FFP furore focuses on pivotal rule of the game – but no one seems to care
Football’s ruling powers have offered scant response to claims over Financial Fair Play
So much choice, but one standout detail from Football Leaks’ Manchester City allegations this week was from the club’s lawyer Simon Cliff, whose email style suggested a yearning for a wilder, simpler time, or at the very least a year’s membership of the Sealed Knot society.
We may never know if Cliff had been hitting the Game Of Thrones box set a little too hard in the days before he suggested “longbow” as the Agincourt-inspired operational name for the club’s Financial Fair Play pushback strategy. Safe to say also that his celebratory tone around the death of one of Uefa’s FFP officers – “one down, six to go” – jars somewhat with the conventional legal style. Overall, it would be fair to assume that HR is probably looking at potential courses in the coming days and weeks to work on the legal department’s communication approach.
But then Cliff was just a small part of a bigger machine that the Der Spiegel allegations have thrown light on and his emails, giddy on the influence of his wealthy Abu Dhabi paymasters, might be expected. When the chairman of the club, Khaldoon Al Mubarak, is said to be threatening Uefa with an eternity of lawsuits, or Simon Pearce, the Keyser Soze-style communications specialist says “we can do what we want”, then who are the rest to disagree?
City released a statement on Friday when the first part of the investigation was published saying that the “attempt to damage the club’s reputation is organised and clear” and that the information is “hacked or stolen” and “out of context”.
Since then they have referred all inquiries to that statement and certainly it would be useful to see the full extent of the leaked emails from Cliff, Pearce and others who are named by Der Spiegel, if only to see whether the longbow lads are prone to making daft offhand comments in the heat of the moment, or whether it is part of a more pervasive culture. In the days that have followed the disclosures there has been very little outcry from the game. Javier Tebas, La Liga president, has said his bit, but he is no more than a cheerleader for the big two in Spain. There has been no note of protest from the other big guns in English football and the Premier League and the Football Association have passed it on to Uefa.
One of the European game’s biggest clubs have broken one of its most fundamental rules, but no one in football seems too upset about it.
City had already squared off Uefa, through its former general secretary Gianni Infantino. Fifa, as we know, is a busted flush. The Premier League says it has no role to play.
The Football Association is the only governing body which throws itself into difficult and unpopular compliance procedures, but when all is said and done, it is only the FA, in 2018, trying to regulate a multi-billion pound multi-national industry. The truth is that no one is running football any longer and
City’s hierarchy are behaving no differently from the bullies who they seek to supplant
the game’s richest interests are doing as they please.
Der Spiegel’s allegations of half-baked scams suggest that the Etihad Stadium club’s executives behave this way because they do not really fear anyone. That also explains the spellbinding naivety about some of the highest paid football executives in the world which makes you wonder: are they actually any good at their jobs?
According to Der Spiegel’s allegations, Ferran Soriano, the City chief executive, decided that if the club were to beat the system they had better do so in a manner – and we are using his own words here – that would not identify them as the global enemies of football. He then committed all those thoughts to a document, thus ensuring there would, for all eternity, be a convenient smoking gun.
Likewise, the network of companies allegedly constructed to sell and then buy City’s own marketing rights in order to generate FFP clean cash, was not exactly out of Professor Moriarty’s top drawer. Der Spiegel managed to explain it in one flow-chart.
The topping up of the value of commercial partnerships was every bit as flagrant as expected. The club’s Pr-finessed Amazon Prime documentary All Or Nothing might now be due a rebrand in light of the alleged sponsorship arrangements in which City effectively pay the lion’s share. Something, one presumes, along the lines of All For Nothing.
That lack of judgment is there when the club allegedly ride roughshod over some decent internal advice not to sign a deal with the migrant-worker abusing construction company Arabtec. Because behind all the FFP avoidance there is the shadow of human rights abuses, a much greater concern than the trifles of elite football’s backroom deals.
City will not be the only club to sign partnerships with dubious commercial entities – but by this stage of the allegations they seem unable to even listen to the concerns of their own advisors.
The rules of FFP were evidently wrong in their conception, trying, as they did, to pull the drawbridge up on the established elite and then botched again in their implementation.
But there are ways of making the case for change that are much more effective than the blatant disregard that was shown up in those emails detailing alleged fake payments.
City’s great sell in the Abu Dhabi era has been that they will be different to all those embarrassing old duffers from old money clubs dreaming up European Super Leagues that no one wants. Yet City’s hierarchy are behaving no differently to the bullies they seek to supplant.
In some quarters, City, and by extension Abu Dhabi, have been afforded a kind of reverence for their good works, including the regeneration of east Manchester and associated projects.
One hopes that at some point they will offer some context to these Der Spiegel allegations, because as it stands this feels like just more of the usual greed.
In the spotlight: Ferran Soriano, the Manchester City chief executive officer