What football would look like without Financial Fair Play
In the frantic exchanges between Premier League executives after Monday, there has been a general consensus that Manchester City should be severely punished if alleged breaches are proven - but that still doesn’t mean there is consensus on the actual rules they are claimed to have broken.
The very concept of Financial Fair Play remains a fracture point in the game. Many still believe it is wholly unfair. Some at City have always argued this, and a dominant narrative in the debate has been that the idea should be abolished because it is entirely designed to preserve the old order and prevent new forces or “new money” rising.
“They’re pulling up the drawbridge” is a successfully persuasive line of argument. That isn’t actually the case, and was never the intention, especially since the concept was first conceived when City had Rolando Bianchi up front.
The wonder is whether those who argue this have ever actually considered the opposition, and what would happen if FFP was abolished and “the drawbridge” was dropped.
Football, as we know it, would die. So would many clubs. The sport would cease to be any sort of competitive venture.
Clubs owned or run by states would be able to flood the game with a level of money that is simply inconceivable for even the biggest old institutions, to dominate everything forever. It would be ridiculous. For anyone that thinks it should just mean attracting more investors, there are only so many states that can buy clubs - and, for acutely specific political reasons, many tend to come from the limited number involved in the gulf blockade dispute.
Consider the reality as it is now.
Even with FFP, City regularly win the title with over 90 points, and the only real hope for anyone else is to either go to levels that are unsustainable or hope for an occasional season when the evolution of teams means they aren’t quite at a peak.
Paris Saint-Germain have meanwhile rendered French football a joke. Much of this era was opened by Roman Abramovich’s takeover at Chelsea, which is now viewed in a completely different political context, and also further pushed the parameters required to win a league title.
This era as a whole has only pushed the financial parameters, too, basically meaning you need much more money to move up in football.
It’s ironic, if also pointed, that this defining controversy comes amid discussions over the UK government’s White Paper.
One of the core reasons this has been put together is because the inequality in football has created a financial stretch that inherently implores clubs to spend more and gradually risk their futures. It is an inevitable product of that, no matter the responsible intentions of owners.
That was why FFP was conceived in the first place - to save clubs, not to calcify the game.
It shouldn’t mean that the trophies are the preserve of the old names, either. Quite the opposite.
If anything, this whole story means football needs more regulation, not less. It needs harder financial rules, and more redistribution.
This is after all the essence of sport, competitive balance and vitality. It’s about bringing the financial situation back down to a core, where money and chances are spread, not opening it out to go anywhere and almost inconceivable heights. If the financial thresholds are lowered, and there is greater redistribution, it actually makes it easier for “Blackburn Rovers or Leicesters” to happen.
Sport and sporting rules should never have had to consider the influence and investment of nation-states. They’re on another plane. It is why it was always so risky and dangerous letting these political interests in, even before you get to the far greater and more moral questions about human rights records and geopolitical intentions.
None of this means everything about Financial Fair Play is perfect. A key to these very concepts is getting the balance right between investment and inflation, protection and aspiration, and a lot of nuance is required.
But all of this illustrates that abolition is absolutely not the way to go.
The vision of the game without FFP or any kind of financial protection would be much much worse.
It would not be sport.