Alessandro Austini summed up the real picture of fair play in Europe this morning: “Until now, UEFA has just banned small clubs from places where we didn’t even know they had football clubs playing. And they’ve helped the big clubs keep it at business as usual.”
This is picture-perfect Pareto happening around Europe, where UEFA holds onto the pretense of power by beating up on the little guys while pandering to the whales.
It only takes one whale to show the true extent of UEFA’s will and conviction (read: not much), before other clubs start operating within the real boundaries of the football jungle and not just limiting themselves to FFP lip-service.
One club that has paid lip service to FFP is A.S. Roma, who today officially wrote to UEFA’s Club Financial Control Body to seek clarification of the rules governing the financial side of football. That letter’s content hasn’t been made public, but it’s gone media-wide and confirms Pallotta’s chat to Sirius wasn’t just all talk. A letter in itself is no big news, but it is the opening in a series of chain reactions ahead.
“Something needs to be done,” Pallotta said in his most recent phone interview with Sirius Radio. “When we look at some sanctions handed out around us and the weak penalties given out, my point of view is: Why am I worrying about Financial Fair Play? Isn’t it better to just accept a 12 million euro fine?”
Roma’s president made yet another veiled reference to AC Milan, who escaped being thrown out of Europe by UEFA this season, despite going way over the limits of spending/income outlined by FFP. In the end, Europe’s governing body only made a 12 million euro fine to Milan stick, giving the Rossoneri carte blanche to paper over the cracks for another couple of years.
Above all, the laissez-faire attitude around Europe has just let the limited view of ‘we need the Milan clubs to do well for Italy to do well’ pipe back up again around Italy. The most recent example of this was Interista Richard Hall’s Football Italia entry, where Hall isn’t subtle as he pegs Roma for embarrassing Italian football in 2016’s CL qualifier defeat to Porto, as if the modern-day Inter could be trusted to do any better.
We can always send Hall a match replay of Inter Milan playing for a draw against PSV this past winter - a PSV playing squad over four times less the market value of Inter - that led to Inter Milan’s exit from the Champions League group stage, and leave the talk of “letting Serie A down” at that, to call it day. Meanwhile, FFP continues to be danced around.
Find an unusually generous sponsor acting as a benefactor. Sell off youth players on developmental contracts at inflated transfer fees. Do whatever you can to make it look right on paper, and you’re good. That’s the way FFP has gone this decade, led by the financial might of Manchester City and PSG but no longer limited to them.
Are we looking to become self-sustaining clubs or not?
If the real answer is confirmed as “not”, you’d assume that is something Roma are prepared to accept. While Pallotta has labelled the club’s letter to UEFA as “constructive conversation”, Roma would not have made this move without thinking ahead. Roma now have precedent under which to stretch their elbows wide this coming summer. The chair to be kicked under UEFA’s roped neck has just been placed, not least of all by the governing body’s own handling of AC Milan this season.
Milan have been allowed to compete for the top 4 and Champions League qualification with big-money signings, while maintaining their presence on the European scene in full bella figura.
Now that UEFA - and the Court of Arbitration for Sport - have opened the door for sanctioning that kind of business, they have no real room to maneuver if Roma should stop using player sales to satisfy the FFP accounts and just do their own thing instead, like Milan and others.
An extra 12 million euros can easily be found on Roma’s balance sheet each summer. That amount of money comes from passing the round of 16 against Porto alone.