risk the appeal of its own competition by throwing them out?

But with pressure coming from politicians here for football to tighten up its governance and regulation, it does feel like the Uefa rules could mark a step change in the way clubs operate.

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