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UEFA chief vows to enforce FFP rules: 'We can't be a tiger without teeth'

MONACO -- UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin gave the strongest indication yet that his organisation was ready to "severely" punish clubs who violate Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations.

"I am very serious, you will see," he said on Friday, speaking to a group of journalists the day after the UEFA Champions League draw. "We will try to help [the clubs respect the rules]. We will try to advise them [on legal points related to FFP]. But [if they don't comply] we will punish. And we will punish severely."

The issue has come to the fore during a summer that has seen Paris Saint-Germain smash the world transfer record to acquire Barcelona's Brazilian striker Neymar in a deal worth €222 million ($264.5m).

PSG were found to be in breach of FFP regulations four years ago and sanctioned by UEFA with a fine, as well as squad and spending restrictions. The club is owned by a Qatari sovereign fund and is heavily reliant on sponsorship from Qatari entities.

"I am not talking about PSG. I am talking about every club in Europe. We are monitoring the situation, the transfer window is not closed yet. Trust me, we're working on it," Ceferin said, adding that, in any case, club spending this summer would be subject to the FFP assessment process, which looks at spending over a three year period.

The earliest indication of whether a club breached FFP rules wouldn't arrive until the autumn of 2018 and the earliest sanctions could be imposed would be for the 2018-19 seasons.

"It's impossible to say anything [about a specific club] until our team finishes [their audit]," he said. "It would not be fair to say anything at this moment, it would be like a judge deciding the verdict before the trial is finished."

As to the possibility, raised by some, that clubs who breach FFP might get off lightly, Ceferin was adamant.

"We have to follow the rules," he added. "Otherwise, it's better if we leave. Just close the door and go home if we don't respect our own regulations. I said it yesterday [in conversation with football officials] many times. We can't be a tiger without teeth."

During the wide-ranging interview, Ceferin also lamented the growing polarisation in the world game, echoing remarks he had made in the spring, when he said "we can not allow the greatness of some to overshadow and drown out [others]. If we allow gaps [between rich and poor] to become too great, we will be neglecting those who have no opportunity."

Asked if he still felt that way, Ceferin said: "I think everybody knows we have to do something, we have to react. Even the big [clubs] agree. We will not [eliminate] the gap. But let's stop if from growing. Or, at least, stop it growing so quickly."

Without discussing specific details, Ceferin raised the possibility of using both "sporting measures" -- such as limiting squad sizes and the number of players a club could loan out -- and tools such as salary caps or luxury taxes to address the issue.

PSG spent a record €222m to land Neymar from Barcelona this summer.

"Years ago [UEFA President] Michel Platini and [European Club Association President] Karl-Heinz Rummenigge went to see the European Commission about salary caps and luxury taxes and they said it was impossible [because it would violate European Law]," he said, suggesting there was a broad base of support for such measures today.

"I'm not so sure it's still impossible... It would be really strange to me if the only people opposed to it were politicians. Especially since they rely on the votes of the people [for their power]."

Ceferin added that he planned to meet with the European Commission in early September to explore the issue further and he was convinced there was plenty of support for change, despite opposition from some quarters.

"Whatever you do, there will be some opposition," he said. "But we are not afraid of the opposition. Everybody [agrees that] something [must be done]. "

"Who [in their right mind] can say now that having unlimited budgets and no competitive balance [is a good idea]? Who wants only 10 or 12 teams [dominating] Europe?" he asked rhetoricially. "So I think we can do it. We will speak to all the stakeholders and I think we will get a lot of support."

It's not lost on anyone that this time last year, just before he was elected to the presidency, UEFA approved reforms to the Champions League which increased the number of guaranteed slots to the four biggest leagues and tweaked the revenue distribution to favour historically bigger clubs.

Ceferin stopped short of criticising the reforms themselves, but said that the deal being one between UEFA and the bigger clubs, leaving many smaller ones in the dark, was "wrong."

"I was president of the Slovenian FA [at the time], my clubs would ask me what's going on and I could not tell them," he said. "I didn't know anything. That was a big mistake. The lack of communciation. You have to be transparent, you have to show numbers."

He added that there was likely a measure of "realpolitik" in the Champions League reforms.

"The best thing would be that every club had the same chances [to compete]," he said. "But unfortunately the big five countries provide 86 percent of the [Champions League and Europa League] revenues and they get back 60 percent. So what happened was [in line with reality]."

"Is that a diplomatic answer? Take it whichever way you want."

Ceferin was elected UEFA president in September 2016.

He also addressed issues such as agent fees and money flowing out of the game.

"Transfer fees are unbelievably high, that's the market," he said. "But agent fees are huge. And that's not money that goes back into football."

He has appointed a team to analyse issues such as the financial flows of money related to transfers. The movement of players remains an area regulated by FIFA -- not UEFA -- but Ceferin said he was ready to use his influence with the governing body of world football.

"I am a FIFA vice-president," he said. "Our confederation is three times bigger than FIFA. So probably we'd have some influence there. And the fact is the biggest transfers are happening in Europe. So of course we'll speak to FIFA to solve any problems."

Asked what he would say to those who thought his ideas -- whether to exact stiff punishments on those who violate FFP or to introduce measures to improve competitive balance -- were unrealistic, and that he didn't have the courage to carry them out, Ceferin simply smiled.

"I wouldn't say anything to them," he said. "[If they think that way] they clearly don't know me. We'll see..."

Gabriele Marcotti is a senior writer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @Marcotti.

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