Friday, 28 November 2014

Here's one I forgot to post...

I recently (ok, in September) did another series of 10 tweets on an FFP-related topic.  This time it was on the common argument from fans of certain clubs that their superior wealth is “earned” and ours wasn’t.  Which is rude. 

As a small subset of Twitter users don’t get automatic notifications every time I tweet, it’s just possible that there are avid fans(?) of my work(?) that were busy interacting with other humans and may have missed this.  And I’d hate for that to happen to any of you.

For context, this was shortly after their mad trolley dash of a summer transfer window…

1/10 Utd’s big buys changed the script. Gone are haughty (& false) claims that the “United way” shuns the vulgarity of big money transfers.
2/10 They now try to discredit City’s success by saying they spent “their own money not someone else’s”. Theirs is earned, City’s is given.
3/10 Firstly, moral distinctions between investment types are naïve. Corporate sponsorship = giving clubs money so they can win. Simple.
4/10 The huge increases in Utd deals with Adidas and Chevrolet show brands will pay a premium to put trophies on shelves. It’s investment.
5/10 The correlation between Utd’s on-field decline and massive sponsorship increases illustrate this perfectly.
6/10 Anyone, owner or company, putting big sums of money into the game is trying to help a club succeed as it yields benefit for them.
7/10 Those that agree with this “earned money” argument are saying football should be “biggest brand today should win everything forever”.
8/10 Brand advantage is entrenched. Utd can’t fail & others can’t progress without investment. Complete antithesis to healthy competition.
9/10. New generation of fans see Utd dominance as natural order & have 0 interest in competition. We should be distributing not polarising.
10/10 And #FFP is all about facilitating the fat cat agenda: 

Stay tuned for more topical, up-to-the-minute news….

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Instant FFP debate tool - a new free resource

United’s new deals with Chevrolet and Adidas are the perfect illustration of why FFP is sending us to hell in a handcart.  Clearly, though, others see it differently. 

The FFP debate is monotonously predictable so I thought I’d save everyone the trouble by having it once, by myself, and allowing you to simply link to it, saving you the trouble of having the futile arguments yourselves.  It’ll save you time and make Twitter all the less tedious for it.

Here, Person A and Person B take up the debate:

A: Whoa! United’s sponsorship deals are so huge, how can we ever hope to compete?  FFP means we can’t invest in top players, or our brand, so we’re stuck behind them forever aren’t we?  So much for fair play.

B: Nah – you need to do what United have done and earn it. 

A: How? 

B: Get bigger like we did.  Invest in your academy and grow organically and that.

A: Well that’s not gonna work.  If any of our players are any good, the top clubs buy them and we’re back to square one.  This can’t be fair.  And anyway, if this is a sporting competition, why should it be “strongest brand wins”?  Why don’t we share the money out and have some proper competition?

B: Because football’s a business now isn’t it?

A: So it’s a business but we’re not allowed to invest.  Does that not seem odd to you?

B: No.  It’s important that you only spend what you earn – it stands to reason, right?

A: Why?  Football fans keep saying that as if it’s some kind of eternal moral truth.  People invest and borrow in every other industry and have done in football for over a century.   Why do we have to only spend what FFP defines as revenue?

B: Durr!  Because you’ll go bust if you spend money you don’t have.

A: Fair enough for clubs that spend beyond their owner’s means.  But as long as the investment isn’t borrowed and isn’t a speculation on future success, it’s safe as houses, right?  If an owner transfers money into a club’s account, surely that makes them more secure not less?

B: But what if the owner gets bored and leaves the club with a cost base they can’t support?

A: True, but investment allows clubs to be more successful and therefore grow their revenue.  City’s revenue is miles higher now than it was when the Sheikh arrived. It also makes the club attractive to other new owners and we could introduce measures to make sure owners invest in contingency funds too, if that’s what we’re really worried about.

B: Yeah, but why should you be handed money?  That’s not fair.  United earned theirs.  It’s just financial doping.

