Man City ban lifted by CAS: Adapt or die for UEFA's FFP project?

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Manchester City having their two-year ban from UEFA competitions lifted by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) is unlikely to herald the end of the governing body's Financial Fair Play project. 

After CAS announced their verdict on Monday, under which City must still pay a €10million fine – reduced from €30m – for failing to co-operate with the investigation, UEFA issued a statement to say it remained "committed to the principles" of FFP. 

But what are those, and have they become muddled? The system will remain in some form, but how much of it is worth saving? 

Dr Dan Plumley, senior lecturer in sport finance at Sheffield Hallam University, told Stats Perform News the effectiveness of FFP, which UEFA introduced in 2009, has been mixed even before this potentially landmark ruling. 

"I don't think it'll be the end of FFP. That's slightly premature at this stage," he said. 

"I think it does bring into question some of the wider aspects of the regulations. They have brought about financial sustainability. They have reduced losses in European football. There are figures that support that. 

"But they haven’t done anything really in respect of redressing the competitive balance. They've had really negative impacts on that and there are a lot of statistics that would support that." 

The most booming of those are not hard to spot.

Bayern Munich won their eighth consecutive Bundesliga title this season, Juventus are on course for a ninth-straight Scudetto, while the truncated Ligue 1 campaign saw PSG crowned champions for the seventh time in eight years.

"Even within a basic spend-within-your-means principle, those who are in that elite and earn more get to spend more and continually dominate on the pitch," Plumley said, while acknowledging the tricky balancing act UEFA would have to perfect if they wanted to bring about more equitable outcomes.

"Things around salary caps and wage caps have been well discussed in the past and they are now raising their head again in light of the current pandemic. In principle, they're a good idea.

"But a hard salary cap is a real challenge and the other issue with UEFA here, as we've seen in this case and with the Champions League in the past, is the power play between UEFA and the clubs.

"Some of those clubs are very powerful in their own right. If they don't like what UEFA are doing, then there's always been the threat of a breakaway league."

In the meantime, the CAS verdict hints at a tweak UEFA will be keen to make.

The Swiss-based court said a number of the allegations against City were time-barred under UEFA's own rules, which state cases more than five years old cannot be punished – a fairly obvious flaw when the period spanning 2012-2016 at the Premier League club came into focus after the Football Leaks revelations of November 2018. 

Plumley feels UEFA are likely to make amendments in that regard, but the immediate future for FFP is one fraught with problems as much due to the global situation as a damaging court defeat. 

A softening of regulations and a rejigged monitoring period were announced last month to help ease the financial pressure on clubs brought about by the coronavirus pandemic. 

It is easy to see the challenges of COVID-19 and a failure to make Manchester City's punishment stick as twin factors that could neutralise UEFA's most important lever of financial regulation, without significant adaptation and fresh clarity. 

"It needs a real look at what those regulations are designed to do," Plumley added. "UEFA have never really got to grips with that. 

"The crux of the regulations is whether or not they're designed to look at debt and losses, or whether or not they're designed to stop owner injections to a varying degree. 

"Some of the things around sponsorship deals, stadium infrastructure, youth development – there's always been some workaround on FFP. That's what created a lot of the criticism of those regulations. They're not clear cut within themselves. 

"There may be a call to scrap FFP completely. I think UEFA would like some form of financial control within the game still, but whether that's FFP in its current format, I doubt that moving forward."