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Mar 29, 2011

English game on collision course

The Football Association are on a collision course with the Premier League over their plan to introduce cost-control measures into the English game.

New FA chairman David Bernstein and general secretary Alex Horne have been impressed by the UEFA financial fair play rules, designed to prevent clubs spending more than they make. UEFA believe this will encourage a level playing field amongst clubs competing in their competitions when they are implemented in 2013.

Bernstein and Horne outlined their plans for something similar at the Culture, Media and Sport committee inquiry into football governance, which was sitting at Wembley Stadium on Tuesday.

''This is a decision moment for the game,'' said Horne ''It's time to consider closing the gap between the salary cap that exists in League Two and UEFA's financial fair play system. This is the moment to reach across all four leagues and look at appropriate cost-control measures. That would chime with the position of the Football League and their concerns about the debts of clubs.''

Yet, straight after Horne delivered these words, Bernstein admitted there could be trouble ahead. ''I'm not saying they agree that at the moment. We have yet to explore some of these things but I'm hopeful,'' he said. ''It's a journey I think we have to take and we will be taking it quickly and working with them, and I hope for a positive conclusion.''

The inquiry heard that Bernstein has called a meeting of all Premier League and Football League chairmen and chief executives to discuss a way forward. However, the Premier League have privately already made it clear there is no chance of UEFA's financial fair play concept being adopted.

The Premier League view progression through the leagues as sacrosanct and would not countenance any suggestion that the likes of Wigan and Fulham could be punished for relying on the largesse of benefactors to propel them to a higher status than they would otherwise have achieved.

What they would possibly accept is a watered down version of UEFA's rules, with cash injections being based on equity rather than loans.

That would avert a repetition of the fate that befell Portsmouth once it became clear former owner Alexandre Gaydamak was demanding the repayment of loans he had made to the club that had been used to buy players. Yet even that would require a two-thirds majority before it could be accepted as Premier League policy.

There appears to be no appetite within the FA to ask the Premier League for greater investment in grass-roots football, though, with Horne insisting an increase in the present 10% levy is not on the agenda. ''An awful lot of money goes into the Premier League but very few clubs make a profit,'' he said.

The FA declared themselves reasonably satisfied with the proceedings, even though Damian Collins MP used one of Bernstein's opening remarks against the organisation when he attacked their continued defence of the 'football creditors rule' that ensures football-related debts are given priority when clubs enter administration.

''I'm not hearing much moral leadership on this issue, I'm afraid,'' said Collins, leaving Bernstein to respond. "I can understand the rule being subject to some criticism,'' he said. ''We would in balance remain supportive of it because the integrity of the competitions is protected. There could be a snowball effect if a club hit the buffers.''

The FA are aware recommendations for change are likely when the committee delivers its findings later this year. However, Bernstein has cautioned against moving too far, too soon. ''There is clearly a great deal to be done and we are taking this inquiry very seriously,'' he said.

''We will listen to the recommendations with the greatest of care. 'When I took this job, I knew maintaining the status quo was not an option and that some change is necessary. 'But the change needs to be for the right reasons and at the right pace.''

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