A: Well, United are the most popular club in the country – fair play.  But in the last twenty years, they’ve worked with the other G14 clubs to make the Champions League a closed shop that has sent their revenues through the roof.  Being in the Champions League year-on-year makes you pretty much untouchable.

B: Exactly – they earned a top four place every year.

A: But there’s hardly a level playing field each August.  It rewards the elite clubs so much that they can hardly fail to stay there.  Players want to be in the Champions League, a new global generation of fans wants to support the teams in the Champions League, companies want to sponsor teams in the Champions League.  Twenty years later, they’re playing a different game to the rest of the league, financially.  That’s not earned – that’s self-perpetuating.

B: But that doesn’t mean you should let Arab oil money be used by clubs that haven’t earned it.

A: [Thinks: Hmm, bit racist…] But what’s the difference between an owner putting money in and a huge corporate investing?  Chevrolet and Adidas are putting in loads and load more cash than Aon and Nike were.  Why? Because they need United to be successful if they’re going to get value from the deal.  So they’re investing in giving the manager enough money to buy top stars to wear their brands and to bring home trophies that will be paraded before their brands.  It’s investment in making United successful.

B: Financial doping is still wrong.

A: But we’ve just established that clubs can’t compete unless they get investment.  So what’s the answer?

B: What’s the problem?  All clubs should live within their means and we’ll see who wins.

A: But you accept that that will always be the same clubs – primarily United?

B: No – only if they perform and earn it.

A: They just finished seventh – arguably the most abject failure of any club in Premier League history – and as a result they’ve just signed the Adidas deal that will push them back to the top.  Is that how you define “earning” success? Under what circumstances could United now fail to be the biggest “earners”?  Do they deserve success forever?

B: Ok. But if this system is so unfair, why have all the clubs voted for it?

A: Well, that’s a good point, although they didn’t all vote in favour.  But remember it’s voted for by club owners.  If you own a mid-table club, the reality is, you’re a million miles away from the top clubs already and you’re enjoying ever increasing revenues due to the popularity of the league so the value of your investment is going up.  FFP domestically means that you’re under no pressure to invest your own money (a great defense when the fans demand signings) and it helps keep the clubs below you at bay if they can’t invest to catch you up. 

What it means for fans though is that they’ll never compete at the top within their lifetimes.  Or their kids’ lifetimes.  Or their kids’ kids’ lifetimes…

B: Ok, I get the picture.  Do you know, the more I think about it, I reckon you’re right.  We’ll only get financial fair play if we redistribute wealth better and put in absolute caps on transfer spend and salary bills (not linked to revenue).  Then we could invest more in youth, cheaper ticketing, better facilities etc.  Sadly the established elite will never go for that.

A: Do you know mate, I couldn’t agree more.  Fancy a pint?

B: Nice one.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

City and UEFA settle - 5 things we've learned

So a settlement was reached and City have been punished.

Here are five things we've learned, or had confirmed, by the whole sorry episode:

1. FFP is clandestine
One of the most telling aspects of City's statement was the reference to transparency.  The cause of City's "failure" to comply with the regulations seems to be one of detail and interpretation.  They clearly believe they have worked closely enough with UEFA for a shock outcome to have been avoided.
Now we can (as some have) blame City's advisers for screwing up, but If UEFA were genuinely committed to helping clubs comply, they could surely have coached City towards compliance.  The club's statement talks of their "good faith" and "collaboration" and they clearly feel this hasn't been reciprocated. You could be forgiven for thinking UEFA wanted to catch City out, take its pound of flesh, and placate the baying hordes of the G14 old guard.  I'm sure such cynicism would be misplaced, though.

