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September 19, 2013 10:03 pm

Five football clubs risk breaking Uefa financial rules

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At least five clubs competing in this season’s Uefa competitions risk breaching the European football’s governing body’s new financial break-even rules, its general secretary has warned.

Gianni Infantino declined to name the clubs that will breach the rules if their losses over the last two seasons exceed €45m. Clubs in breach face sanctions, the most punitive being a ban from Uefa competition.

Up to 40 of the 237 clubs competing in this season’s Champions League and Europa League are likely to exceed losses of €5m over the two seasons, Mr Infantino added. They would also face sanctions if their owners were unwilling or unable to cover the losses.

The rules, which came into effect this year, have put two clubs in particular under the spotlight: the Qatari-backed Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City, owned by Abu Dhabi’s ruling family.

Rivals accuse them of seeking to circumvent Uefa’s “financial fair play” rules by trying to balance their big-money spending on transfers and wages with vastly inflated sponsorship deals agreed with entities closely linked to their owners, claims they deny.

Mr Infantino said all clubs were co-operating with Uefa requests for financial information, including PSG, ahead of decisions on possible sanctions in the spring.

But he added Uefa was still awaiting information on PSG’s sponsorship deal with the Qatar Tourism Authority, worth €150m a year over four years.

“For the moment, this [information] is not yet in,” Mr Infantino said, adding that when Uefa began discussing the rules five years ago it did not envisage clubs being owned by sovereign states.

“When we established the rules, there were some individuals, wealthy individuals, who were financing clubs,” he said. “Now we have states coming in . . . this is a new phenomenon and has to be looked into.”

The finances of Russian clubs were also a concern, Mr Infantino suggested. The quality of financial information from Russian clubs was “good now, it doesn’t mean it’s not worrying”, he said.

Uefa’s rules have prompted Suleiman Kerimov, the secretive Dagestani billionaire who has invested $450m into Russian Premier League club Anzhi Makhachkala, to change tack by selling players to cut its inflated budget.

Uefa is upbeat about the impact of the rules on clubs’ financial behaviour, despite a record-breaking summer transfer window which saw Real Madrid pay €100m for Gareth Bale.

According to the general secretary, the rules had “entered the heads of everyone dealing with football matters”, even coaches and players, and by restoring some financial “rationality” to the game would end up attracting investors.

Uefa will today publish data showing signs of such improvements: revenue growth overtaking wage growth for the first time since records were compiled seven years ago, and €600m lopped off the total losses of first division clubs.

But the pace of wage growth remains a concern. “It’s growing. Year by year it’s growing. This is the problem,” said Mr Infantino.

He revealed Uefa had been receiving a steady amount of intelligence about clubs from whistleblowers. “We have never received so much information about what is happening as in the last year or two,” he said.

But he acknowledged that the rules might require amending in future years, saying they were “certainly not perfect but which are also not set in stone”.

Uefa faces legal challenges on three fronts: from clubs facing sanctions, from clubs who think their rivals have not been punished enough and from a claim filed with the European Commission that the rules breach competition law.

Mr Infantino said: “We will face these issues and we will go through them. This is to defend something we believe in, and we think it’s the right thing to do, and we think we have the answer.

“If somebody manages to spot the loophole or the regulation which we didn’t see, well, congratulations to him, and we will amend the rules so it will not happen any more.”

But most pressure is on Uefa to make the rules bite with tough sanctions. Clubs run prudently or which take measures to become so will complain if they perceive rivals’ profligacy being punished weakly.

According to Uli Hoeness, president of Bayern Munich, for the rules to be taken seriously one of the big clubs had to be “killed”, with expulsion from Uefa competition.

“The measure of success is not to kill a big club,” said Mr Infantino. Success would come from tangible improvements to club finances and a more sustainable future for European football.

Excluding a club would represent “a failure”, but he recognised that the system “has to go through some exclusions”.

Uefa’s two-chamber club financial control body has nine possible sanctions at its disposal, but no tariff to measure the sanctions. “It has to be a subjective decision based on the regulations,” Mr Infantino accepted.

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