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Wenger fears 'financial doping'

Arsene Wenger has urged UEFA officials to close potential loopholes emerging in their proposals to implement Financial Fair Play rules, as he fears big-spending rivals Chelsea and Manchester City are hatching elaborate deals in a bid to navigate a route around the plans.

• Stopping the City supply line

Wenger has long clung onto the hope that the introduction of a more balanced financial framework in the game will allow them to regain lost ground on their rivals, yet he has spoken out against extravagant sponsorship deals that are in danger of undermining the vision of UEFA President, Michel Platini.

Under the proposals, clubs will be expected to function within a sensible finance sheet, but Chelsea, City and Paris Saint-Germain are those struggling to fit into a structure that was designed to end the modern trend of lavishly wealthy owners unbalancing the game's leading domestic championships.

Suggestions that City could use their sponsorship deal with the Etihad, a company financed by their Abu Dhabi owners, in a bid to avoid sanctions that could include their expulsion from the Champions League has inspired Wenger to warn the authorities against allowing inventive manipulation of their rules.

"The original plans suggested sponsorship deals have to be at the level of the market price, but if clubs use unrealistic deals as a way to get around Financial Fair Play, it will make a mockery of the rules," warned Wenger ahead of his side's trip to Manchester City on Sunday. "We need to make sure the rules are followed because they can be very good for the future of the game."

He went even further with his argument earlier this year, as he launched a passionate promotion for FFP, with his articulate reasoning helping to provide a convincing case for the changes to be firmly enforced.

"When you look at what Manchester City have spent and analyse their wage bill, what chance do we have," questioned Wenger. "We are always looking to improve our team, but the reality is we are facing tough opponents on and off the pitch. When you look at the budget City are working with, it is incredible. Sometimes you have to be realistic and accept it is not easy for everyone else.

"When FFP comes into English football, everyone will appreciate the benefits. The history of the game in this country shows that smaller teams like Nottingham Forest, Aston Villa and Derby won the title not so long ago. This could happen again if we did not have one or two teams working with a different budget."

Wenger's passion for this cause is easy to appreciate, as when set out on a mission to transform English football using a prudent financial model a decade ago, he had every right to believe anything he touched would turn to gold.

At a time when his team of 'Invincibles' were enchanting the football world by claiming the Premier League title without losing a single game, the platitudes flowing in his direction would have convinced even the most level headed Messiah that his future was destined to be laced with gold.

Yet the landscape changed as Wenger watched the early evening news on the night of July 2nd 2003, as a reclusive Russian by the name of Roman Abramovich bought Chelsea and embarked on a spending spree that cut off the Arsenal era of dominance at its source.

Abramovich's purchase of Chelsea was a game changer in so many ways for English football, but the biggest loser in the story has undoubtedly been Wenger, whose determination to play this game within the rules that brought him so much success in his first few years at Arsenal remains unshakable, despite seven years of trophyless frustration.

While Wenger's transfer spending over the last decade has amount to an estimated net PROFIT of around £23.5 million, Chelsea and City have a combined reported deficit on transfer fees amounting to an astonishing £961 million. Based on those figures alone, the Arsenal boss deserves credit for producing a miracle in keeping his side in the top four every year, rather than the scorn that has generally flowed in his direction of late. Astonishing balance sheets like that back up Wenger's claims that Chelsea and City's obscene financial investments in transfer fees and player wages are tantamount to 'financial doping' of the sport are hard to dispute, as these game changing revolutionaries were not on the agenda when Arsenal laid out their long-term vision for success. There can be little doubt that Arsenal would have claimed Premier League titles, domestic cups and maybe even the elusive Champions League glory that continues to elude him had the limitless pots of cash thrown into the game by oil barons running Chelsea and latterly Manchester City remained in Russia and Abu Dhabi. With the odds stacked so heavily against him, you can only admire Wenger's determination to fight on in the pursuit of unlikely glory and his passion for the cause remains as strong as ever ahead of the trip to the Etihad Stadium. "We head to City this time with strong belief and in better shape than we were a year ago," he adds. "The confidence in our team is high and we have good confidence, so we can go there feeling positive.

"You can admire City as a team without thinking about what they have done to get there off the pitch. I respect what they have done, but it does not stop me wanting to find a way to beat them." Many would like to see the little man with the modest budget slay the financial giants who are playing to different rules, yet reality has got in the way of fantasy for Wenger time and again in recent years. Unless FFP works it's magic, it is hard to see his hard luck story ending any time soon.


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