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Uefa right to tackle football's financial madness

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Jim Spence | 21:04 UK time, Friday, 28 May 2010

portsmouth_595.jpgThe stench from chickens coming home to roost in our national game both sides of the border is overwhelming.

In the week that UEFA announced that by 2012 all clubs would have to be run on a break-even basis, the foul stink of financial crisis in the game has seldom been more pungent.

Years of mismanagement and reckless indifference by the game for its' financial wellbeing are everywhere to see.

Finally the clubs are trying to clear up the dirt, but it's a herculean task.

Everyone shares the blame, players, agents, managers, chairmen, fans and journalists.

Blinded by ambition and desire the game has lived beyond its means, putting the very future of some clubs in doubt.

Enormous debts at some of our leading clubs seem scarcely manageable.

Private households run on the same shoddy basis would have seen the keys handed back to the building society a long time ago.

Some clubs have been forthright in their assessment of the future.

On my own patch here in Dundee, the Dens Park board have pointed the way to a new fiscal regime, radically different from the free spending days of yore.

Having managed to rid the club of the bulk of its debts from previous years chairman Bob Brannan has told fans they need to inject more financial backing or there will be no club to support.

Like many other clubs Dundee have known great days, with the richest board of directors in Scotland in the late 1950's and crowds of forty thousand in their European glory years.

That though was more than half a century ago, and over the years Dundee have had to face a more sobering future.

Their supporters trust have accepted that the days of relying on one rich backer to sustain the club are gone.

Fans now have to decide what is most important to them. The continued existence of their club rooted deep within the community, albeit with ambitions reined in, or a future built on sand.

Encouragingly fans groups and the board appear to have concluded that survival is what matters.

What of other clubs and other supporters though, because Dundee's problems are by no means unique.

How healthy is your club and are there problems looming that might threaten the future ?

The UEFA break-even policy will be no bad thing if it forces us all to confront a basic truth, which applies to everyday life as well as football.

You can't spend more than you earn without getting into debt.

Debt in manageable proportions is fine, but the debts racked up at many clubs is unsustainable.

On Wednesday night I brought the curtain down on my football season watching Lochee Harp V Coupar Angus Juniors.

Four quid to get in, a pound for a raffle, end-to-end football amid a wild May thunderstorm and great crack among the crowd.

It was reminder of simpler times, and an essence of what the game is really about.

UEFA's timing may well turn out to be just right to save the game from itself.


  • Comment number 1.

    Well it's about time! I got bored of the EPL about a decade ago because it was just getting too money-oriented. But I wonder what effect this will really have? I would like to think clubs like Dundee United and Aberdeen that have made efforts to reign in the debt before now will be at an advantage over those that have continued to spend beyond their means, but is there any reality in that? I'm not sure this will stop SPL clubs being outbid for players by English lower league clubs. Maybe we'll just finally see Rangers and Celtic being brought back down to the level of the rest of the SPL. If that's the only outcome, then all we'll see is a further decrease in the already-awful standard of football the SPL clubs expect fans to pay to watch. Or is that just me being a pessimist after the Dons' worst season in years?

  • Comment number 2.

    I don't think that the overall standard of football will change in Scotland, and I am not even sure if these rules will affect us that much at all as we already have made steps up here to take control of our finances.

    We don't have the same financial rewards as they do in England, so most clubs haven't been hopefully speculating on average players on massive wages in hope of qualifying for rich competitions etc.

    As far as England is concerned, it will help to stop disgraceful behavior like that at Portsmouth where money has been squandered and tax losses have been written off, in essence the tax payer has financed excessive millionaire lifestyles.

  • Comment number 3.

    I am of the firm opinion that any Football Club with debts greater than 10 Million pounds should not be allowed to buy players willy nilly, I believe this to be a form of Cheating. Clubs like Real Madrid, Barcelona etc who are hundreds of millions in debt should be banned from buying any further players until their debts are brought under control.This step would lead to a more even playing field for the other clubs who are striving to keep debts in check, and their heads above water.

  • Comment number 4.

    I watch the Juniors as well Jim. More honest perhaps but even the Juniors have their fair share of big spenders. And people are just kidding themselves if they think these rules will have no impact on Scottish footbal at home or abroad.

