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FFP the Day After : Five (more or less realistic) Scenarios

Yesterday, UEFA published the very much-expected settlements implementing its Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations. Today, we address tomorrow’s challenges for FFP, we offer five, more or less realistic, scenarios sketching the (legal) future of the FFP regulations.

 

Scenario 1 : Happily ever after

We enter the brave new world of FFP. The settlements are not contested and Dupont’s EU law crusade sinks into oblivion. Meanwhile, the Qatari owners of PSG come up with a new marketing concept, the club recruits four locally trained players and wins the Champions league fielding the same starting team 14 times.[1] Thanks to FFP, in 2015, nobody is losing money anymore[2], Cristiano Ronaldo’s transfer to PSG for EUR 30 Mio. is by far the most expensive one and Arsenal’s coach Wenger feels rich for the first time in his career. No new FFP violation is registered, except for Shakhtar Donetsk, which messed up its financial accounts due to the move back to the rubble.

 

Scenario 2: Here we go again

FFP ends here for 2014, but history repeats itself in 2015. Clubs are still losing money and appear to fail to comply with the agreed settlements.[3] However, Manchester City and PSG have recourse to new innovative marketing contracts to turn their losses into profits.[4] To this end, the PSG squad members are named official ambassadors of the State of Qatar and their wages are covered by the Qatari state. The nightmare continues for Platini, who is stuck between a rock and a hard place. On one side he counts on Qatar’s vote and influence to win the FIFA presidency in June 2015, on the other he needs to defend his credibility in the eye of the German austerity hawks. The procedure is delayed until July, at which point the cases are referred to the adjudicatory chamber.[5] Both clubs are found in breach again, the chamber imposes a EUR 100 Mio. fine and Champions League squads are reduced to 18 players.[6]

 

Scenario 3: Settlements are not enough

Wenger is outraged! Fining PSG and Manchester City is a bit like fining a central bank: they’ll just print more money. 2014 was supposed to be the year his side would eventually get to play the Champions League without having to go through the preliminary rounds. Thus, Arsenal, backed by Everton, decides, on the 25 May 2014, to contest the settlements in front of the Adjudicatory Chamber.[7] Olympique de Marseille, always keen on fighting PSG on any turf, also appeals the settlement. However, in a final decision, the Adjudicatory Chamber dismisses the complaints. Far from abandoning their quest for justice, the clubs decide to refer the decision to CAS[8], where Everton, Arsenal and Marseille obtain a re-devaluation of the controversial sponsoring agreements. CAS hands out a two-year ban on transfers for both clubs, but comes short of kicking them out of the Champions League.[9] As usual, the final appeal to the Swiss Federal Tribunals is a waste of time: Arsenal will have to go through the preliminary round...again.

 

Scenario 4: My name is Dupont, Jean-Louis Dupont

All the parties agree with the settlements proposed, FFP seems to be heading for a smooth run. All, but one. Belgian lawyer Jean-Louis Dupont, secretly backed by wealthy clubs, challenged FFP in front of the Belgian Courts and the European Commission. He claims, loud and clear, that FFP is a restriction of EU Free Movement and Competition Law. In 2018, after 4 years of protracted litigation, the Court of appeal of Bruxelles finally decides to refer the matter to the Court of Justice of the EU in Luxembourg.[10] Meanwhile, the European Commission has also been enquiring on a putative infringement of EU competition law, but the new Commissioner for Competition Law, former French minister Pierre Moscovici, freezes the final decision after a phone call with Platini. On the 15 December 2020, the Court, in its instantly famous Striani judgement[11], considers FFP a clear restriction on EU free movement and competition law. In spite of the specificity of sport, its proportionality cannot be warranted. However, the judgement has no retroactive effect and both the Court and Advocate General considered that a better system could have been worked out. As soon as the ruling is known, UEFA enters in résistance: Platini calls up Sarkozy (by then old-new President of France), who, in a moment of rage, decides to leave the EU.

