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Nov 26, 2008

French-style Euro regulator? Non, merci

A fundamentally altruistic but ultimately flawed proposal designed to safeguard the health and wealth of all sport across Europe has collapsed into a political row and demonstrated football's entrenched desire for Laissez Faire governance.

French Sports Minister Bernard Laporte has called for the creation of a pan-European super regulator to oversee financial propriety in sport and particularly football clubs, many of which are debt-ridden and controlled by foreign owners whose intent is questionable.

Later this week he will meet with other European sports ministers in Biarritz to discuss the idea which, if adopted, could lead to domestic governing bodies like England's Football Association and the Premier League losing control over matters such as financial regulation and transfer policy.

While the conservative observer would argue that such a supranational body would undermine domestic sporting governance and ride roughshod over the sovereign powers of the national associations, the more liberal commentator would point to the health of French football, which is already overseen by a similar body, and counter that it is perhaps not such a bad idea.

The Ligue de Football Professionnel's regulator, La Direction Nationale de Contrôle de Gestion, has ensured that although the country's clubs might not be the richest in Europe they are the healthiest. And while French clubs have argued that the strict rules of the DNGC have limited their ability to compete in Europe, in the current financial climate they are perhaps secretly thankful of the scrutiny which has ensured they are not facing uncertain futures.

The only French side in any financial distress is Olympique Lyon as the country's only club listed on the stock market-listed has lost half their market value since US investment bank Lehmann Brothers went under in September.

Not surprisingly the Premier League's chief executive, Richard Scudamore, has branded the French proposals, which would see UEFA given the ability to impose spending limits, as "ridiculous". By contrast Scudamore's French counterpart Frederic Thiriez, the president of the LFP has called for "financial fair play" to "counter financial doping".

The problem Laporte and the French will have is that even if they get support from other likeminded sports ministers, UEFA are opposed to the plan.

Although Michel Platini, the president of European football's governing body, has previously suggested that the levels of debt in English football amount to cheating, his organisation has questioned the legality of the French proposals, the need for more bureaucracy and pointed to its own club licensing system, which is already in effect, and which was created to ensure financial transparency.

There are those in the UK government who think the French are using their presidency of the European Union to undermine English football's recent success in Europe born out of its increased financial power.

Whatever the motive behind the proposal, and regardless of the positive aspects, the French principles of Liberté, égalité, fraternité seem unlikely to be extended to football for the time being.


When is £6 million-a-year not £6 million-a-year? When you bank it in Euros, the financial markets crash and the value of sterling falls as flat as a William Gallas team talk.

That's the rather frustrating reality facing England head coach Fabio Capello who signed his bumper four-year contract with the Football Association last December when the exchange rate valued the pound at €1.39.

That same pound at the time of writing buys around €1.18, which means the value of Don Fabio's salary has dipped from €8.28 million to €7.08 million. While it's still not to be sniffed at, the fact remains that it represents a reduction of €1.2 million.

Of course Capello won't have actually lost a million given that his payments are staggered rather than annual, meaning that impact of the drop in currency value has been equally staggered in his pay packet. However, unless the value of the pound against Euro rallies over the remaining three years of Capello's deal, the Italian could find his retirement fund is smaller than he'd hoped for.

Unless, that is, he changes where he does his banking. This bothersome episode from the lifestyles of the rich and famous could have been avoided if Capello had just opened a bank account in the UK and not continued to hold all his investments in Italy, or simply requested to be paid in Euros and not sterling.

However, being the good chap he is (not to mention already very wealthy) Fabio has taken it all on the chin and is not angling for any compensation from the FA and remains happy with his remuneration, which let's face it, would be a king's ransom in any currency.


What started out as a straightforward bid to stem the flow of counterfeit merchandise damaging Liverpool's precarious finances has ended in another damaging public relations gaffe for the club and its American owners.

Liverpool city council took exception to Liverpool FC's attempts to register the Liver Bird as a trademark with the UK Intellectual Property Office and was incensed that the club were trying to stake ownership and make profit out of the city's iconic symbol.

The mythical birds, which sit atop Liverpool's best known building, the Royal Liver Building, are held in high esteem by Liverpudlians and variations of the Liver Bird are used by various local charities and voluntary groups.

The club, which already have a trademark against the words 'You'll Never Walk Alone' and 'This is Anfield' in an effort to protect the club against the hawkers who sell fake Liverpool memorabilia, said it had no intention of ring-fencing the Liver Bird for their use solely, but rather that they were applying for protection of their version which appears in the club's badge.

The club have withdrawn their application, and as a result the Liver Bird remains an image anyone can use, a fact which will rankle with Tom Hicks and George Gillet who are desperate to shore-up Liverpool's finances ahead of expected moves in January to refinance the £350 million of debt they have incurred following their takeover in February 2007.

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