Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Kerrzy's Notebook: European Parity?

If you're a soccer fan who is sick and tired of the free-spending, debt accumulating ways of Europe's top clubs, you'll be glad to know that you're not alone.

A UEFA panel says they'll ban clubs from the Champions League and the Europa League starting in the 2012-13 season if they don't change their ways and balance their books.

It's a nice thought: they want European football to get to a point where clubs are only spending "soccer-related" revenue, like ticket and merchandise sales and TV deals. The thing is though, they actually sound serious about this!

The organization's executive committee will meet on September 14th and 15th in Switzerland to finalize what they are calling the "financial fair play" policy. They will then have until next summer to hammer out the details. Reports say UEFA will be issuing warnings and fines and even expelling teams from competitions (though you'd have to assume they would only be doing that in extreme cases, for example, repeat offenders).

According to an Associated Press article from last week, UEFA President Michel Platini says "85-90 percent" of club owners want these new controls if they can help end the current era of excessive spending.

How bad could it be, you ask?

Manchester United is easily one of the most well-known and successful clubs in the world, but despite winning the EPL title and the Champions League last season, England's The Daily Telegraph reports the team is over $1.2-billion (all figures in Canadian dollars) in debt! Mind you, they still pull in the most money out of any EPL team on a yearly basis.

The Guardian reported in June that the 20 English Premiership clubs owe a combined $5.5-billion in bank overdrafts, loans and other borrowings - almost two-thirds of that total is related to Man U, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool.

When the big clubs aren't accumulating debt at a rapid pace, they're borrowing huge sums of money to buy basically any player they fancy - case and point: Real Madrid, summer of '09.

Since Florentino Perez returned to his post as club president in June, the Spanish giants have shelled out over $400-million on eight players. To put that into context, NHL clubs have up to $62.58-million (again, in Canadian dollars) to spend this coming season on at least 24 players and three goalies (up to a maximum of 50 contracts).

When I heard about the money Real Madrid spent this summer on players, I was blown away, but not surprised. It's a much larger scale version of what was going on pre-salary cap in the NHL with teams basically trying to "buy" championships.

By all accounts, the NHL has become a stronger league post-lockout (though that has a lot to do with changes made to the game as well) - maybe these measures that UEFA is trying to implement will have a similar impact on soccer.

One thing I know from watching years and years of European soccer is that smaller clubs just can't consistently compete with the big (money) clubs who continue to dominate the scene.

UEFA shouldn't stop at threatening to ban the big-spending clubs from the Champions League though - why not make the Champions League what the name implies?

Instead of giving some countries have as many as four positions in qualifying, why not go back to a format where the champions of each country and the current European champion play each other? Sure, that would take a lot of high-profile teams out of the tournament, probably affecting the bottom line, but then we wouldn't have to watch four English teams play each other in the semi-finals.

That's another debate for another day though. What do you think about UEFA's attempts at stopping the insane spending of European soccer clubs? Let me know!

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