 

Scenario 5: The Reality Check

The FFP settlements will stand as they are; it is rather unlikely, though possible, that any affected party will raise an objection against them. PSG and Manchester City will not recruit any big players unless they sell big, but will most likely focus on getting decent locally-trained players on-board for the Champions League bench. The 2015 FFP edition will probably feature a replay of the current edition. We do not see, at least for PSG, any chance that it could accrue its revenues (except very creatively), in order to meet the target of a maximum EUR 30 Mio deficit. The main conundrum for the 2015 FFP process will be to design credible sanctions for a recidivist. On the EU law front, the process will take a lot of time. Regarding the Belgium Courts, any first instance decision will be appealed all the way to the highest Court and will undoubtedly end up in a very time-consuming procedural ping-pong with the Court of Justice of the EU (earliest final decision not before 2019-2020). The EU competition law complaint launched with the European Commission might be quicker to unfold, but will most likely be a forum for re-negotiating the FFP rules rather than to abolish them altogether (the transfer system overhaul at the turn of the century could serve as a model). On a final note, Wenger is surely disappointed by the apparent leniency of the sanctions, but for once he might be able to throw a bit of his weight around on the transfer market.



[1] The settlement for PSG and Manchester City include specific restrictions of the squads size for the Champions League: “[the club] accepts that for the duration of the settlement it will be subject to a limitation on the number of players that it may include on the “A” list for the purposes of participation in UEFA competitions. Specifically, for season 2014/15 PSG may only register a potential maximum of 21 players on the “A” list, instead of the potential maximum of 25 as foreseen in the relevant competition regulations.” Furthermore, pursuant to Article 18.08 of the Regulations of the UEFA Champions League: “As a minimum, eight places are reserved exclusively for “locally trained players” and no club may have more than four “association-trained players” listed on these eight places on List A.”

[2] The goals of the UEFA Club Licensing and FFP Regulations are stated at article 2.2. They affirm that FFP aims “to introduce more discipline and rationality in club football finances” and “to encourage clubs to operate on the basis of their own revenues”.

[3] The settlements read as follows: “In case [the Club] fails to comply with any of the terms of this Agreement, the  UEFA CFCB Chief Investigator shall refer the case to the Adjudicatory Chamber, as  foreseen in Art. 15 (4) of the Procedural Rules.”

[4] The reason why both clubs failed to adhere to the FFP rules is that their sponsorship contracts with related parties were deemed overvalued and therefore adjusted as required by Article 58.4 of the UEFA FFP Regulations.

[5]Article 15.4 of the Procedural rules governing the UEFA Club Financial Control Body, edition 2014, states that: “If a defendant fails to comply with the terms of a settlement agreement, the CFCB chief investigator shall refer the case to the adjudicatory chamber.”

[6] Article 29 of the Procedural rules governing the UEFA Club Financial Control Body, edition 2014 foresees that:

The following disciplinary measures may be imposed against any defendant other than an individual:

a) warning,

b) reprimand,

c) fine,

d) deduction of points,

e) withholding of revenues from a UEFA competition,

f) prohibition on registering new players in UEFA competitions,

g) restriction on the number of players that a club may register for participation in UEFA competitions, including a financial limit on the overall aggregate cost of the employee benefits expenses of players registered on the A-list for the purposes of UEFA club competitions,

h) disqualification from competitions in progress and/or exclusion from future competitions,

i) withdrawal of a title or award.

[7] Indeed, directly affected party (as Everton, Arsenal and Marseille in those case) can ask the adjudicatory chamber to review the settlements. Article 16.2. of the Procedural rules governing the UEFA Club Financial Control Body, edition 2014 foresees that: “Any decision of the CFCB chief investigator to conclude a settlement agreement or to apply disciplinary measures within the meaning of Article 14(1)(c) may be reviewed by the adjudicatory chamber at the request of a directly affected party within ten days from the date of publication of the decision.”

[8] Article 34 of the Procedural rules governing the UEFA Club Financial Control Body, edition 2014 confers to directly affected party a right to appeal final decisions to CAS.

[9] Supra, No 6

[10] Article 267 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU gives to national courts the possibility to refer a question concerning the interpretation of EU law to the Court of Justice of the EU.

[11] Daniel Striani is a player agent on who’s behalf the complaints by Dupont against FFP were launched.

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