2. The "spirit" of the regulations should now be clear to everyone
We were told to expect that UEFA would not only ensure compliance with the regulations, but with their "spirit".  As the stated aims of FFP boil down to financial responsibility i.e. preventing clubs getting themselves into a mess, a la Portsmouth and Leeds, it's difficult to reconcile the level of punishment with that spirit.  The club has never, in its entire history, been in a more safe and stable financial position.  Equally, UEFA told us that a club's "direction of travel" would be considered in any punishment.  City can illustrate rapid movement towards a position of profit and have clearly resisted the temptation to make big splashes in the transfer market, their deals dwarfed by those for Falcao, Neymar, Bale and even Mata and Ozil in the past year.  So what exactly is the spirit of FFP again?  

3. The legal basis for FFP is flaky, at best
FFP is currently subject to legal challenge.  The lawyer in question not only challenges the legal basis for the regulations themselves but also the sanctions dealt to City for supposed breach.  This article sums this up rather nicely.  Expect further developments.

4. In PR terms, City are between a rock and a hard place
There were plenty of fans excited by the prospect of City rolling out the lawyers and blowing UEFA out of the water.  The reason City have chosen not to do this is probably no reflection on the strength of their legal case, as the above suggests.  A victory in the courts would first require City to become the enemy of UEFA and of all the established, powerful footballing brands across Europe, many of whom, including Messrs. Wenger, Woodward and Rummenigge have come out in the last few days to reiterate their support for FFP.  The Abu Dhabi "project" was as much about building reputation and relationships as it ever was about trophies and the prospect of pushing against all of those footballing bodies, not to mention their commercial partners and their huge collective fan base, was deemed too great a price to pay for the avoidance of these sanctions and the ongoing constraints FFP will bring. When people tell you that FFP is supported by the overwhelming majority of clubs, it's worth remembering that swimming against the tide can come at great cost.  

5. Journalists appear to be slowly getting it

Whilst many a journalist and pundit continues to roll out the established clichés around "the importance of only spending what you earn" and the need to prevent "financial doping" without any actual analysis of FFP, there is a growing number for whom the penny is beginning to drop.  I suspect Lord Samuel, for so long a lone voice of reason over orange juice and croissants on Sky's Sunday Supplement, is allowing himself a wry smile as, one-by-one, his colleagues in the written press begin to publish articles criticising FFP.  Maybe it's because City are becoming part of the furniture, or because of a deeper mistrust of Platini stemming from his role in awarding the World Cup to Qatar.  Who knows?  But we've seen articles like this and this and this from writers whose condemnation of FFP was conspicuous by its absence during its formative stage.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Turkeys and Christmas

As I write this, the nation stirs in anticipation of UEFA announcing its FFP naughty list i.e. the clubs whose losses exceed the acceptable threshold.  Various media outlets and, of course, Twitter, are already alive with suggestions that City and PSG will be found guilty and punished, potentially by expulsion from European competition.

Now I’ve covered before why FFP is a ludicrous, scandalous piece of market rigging, designed by and for the established elite clubs whose various financial shenanigans miraculously seem to fall outside of the very specific legislation around owner investment.  So I won’t labour the point.

What I find interesting is the reaction of supporters.  Not the Arsenal fans, brainwashed as they are by Wengernomics and their now-immovable moral framework built around the virtues of revenue maximisation by any means and the shunning of any form of investment.  Their value system ensures that the “news” of City’s imminent demise is met with puffed out chests and cries of “about time too”, their only concerns being around leniency should UEFA fail to disband the club with immediate effect.  No, that much was predictable, as are the similar reactions from fans of the other G14 clubs.

What’s more interesting is the response of the downtrodden.  Those poor souls whose clubs are now the football equivalent of the various districts in The Hunger Games.  Living in their own worlds, seemingly unaware and broadly accepting of their place in the world and comforted by the complete control exerted over them by the plump and satisfied population of the Capitol.

I read one particularly partisan tweet, which I now can’t find, from a Coventry fan looking forward to UEFA throwing the book at City.  Now he may just not like Manchester City.  Maybe he was one of those that stormed the Main Stand at Maine Road in the FA Cup in the nineties (note to self - do some research at some point and insert the specific year here, you lazy swine.  And look again for that Coventry tweet).  But I suspect it reflects the widely-held view I hear from fans of all manner of clubs that “sugar daddies” are the bane of our game, the “natural order” has been distorted and FFP is going to restore sanity for the good of all.  Sigh.

