After Manchester City were hit with an unprecedented punishment following breaches of UEFA’s rules, one thing is clear: Financial Fair Play exists to protect football’s big-money brands and destroy the rest.
The Rule of Law, a cornerstone of any legal or political theory class, can essentially be defined by the concept that the law must be applied equally to all, regardless of status or power. While UEFA, in handing Manchester City a two-year Champions League ban for FFP breaches, are acting within the bounds of their enforcement power, many fail to recognize that this is merely the latest step in defending the interests of European football’s historical elite at the expense of the rest.
To be absolutely clear, I am not defending the actions of Manchester City or their ownership with regard to their violation of the rules as currently constructed. This is only an alternate viewpoint to demonstrate that the rules are deeply flawed and were enacted to protect the interests of big-money historical superclubs. UEFA does not have a personal vendetta with Manchester City. Rather, they collectively see big-spending upstarts who attempt to challenge the status quo as threats to having the biggest names on the biggest stages.
In theory, Financial Fair Play sounds like a policy dedicated protecting the interests of smaller clubs by hypothetically limiting the spending of bigger and more powerful teams. Its aim is to function as a sort of salary cap on transfer spending and wages and to prevent teams from falling into debt. It differs from a soft or hard salary cap characteristic of American sports in one key way, however: FFP violations are directly tied to the amount of revenue brought in by the club, meaning there is no one flat cap all clubs must abide by.
This caveat benefits the historical elite tremendously. Clubs such as Manchester United, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, and Juventus, due to their decades-long history of success, possess commercial might and sponsorship revenue that allow them to spend at nearly unlimited rates with virtually no fear of FFP violations.
A club like City, even with all their success, cannot become the revenue-generating behemoth United is overnight. Therefore, if City cannot outspend their incoming revenue, even if they are financially stable, how will they attract the top players required to compete with the big boys, or keep the stars they develop? How can any club that is not already a historical giant ever sit at the big boys table? With the rules as currently constructed, the simple reality is that there is no path to sustained success at the top if the team does not have a historical track record of success and a massive fanbase.
As previously mentioned, the defense of FFP policy at the time of its introduction was to prevent debt. If this is the policy’s true purpose, how could a club stacked with debt such as United face no FFP sanctions while City, who have no debt and are pragmatically run from a corporate standpoint, be faced with the European football equivalent of SMU’s now-infamous Death Penalty of the 1980’s?
The reason is the growing centralization of football. This move by UEFA is not for the altruistic motive of fighting the tide of money flowing into the game. It’s to ensure that we will never see another club rise and consistently defy the historical hierarchy. FFP is an elitist policy enacted, much in the same vein as the oft-proposed European Super League, to ensure that the historically elite are “too big to fail”, and will always be present playing one another in the continent’s biggest competition.
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If UEFA win the CAS appeal, keep the rule as currently constructed, and maintain a hardline enforcement doctrine, Manchester City’s days at the top could be numbered. If the ban is upheld, at least some of City’s stars in all likelihood will leave the club, while I believe Pep Guardiola will depart regardless of the outcome of this season. City will be incapable of attracting the world’s best players without the allure of European football, and if ownership cannot influence the cap of allowed spending moving forward, they will see a dramatic decrease in transfer output in a team that already needs an overhaul defensively.
With City’s project grinding to a halt and teams such as Arsenal and Manchester United likely to return to the mean in the future, the top four in the coming years could look oddly familiar: Liverpool, United, Arsenal, Chelsea (with the possible exception of Spurs) battling at the top. Just how things “should” be. Cinderella is dead, and order is restored.