Football Friends Online – When 90 Mins Is Not EnoughEuropean “competition” highlights the financial gap - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough European “competition” highlights the financial gap - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough

European “competition” highlights the financial gap

With the proposition of UEFA’s big, bad Financial Fair Play ruling looming on the horizon, there was no better time than European cup quarter-final week to expose the various pitfalls and loopholes that the European footballing authorities should encounter when implementing rigid measures into place in the summer of 2013, to ensure European Clubs spend within their means. UEFA have put such a plan in place to create a supposed level playing field, to prevent the modernistic dream of a mid-rate club being seized by an oil-rich oligarch who can spend his way to the top table.

This week however, the chasm between those at the highest echelon of the European game and those fighting to compete at the bottom, can be seen more obviously than ever, to a degree that UEFA may find it impossible to achieve their sought after Holy Grail of a footballing “level-playing field”. On Tuesday night, Real Madrid were rather comfortably negotiating a tie with APOEL Nicosia of Cyprus with a squad that cost over £460 million Euros to bring to assembly. Their opposition are restricted to an annual budget of £10 million Euros and £1 million of that was spent on the club-record signing of Brazilian striker Ailton. Real Madrid’s record-signing is the £80 million lavished on Cristiano Ronaldo. The minnows of Nicosia earned plaudits for keeping the score-line blank until the 74th minute when it was breached by Karim Benzema; all £35 million Euros of him, to open the floodgates for a 0-3 away win.

That expected victory puts Real Madrid all but in the semi-finals and the APOEL fairy-tale is over, they had achieved an almighty story just to get here they said, but this was a firm rejection of the competitive notion that UEFA want to implement. This was a European Champions League quarter-final, supposed to be a highly competitive occasion, and instead we got a David vs. Goliath story in which the bigger guy not only won, but steamrollered his opposition to the brink where only a miracle and then some would bring them back. When you also factor in Madrid’s second round opposition were CSKA Moscow, given their biggest signing this year was £4.4 million on Ahmed Musa, Real Madrid and their summer expenditure of £48.4 million Euros, have not faced a significant tie until a date with Bayern Munich, who were making light-work of their own quarter-final a night later, winning 0-2 in Marseille.

Here is a situation in which the elite are rampaging through Europe to become the same familiar faces competing for the European Cup year on year. Barcelona have won the competition twice in the last three years through a combination of mesmeric football orchestrated by a frightening budget. They are favourites to return to European football’s showpiece event again this year in Munich, though a 0-0 draw with AC Milan may have halted preparations somewhat, against fellow Spaniards and bitter rivals Madrid.

It is these two Spanish clubs however, who distort the financial outlook so much that Michel Platini will have to do far more than utter threats of stringent punishment to bring these clubs into line; with the Spanish economy teetering on the edge of a bail-out, to the tune of £123 billion Euros, at the hands of the European Union, the top two of La Liga have a combined total of £534 million Euros worth of debts, with £48 million of that being owed to the tax man. Yet, with such debts, factored into the gigantic total of £625 million Euros that Spanish football owes to the taxman; both clubs run straight across the continent spearheaded by the phenomenal talents of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, who are paid respective amounts of £11 million and £9.5 million a year for the privilege.

Spanish football, with five clubs in the quarter finals of the two European competitions, are showing that such over-spending does correlate to success, but this happens to be the same business model that Platini an UEFA are seemingly determined to stamp out. Of the £625 million total, £353 million of that is from the top division, with Real Sociedad, Getafe, Villareal, suffering the ignominy of 14th, 9th and 16th place in La Liga, as well as eleventh placed Athletic Bilbao who taught Manchester United a severe lesson in the last 16 of the Europa League, being the only clubs who do not have a penny of outstanding debt. They are all unlikely to qualify for Europe next season, whilst it is Valencia (owing £6 million to the Spanish public) and Malaga, who have sneaked in just under the FFP radar to splash £50 million last summer on their Qatari billionaire-funded spending spree.

Valencia will meet AZ Alkmaar in the quarter finals of the Europa League whilst Athletic Bilbao have been drawn against Schalke 04, but it is in the other Spanish club match that sees the wealthiest gap. Athletico Madrid, the severest case in the country with £128 million owing to the Spanish taxman, faces Hannover 96. Athletico spent a total of £61 million in last summer’s transfer window despite having to hand the £50 million Euros from the sale of Sergio Aguero to Manchester City straight to the Spanish authorities. A £35 million deal for Porto’s Radamel Falcao was funded by sponsorship deals whilst Hannover, spending a grand total of £4.5 million, landed their marquee signing of Miram Biram Diouf from Manchester United for little over £1 million.

There have been repeated calls for Spanish clubs to be placed under the same regulation as the Italian Serie A which prevents clubs with huge tax debts from competing in the league, whilst clubs like Athletico are swimming in dangerous waters knowing the storm threatening to eclipse them should the Spanish tax authorities suddenly decide to pull the plug. It is an eye-watering generosity that has eclipsed football in antipathy to those who have lost their homes and businesses as the Spanish economy has hit such turbulent times, but it shows no signs of slowing down and neither does the unfair dominance of Barcelona and Madrid. So much for a “level playing field”.

Written by Adam Gray; @AdamGray1250