So given that they could hardly be more wrong, why are so many fans in favour of FFP?  Here are three suggestions.  Any more? :

1)   The propaganda
From managers to chief executives to chairmen.  From half-baked pundits to sanctimonious broadsheet journalists.  From UEFA executives to concerned bloggers with graphs and spreadsheets.  Basically anyone that would like the competitive landscape to be exactly as it was for the decade prior to City’s takeover is backing FFP, seemingly without feeling the need to apply even the tiniest amount of dispassionate assessment.
No, it’s time for that terrible new phenomenon of owner investment that has only emerged in the last century or so to be stopped.  Football got cozy when the Champions League riches ensured the same teams succeeded every year and lots of people don’t want that ruined.  So they talk about how good FFP will be.  And as most folk are simple souls who believe what they’re told to believe, they buy it entirely.  It’s why companies still employ cold-callers.  People are gullible.

2)   A rose by any other name
It’s obvious.  Do you want fair play?  Yes, please.  There endeth the analysis for most people.  If the Tories had called the Poll Tax “Financial Fair Play” there would have been none of that kerfuffle.

3)   FFP is great for most club owners
Reality check.  You’re worried about owners that want to put money INTO a football club.  Did you know all the rest are looking to take money OUT?  Scary eh?  So for owners looking to buy a club, enjoy the ride, extract some dividends and sell for a profit, FFP looks pretty attractive.
If clubs can’t invest, the chances of a rival from the division below becoming upwardly-mobile and pushing you down the food chain are suddenly reduced.  So now you can retain the status quo more easily and when the fans get frustrated at the lack of incoming transfers or the sales of a star player, you can shrug sincerely and say “Sorry folks.  It’s FFP.  My hands are tied”.  Particularly handy for the sort of investors a certain ex-United captain was filmed drinking with perhaps…  So if most of the clubs are in favour of FFP, it must be a good thing right?  Right…?

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Arise, Sir Martin

With every whining, jumped-up keyboard warrior having a blog these days (ahem) you could be forgiven for thinking the role of the newspaper journalist is becoming redundant.  However, there's a link I want to share that provides a timely reminder of the value that great journalism can bring to a chaotic debate.

Yes, it's your friend and mine, Martin Samuel.  Again.  I love Martin Samuel.  Not just because he and I have exactly the same views on FFP but for many other reasons.  He's not afraid to swim against the tide or look beyond the popular rhetoric.  He does genuine research and analysis that, when added to his logical reasoning and witty delivery, slices through the swathes of ill-considered bile from the average football fan.  He has a top beard.

And not only does he write great articles, he's also on hand to deal with the barrage of fans who either haven't read them properly or refuse to open their minds to any form of reasoning.  In the link below, he collates the idiotic responses of the masses and deconstructs them ruthlessly.  Enjoy:

Read it and weep   

Oh - before you go.  Martin is not a City fan.  This, I think, makes his work all the more satisfying. And it means he's also capable of this, for example - a slightly withering view on City's CEO Ferran Soriano and the Pellegrini appointment: Mail.

I don't share his view here (my specs are blue-tinted) but it reassures me that when the Big M writes something positive about City, it's a result of him exercising his brain and then calling it as he sees it.  The basic requirement of a journalist, so sadly lacking among many of his so-called peers.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Basically, City are morally superior, right?

As I've illustrated in previous posts, City were, along with the rest of the league, victims of a G14 stitch-up.  Heroically, they refused to lie down and fought their way to freedom thanks to an altruistic owner who bestowed kindness upon them.

