There is a crisis brewing in the Football League, it’s not new, it’s been bubbling under the surface for some time but this summer the competitions organisers face probably the biggest challenge in their 127 year history.
I’m talking about Financial Fair Play, or FFP for short. It’s been the menacing shadow tracking the league for some time, an ambitious and perhaps noble attempt to force clubs not to spend beyond their means, which has almost been corrupted by those still desperate for success.
In the coming weeks the Football League will have to decide whether to grant Queens Park Rangers a “Golden Share”, their entry into the competition. Last time QPR were in the Championship in 2013/14 they made 7 times the losses allowed under FFP, but wrote them off using loans from directors.
For months lawyers on both sides have been pouring over financial and legal documents to find a resolution. The Football League want to impose a fine, which due to the severity of the rule breach could end up being over £40million if not substantially more.
QPR have vowed to fight any punishment, claiming relegated clubs should be given special dispensation to get their house in order. A seemingly fair argument until you consider the parachute payments from the Premier League, now around £20million per season and set to climb exponentially when the new tv deal kicks in.
QPR have also seemingly forgotten that whilst they were cutting £22million from their playing budget in the form of cash sales for the likes of Christopher Samba and outgoing loans for the likes of Loic Remy they also spent £4million on Charlie Austin, £3.5million on Matt Phillips and in all signed 19 players that season, 11 permanently, 5 of which were established Premier League players on free transfers that we know shouldn’t really be described as “free”.
There are few if any clubs in the Championship that could carry the kind of squad Harry Redknapp and Tony Fernandes did that season, let alone sanction loan deals for someone like Niko Kranjcar, and in essence that’s the point.
QPR won promotion, albeit from the play offs, having a squad others simply couldn’t compete with financially. The fact they did so in spite of FFP rules pushes the Football League into a corner. With QPR in the Premier League they were out of the leagues reach and jurisdiction, now they are not.
Watching on will be a host of other clubs, most notably Blackburn, Leeds and Nottingham Forest, three clubs who also exceeded FFP rules that same season and all three were placed under transfer embargo as a result.
But also watching will be the clubs who did adhere to the rules. Clubs like Birmingham who, with their owner in prison in Hong Kong over money laundering charges, imposed strict limits on wage spending, taking them from play-off contenders to near relegation.
Or Ipswich, who despite being competitive have barely spent a penny in the last two years, with manager Mick McCarthy being forced to snap up frees and even swap players, and like a greying northern messiah he even predicted trouble to come back in March 2014:
“We’re adhering to Financial Fair Play. I’m not sure everyone else is. In fact I’m damn sure not everybody else is.”
The chances of QPR being demoted to the Conference are admittedly pretty slim, but many clubs will want to see a hard line taken, though the case could see significant changes to FFP.
For the season just finishing the allowable losses limit has dropped from £8million to £6million and it will drop again next season to £5million. Forget the new Conservative government, just imagine the austerity needed from some clubs to meet those spending targets.
Financial woes are set to dominate the leagues agenda this summer. Bolton and Cardiff’s debt is now over £170million each whilst the issues at Leeds could turn this article into a book.
Massimo Cellino is now back in the boardroom after being found guilty of tax evasion in Italy, whilst the club are also reportedly under investigation for alleged payments to unauthorised agents and allegedly breaching third party ownership rules.
All of which raises the questions about the so called “fit and proper persons test” which could be further clouded by events at Birmingham, yeah them again. Well it turns out jailed owner Carson Yeung has been given leave to take his appeal against money laundering convictions to Hong Kong’s Court of Final Appeal. If he wins, he could see his assets unfrozen and be seemingly free to regain the power and influence lost after a boardroom dispute led to receivers being brought in.
Add to all of this what’s happening at Blackpool, ironically one of the few clubs actually making a profit but with fans so angry it’s not being reinvested they launched a pitch invasion that included a conga and a bloke on a mobility scooter.
Genuinely this could be the most difficult summer the Football League has faced since the collapse of ITV Digital and the financial problems that caused. Yet the game itself has never been awash with more money and the entertainment on the field never better, some things just don’t add up.