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May 21, 2014

How should UEFA spend FFP fine money?

FC's Gab Marcotti explains how the FFP rule was broken by PSG and Manchester City and how it will affect them.

Six days have passed since UEFA announced its Financial Fair Play settlements with the nine clubs that were found in breach by the Club Financial Control Board (CFCB). One of the upshots of the whole thing is that 50.8 million euros ($69.5m) will be paid to UEFA in fines and withheld prize money in the first year alone.

What to do with that money?

Contrary to popular belief, those nearly 70 million bucks are not going to build a new solid gold hot-tub on the third deck of Michel Platini's mega-yacht. UEFA have said all that money is going to be given back, primarily to clubs and, in part, to grassroots football. What they haven't said is how and on what basis.

And that matters.

Because depending how UEFA operate, they can either use their money for good or help it redress some competitive imbalances or further incentivize compliance with FFP or, ideally, all three.

They're currently mulling over several options and, in any case, anything they come up with needs to be approved by their Executive Council. Ideally, they would have figured this out before we got this point, but then, there are plenty of FFP-related things that, if they could, you'd imagine UEFA would love to have back.

Still, what's important is getting it right.

One suggestion being considered is splitting the money into three pots -- one for the Champions League, one for the Europa League and one for those leagues with clubs affected by non-compliance -- and simply dividing up the money among the teams who met FFP requirements.

There are no further details because they're still figuring it out but you'd be talking about compensating 72 teams who entered the 2013-14 Champions League (that's all of them, minus Galatasaray, Manchester City, Zenit and Paris St. Germain, who were found to be in breach).

Also involved would be the 156 clubs who were in the Europa League (194 were involved in total but you'd exclude the 33 who drop down from the Champions League at various stages -- don't want to double count, do you? -- and the five in breach: Bursaspor, Anzhi, Trabzonspor, Rubin Kazan and Levski Sofia).

Plus, there are 13 Premier League teams (you wouldn't count City or the ones you've already counted), plus 11 Bulgarian teams (again, no double-counting and no Levksi), plus 14 Turkish team (same deal) and 10 Russian sides (ditto).

Add it all up and you'd have 241 clubs who were in some way affected by the nine teams in breach of FFP. Do they all have a right to compensation? Split the fine evenly and everybody gets roughly $290,000. That's a huge sum if you're Prestatyn Town (Wales) or Vaduz (Liechtenstein) but just a few days of Cristiano Ronaldo's wages if you're Real Madrid.

That simply doesn't seem right. Not to mention the fact that such a sum could actually have a destabilizing effect in some leagues. If Hibernians (the ones from Malta, not Scotland) suddenly have a big chunk of change (relative to their budget), won't it give them an unfair advantage over the rest of the league? And for what? Because Paris St. Germain decided to sign Zlatan Ibrahimovic? How are those two even linked?

As for compensating teams in domestic leagues, sure, you may have a case. Levksi Sofia breached FFP regulations in building a team strong enough to finish second in 2012-13 in Bulgaria, thereby qualifying for the 2013-14 Europea League, allowing them to make more money than they would have otherwise. OK, fine. But Levski were only fined around $270,000 for their breach. Why should all these other clubs get a windfall that's far bigger than that? (Most of it coming from Manchester City and PSG.)

The most effective way to provide a deterrent to FFP breaches is redistribution. It would mean the fines would basically become a luxury tax, like in the NBA or Major League Baseball. You breach the regulations, you're fined and the funds go to your direct rivals.

It basically enhances the punishment. Not only do you have less money to strengthen the squad, but your opponents have more to strengthen theirs. It works -- reasonably -- well in certain contexts where you have a limited number of teams and the ethos is about parity and redistributing wealth.

But European football isn't like that. There are tiers and there are castes (and with FFP there will be even more). Some clubs who took FFP seriously and curtailed spending as a result to deserve some compensation because the breaches of others may have blocked their advancement and, therefore, their revenues but others simply were never going to compete. Asking UEFA to go and differentiate between the two is fraught with peril and potentially tricky from a legal point of view. Simply giving equal amounts to anyone, as I think I illustrated above, is silly.

- European Commission to reject legal challenge
- Marcotti: What the FFP ruling means

So what to do?

First, don't get involved in the domestic leagues. FFP deals with clubs in European competition so it's neither your job nor your jurisdiction to get involved there. If clubs feel aggrieved they can always challenge settlement deals. But trying to figure out who ought to be compensated domestically (and by how much), for European income they might potentially have missed out on, is the proverbial can of worms.

You want to redistribute some of the money to clubs in Europe? Fine. But don't spread it around. Simply add the appropriate amount to the prize money pot and dole it out proportionally. That way, teams who advance further -- and who are more credible competitors to those who breached -- get more. And, while you're at it, separate out the fines. The money coming from Manchester City, Galatasaray, Zenit and PSG should be apportioned to Champions League clubs, while that coming from the other five to the Europa League.

But even before you do that, think long and hard. The whole point of Financial Fair Play is to bring down expenses, primarily wage inflation and rising transfer fees. If you give all of it to the clubs, they'll simply go and spend it on salaries and buying players.

So only redistribute some of it, say, $40m; the rest ought to go to something useful. I have three suggestions.

The first is one UEFA is already well acquainted with. Every three years, they hand out more than $320m to their 54 member nations in something called the "Hat Trick" program. Basically, member FAs apply for funding for specific grassroots programs: pitches, coaching seminars, community work, whatever. Simply throw that money into the Hat Trick pot.

Another obvious destination is some kind of charity/community project. But in this case, I'd funnel it to the partner project of the offending club. So, for example, Manchester City have, over the years, spent more than $30m on various projects in disadvantaged areas of Manchester, ranging from healthcare to mentoring.

Doing it this way allows offending clubs to save face and it reminds them that they have a duty of care to their community. (To be fair, Manchester City already do far more than most. Allowing them to kick in an extra chunk of cash out of their fine -- rather than giving it another football club to pay for another players' Ferrari -- seems like a wiser move.)

Finally, you could use some of it as seed money for some kind of emergency/bail-out fund that could be used to help struggling clubs where appropriate. There are enough horror stories out there of reckless (and occasionally criminal owners) who buy a club, amass oceans of red ink and then ride out of town (or to prison) with the team on the verge of bankruptcy.

In those situations, a short-term, interest-free loan from the bail-out fund might help stave off disaster. Obviously it would need to come with plenty of strings attached and meticulous oversight. But there will be situations -- like perhaps when a beleaguered club is trying to transition to fan ownership -- where such an injection of funds can make a huge difference.

This year, it's $70m or so; we don't know how much it will be in future years. Maybe everybody will comply and that will be that (in which case, a one-off payment to clubs becomes even less meaningful.)

That's why, while redistribution to clubs makes sense in some ways, it should not be the only thing UEFA do with the money. Grassroots, philanthropy and a means to help out struggling clubs (and, by extension, their fans) would be far more meaningful and long-lasting.