In the current economic climate, the question has recently been posed whether the excessive spending of Europe's football clubs should be brought under tighter controls.
In his recent address to MEP's in Brussels, UEFA president Michel Platini warned that, "our system is in danger of financially imploding in the medium term". He stated that UEFA aims to address the two issues which he believes are placing the values of football in danger – the excessive spending of clubs and the exploitation of under eighteen year old players.
Platini explains that the first of these aims is to be achieved through the application of a cap on the amount of money a club can spend on transfers and salaries. Although the precise percentage is as yet undecided, UEFA have previously been understood to have considered a limit of between 47% and 63% of a clubs revenue. The revenue would be attributable to monies received through ticket sales and merchandise together with television and sponsorship income. It would however exclude investments made by owners or major shareholders thus preventing the type of situation which occurred in the last transfer window when Manchester City made a bid for AC Milan's Kaka bankrolled by Abu Dhabi's Sheikh Mansour, following his acquisition of a 90% stake in the club for £210 million. Platini hinted that the implementation of the restrictions were accelerated following these events in the January transfer window and questioned whether it is "morally acceptable to offer such sums of money for a single player?"
The current proposals are however in conflict with competition and labour laws, which promote the principle of free trade. Platini is calling for the European Parliament to help UEFA ensure financial stability by allowing sport to be granted an exemption from these laws on the basis that their current applicability is based upon, "the false notion that professional football is an economic activity just like any other." He maintains that the refusal to recognise the specificity of sport leads to an application of competition law which is not designed with the nature of sport in mind and declared that, "we refuse categorically to be held in a straitjacket or tied to prefabricated models that are based on the false equation that professional sport equals a purely economic activity."
He further argues that the automatic application of competition laws should not be applicable in the regulation of football given the differences that exist between the sport and the industries which the laws are in place to protect and makes a plea to the parliament that, "whatever happens, please do not stop us, on the basis of inappropriate legislation, from establishing financial fair play."
However, UEFA faces an uphill struggle implementing the caps on club expenditure as it is unlikely that MEPs committed to free-market principles, will be inclined to allow sport to be exempt from trade laws. Despite previous failed attempts at gaining exemptions for sport, Platini has commented that the current economic climate makes the need for reform greater, due to the growing public distaste at the excesses flaunted by some clubs during this time of economic crisis.
Equally weighty within the UEFA President's address to the European Parliament was the second issue which he said that UEFA wants to address and that is the issue of the exploitation of players who are under eighteen years old. He challenged the position under current legislation which promotes the free movement of workers from the age of sixteen years old. Quoting the definition of child, contained within the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, Platini highlighted the fact, child, is defined within this legislation as 'every human being under the age of eighteen years' and that whilst some may wish to safeguard the notion of the free movement of workers, he is "talking about the protection of children."
It remains to be seen, however, whether this address will be sufficient to move MEP's to grant an exemption from traditional competition laws and enable the regulation of football to be placed in the hands of UEFA; for it is only in achieving this that Platini's plans to target these issues and achieve what is seen as a moral and financially fair set-up can be mobilised.