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Hammersmith, London, United Kingdom
I'm a director of Maidenhead United Football Club. For ten seasons one of my roles at the club was to produce the match programme. The aim of this blog was to write football related articles for publication in the match programme. In particular I like to write about the representation of football in popular culture, specifically music, film/TV and literature. I also write about matches I attend which generally feature Maidenhead United.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Platini's Spirit Level

An elephant appeared in the room when Roman Abramovic reasserted his status of having the biggest yacht in the marina by splashing out £50 million on Fernando Torres.  The pachiderm was reminding us all of Michel Platini's much touted fair play rule which will limit a club's spending to 60% of its turnover from the start of the 2013/14 season, on pain of being banned from European competition.  With sanctions against clubs based on financial statements from the 2011/12 and 2012/13 reporting periods, this really requires the immediate attention of the bean counters at Europe's top clubs, with Arsene Wenger for one salivating at the thought that his parsimonious attitude to the transfer market will at last bear fruit.
Naturally this has cause much excitement in some quarters as it promises to reverse the trend which has seen the Champions League become the sole province of a select band of clubs based in England, Germany, Spain and Italy.  Although it will not see a return to the purity of the original European Champions Cup which effectively took a whole season to qualify for as one country's sole representative, it does bring the potential to bring a greater plurality of clubs to the competition.
As such this captures the zeitgeist of the recent trend to question the level of inequality in the modern world and take a constructive step to redressing the balance.  This is best articulated in "The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better" by Richard G. Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, one of the most thought provoking books of the last twelve months. The book argues that for a range of outcomes such as crime, health and social mobility, more equal societies are better places to live than ones where wealth is more disparately spread.
Can this work in European football?  American gridiron certainly has a good effort with its draft system whereby the weakest team in any particular season gets the first pick of the best college players. This of course works as there is no relegation from the NFL making it easier to plan long term.  The European disease which is particularly virulent in England and Spain sees clubs all too eager to mortgage their future on a host of expensive signings in the hope that they will bring success so it will be interesting to see if this changes at all.  Perhaps it may just lead to clubs signing younger players before they come too expensive and effectively hoarding talent, particularly with the double whammy of the new rules about home grown talent.  This would be one example of moral hazard as clubs set their best legal and financial minds to finding a way round the rules, with rumours already circulating about the best way to boost turnover to allow more spending by for example donors lashing out on ridiculous sponsorship deals to inject cash into the club.
Still with Europe firmly locked into the new austerity caused by the last decade's financial crisis, maybe this is a good time to introduce the new rules. Barcelona's recent comment that £50 million was too much to pay for a world class striker suggests it might.
There does seem to be nothing to stop Platini introducing the fair play initiative as its promise of a wider spread of riches virtually guarantees his re-election in March thanks to the one country one vote democracy of UEFA.  Indeed they have already benefited in his first term with teams from Israel, Denmark, Switzerland, Slovakia and Serbia making a rare appearance in the Champions League group stage.  In addition just before Christmas Uefa announced a €300,000-a-year increase to all member associations which naturally is more welcome in the poorer nations. 
Will the initiative have the desired effect?  The halycon days of the competition were during a time when Europe was split in two with the Easten bloc countries able to compete for honours as their regimes ensured all the best footballing resources in the nation were funnelled into one or two clubs.  At least those clubs who have maintained a presence at the top of their national table due to the largesse of a benefactor maybe able to  follow the likes of Shaktar Donetsk and Zenit St. Petersburg and make it to the top table on a regular basis.
However another Platini initiative to centralise the bidding for TV rights to screen European competitions maybe the trigger to create the oft mooted European Super league.  Whatever happens the next decade of European club football promises to be more interesting than the last.

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