    It may mean an end to people doing a 'Chelsea', 'Man City', 'Gretna' or a 'Hoffenheim' but as spending will be tagged to revenue the same rules will apply for all and mean that the status of the big clubs will actually be cemented by these proposals. In England it will mean that clubs like Newcastle and Leeds with bigger fan base revenues will be favoured over the likes of Fulham and Wigan. In Scotland the status of the OF will be protected by their larger fan bases.

    I don't see how it could apply any other way.

    Wonder also if the TV companies who fund the EPL/SPL will scale back their funding input. After all why give more than clubs need, or more than they could reasonably spend on players? Sky and ESPN will be doing their sums already!

    It could be also be potentially fatal for clubs like Ajax, PSV, Rangers and Celtic in their attempts to get to the CL because while they have big fan bases they don't have access to big TV deals to bump up their revenue. Again the status quo for the big 5 leagues in the CL is protected. You can only say well done Mr Platini your vision was not supposed to be about this!

    Interesting to see how they will enforce it and whether any such action results in a legal challenge around restrictions on trade for 'sporting businesses'. In the end with the sanctions they are proposing it may actually be quite 'toothless' in EU law.

    Creative accountants will be much in demand and you've got to think people like Abramovitch will find ways around this.

    I would have been more impressed if they had actually directly tackled levels of indebtedness.

  • Comment number 5.

    I don't think the regulations will cement the Old Firm's position any more than the present scenario does?
    I think if anything it will work in the opposite way.
    Who else in Scotland spends millions on players and wages? Hearts?
    This will help settle things into their natural order.
    When Scotland's CL positions are reduced, then these measures will level the field even more.

  • Comment number 6.

    The finances of the modern game are an absolute disgrace. There is most definitely no easy solution to the problems that currently exist in the game and whatever is going to be done will not be popular but if football is not regulated soon then there could be some huge clubs going out of business. You would have thought that the world would have learnt from the mistakes made in Italy in the 90s but it looks like history is going to repeat itself.

    I support a club that is heavily in debt, Liverpool, and I can't wait for UEFA to put something in place to penalise clubs running at a loss. It is too late to punish clubs that are entering administration. All that does is kicks a man when he is down. If there were constant penalties in place then this kind of existence would hold no appeal. Maybe clubs should be deducted points for the amount of money being lost each season?

  • Comment number 7.

    There was already a growing realization amongst football clubs that there is a greater value in investing in facilities than spending on players and their wages.

    The regulations appear to be coming at the tail end of the problem, when the actors in the field have already begun to take steps to pull back from previous excesses. At best, it is 20/20 hindsight, at worst it is counter-productive.

  • Comment number 8.

    All sport in Australia has salary caps placed on clubs. In theory this means any club with rich sponsors cannot overpay a team of good players to buy premierships. Of course under the table payments do happen and stiff penalties apply if the club is caught out. This means that the madness that is Real Madrid, Barcelona in Spain paying ridiculous money to sign unbelievably expensive good players such as Zidane, Ronaldo, Kaka, Messi, Ronaldinho could not happen unless they are prepared for all their other players to earn very little to squeeze under the limit. Of course there will be cheats especially in Italy and Spain. Sadly Spanish football is a two-team boring competition like Rangers - Celtic in Scotland. At least the EPL has some depth and an "upset" result is often possible ... but it would be great for the game if great players like Rooney could be retained by clubs like Everton instead of bigger clubs like Man U, Chelsea, Man City, Liverpool borrowing hundreds of millions to get further in debt to grab the best players.

    But .. financial cheating is an art form in the football world where funny money is available from Arabs, Russians, Thais, Americans and the poor club supporters have to pay the price.

  • Comment number 9.

    Therefore a Club which is actually run properly, has a decent business plan and requires to invest money to reach it's next level can't now spend a large amount in one season.

    The Club may have worked out we could spend x amount this season become more competitive see an increase in turnover and gate money from European ties etc and pay down their debt this way.

    This will ensure that the biggest G17 clubs will now cement their positions as Champion League regulars.

    I'm all for financial regulation in Football this madness has to stop but this way does seem to favour the larger Instituitions.

    All we'll see is players now being employed as Consultants to the Youth Development System at the Club which will allow clubs to circumvent these criteria and by-pass the spending levels set by Uefa.