Without a thought for himself, Sheik Mansour brought world class players to the game's most loyal, long-suffering fans.  He began re-generating acres of impoverished East Manchester and even found time to build rooftop pitches for deprived children in Spanish Harlem.  This he did in City's name.  Not content with that, he set about building a new future for the beleaguered national team through a state-of-the art youth development facility on a scale and quality never before seen on these shores.  And he's going to populate it predominantly with good honest local lads from hard-working families*.

To give so much, despite the evil machinations of the self-serving G14 and the weak and malleable officials of UEFA, City's owner should be awarded a Nobel prize.  Instead he is berated by an ignorant and one-dimensional press pack and whispered about in the dark corridors of many a European football institution.

Now ok, even I'm not quite one-eyed enough to claim this degree of moral superiority**.  I am genuinely blown away by the way our new owners are shaping the club's future.  But I am realistic, even a touch cynical.  If City had somehow found itself nicely settled in the top four and a mid-table club had hit the jackpot and crashed the party, we'd be co-signing those cringeworthy letters*** to the Premier League demanding protection right about now.

Because the point of this (worryingly long) post is one simple stark reality - ALL CLUBS ARE IN IT FOR THEMSELVES.  If you ever doubt this at any point in the future, do smack yourself about the face repeatedly until the notion fades.

There is no moral high ground here.  One of the most offensive things in modern football, even more than Michael Owen's commentary, is the suggestion from the usual suspects (yes, you Arsene) that when they bleat about non-enforcement of FFP they are somehow concerned for "the good of the game".  Don't ever let these people tell you they care about the game.  Everything they have lobbied for over the last twenty-odd years was about building an advantage, growing their balance sheets and lining their pockets.  If the terms were right, they would leave the Premier League in an instant to join a Euro/Global/Inter-Galactic Super Competition.  City included.

*       Acknowledgment - D. Cameron
**     I probably am
***   Letters like these - as featured in Martin Samuel article

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

I have a dream

The Daily Mail doesn't get much praise.  The hilarious comments sections do, but that's about it.  But the Daily Mail is the unlikely home of the beacon of light for those that actually choose to understand FFP. Like his namesake Luther-King, Samuel knows he's swimming against a tide of bigotry and ignorance, but he swims on for you and I.  Here is just one example of his fine work

What does Financial Fair Play mean?

In posts below I've covered how the current financial landscape came to be (i.e. they started it, Miss) and the strange phenomenon of people not knowing/remembering/caring about this (i.e. casting United as a plucky underdog against City's evil might).  In my third and probably final series of ten FFP tweets, I started to discuss the meaning of "fair" and how the term is being used and abused in the current debate.  I may expand on this further in conventional blog stylee as you're probably finding the tweet format annoying.  I know I am.  Anyway, here it is:

1/10 Accepted truth that clubs with most money succeed. As true in Utd's
era of dominance as it's been for City, BRFC, NUFC, CFC #FFP

2/10 So "financial fair play" must be about sharing all this cash out
more evenly right? Strangely not. #FFP

3/10 Instead it defines "fairness" as a simple revenue race. One most
clubs can NEVER EVER hope to win. #FFP

4/10 Firstly,G14 clubs have huge entrenched advantage. Self-perpetuating
growth over two decades having pushed thru UCL reform #FFP

5/10 Secondly, there's nowt anyone can do to catch up.  Can Villa devise
clever marketing strategy to sell more shirts than Utd? #FFP

6/10 Is it S'land's fault they don't have Arsenal's corporate market on
doorstep? Can West Ham get Chevrolet to give them £50m p.a? #ffp

7/10 Fans of these clubs are frustrated but far more likely to grumble
about oil sheiks than the clubs that stitched them up. #FFP

8/10 Whilst fans of the elite repeat ad nauseum that their financial
strength is "earned" not the result of the stitch up #FFP

9/10 And nobody acknowledges that FFP should be about eliminating
financial disparity, regardless of where £ comes from #FFP

10/10 Policies that give everyone a broadly equal crack of the whip.  Now

that would be fair… #FFP #mcfc