  • Comment number 10.

    Good its about time...I yearn for the older days of our game...I dislike the money side to the modern footy game and it has always left me with a bad taste in my mouth...we are starting to see the beginnings of financial free fall due to club debt and we are gonna see some big clubs go to the wall..the big days of Prem dominance in European football are over the bubble has burst the EPL is about to enter bust after a period of unsustainable boom...The place for top name football players to shine financialy will be in Europe especialy Spain...I cant see many Top world players wanting to come to this country to play due to the present financial situation of our clubs..Europe will be the place where they will go for wages and Tax reasons..The Financial Glory days of the EPL are over..

  • Comment number 11.

    I agree with some of the comments above. The clubs with bigger crowds wiil have more revenue to buy the better players so they're more likely to qualify for the CL, making them even richer and more attractive to better players. These rules aren't to level the playing field,they're to put an end to the gatecrashing of the G17 party, but I'm doubtful whether UEFA can plug all the holes.

  • Comment number 12.

    The clubs who are being bankrolled by Arabs , Russians , Americans etc.
    could find themselves in trouble when these guys find a new hobby to invest in.
    Clubs who have a sensible wage structure and live within their means will be sitting pretty in 5 years or so.

  • Comment number 13.

    Jim unfortunately you contradict yourself

    "You can't spend more than you earn without getting into debt.

    "On Wednesday night I brought the curtain down on my football season watching Lochee Harp V Coupar Angus Juniors"

    "It was reminder of simpler times, and an essence of what the game is really about."

    The league, which you currently watch your son in, is dominated by clubs who are erm, funded way beyond their means. Yes the don't have 'bank debt' but pay fees way above the £4 entrance fee and £1 raffle would even begin to cover!

    The result players don't want to play for teams that are not fortunate enough to have some local wealthy business man to pay for 'their' junior team, yes there are a few exceptions like Tayport, but very few other successful clubs like this!

    If you want to get back to the ‘simpler times’ and ‘what the game is really about’ the authorities need to change everyone’s habits not just the big clubs.

    These wealthy business men who ‘own’ a junior team would be better persuaded to invest in sponsoring proper coaches and training facilities for clubs like Lochee Harp and Coupar Angus so kids coming through the Junior ranks have a fighting chance to catch the eye of a senior club.

    It’s naive to think if you have not been ‘picked up’ by a senior club by the time you are 13 years old you aren’t good enough!

    Could probably rant on about it for hours but the bottom line is money is ruining the game at all levels!

  • Comment number 14.

    purplepen , I'm not sure where I contradicted myself. To the best of my knowledge neither Harp or Coupar Angus pay their players, so the love of the game is what those particular clubs are about.

    That was the game I was writing about, not a game concerning those in the junior raks who I accept do have greater resources.

    But you are right, habits need to change at all levels, so that clubs live within their means.

    As I write this, a famous old English club, Crystal Palace are scrabbling for their very survival. A sordid tale of our times for a fine old football club and the damage done to them by unchecked financial madness.

    They won't be the last to face the prospect of oblivion unless a check is put on reckless spending.

    As to your point " It’s naive to think if you have not been ‘picked up’ by a senior club by the time you are 13 years old you aren’t good enough"

    I could not agree with you more. too many football coaches and scouts have adopted this mantra to the detriment of players who are late developers, and fine young players are lost to the game in many cases.

  • Comment number 15.

    I don't agree that this is "timely" intervention by UEFA at all. This should have been done post Bosman ruling 15 years ago. It is since then that greedy players egged on by agents, coupled with the big clubs willingness to pay any price, that we've seen debts spiralling out of control. It's been obvious for years that many clubs could not be trusted to properly manage their own finances and curtail their spending. UEFA should have stepped in much sooner.
    I agree with the majority of other fans I speak to. Money is ruining the game.

  • Comment number 16.

    PurplePen, I dont know much about junior football wage wise but I do know teams like dowfield do things to help bring in money there own way. I occasionally go to Downfield games with the hospitality £20.00 for a day out with food and drink and watch the game the £20.00 PP you pay goes right into Shug Mclaughlins team soo he can get new players signin fees etc so they dont really go in to debt with nothing to work with and dont want to risk it.


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