At a time when some of Europe's highest-spending clubs are waiting to see if any of their competitors might mount a legal challenge to Uefa's Financial Fair Play regime, the Football League appears likely to water down plans to introduce a stringent regime to the Championship from next season.
The League announced in June 2011 that FFP rules restricting clubs' spending to 60 per cent of turnover would be introduced from next season. Its schedule set February's quarterly meeting of all 72 clubs as the deadline for proposals to be ratified. But the financialfairplay.co.uk website has established that the deadline passed without resolution and, with all 24 clubs in the division not due to sit down again until the League's AGM in June, it seems next season is now too close to enforce a system under which clubs will be penalised for failing to restrict their spending.
A season without any punishment for failure – effectively testing the system but delaying implementation for a year – is one of a number of options. West Ham indicated last year they were willing to fight FFP by judicial review.
Portsmouth's administrator, Trevor Birch, warned at Manchester's Soccerex convention last week that the Championship had become "a scene of carnage" and "a catastrophe" in financial terms, as clubs pursue the dream of top-flight football, and cited FFP rules as the solution.
But the proposals are beset with a number of problems, not least how a transfer ban, which is one of the proposed penalties, could realistically be imposed, since clubs in breach of FFP might be in the Premier League before the trigger for such a ban – the previous season's accounts – were published.
For instance, Southampton have recently revealed their financial results for last season when, in the course of securing promotion from League One, their wage-to-turnover ratio was a mighty 93 per cent and they incurred losses of £11.5m. But increased TV rights and commercial income and the sale of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to Arsenal will now see them come close to breaking even. They are also heading for the Premier League where, seemingly, no punishment could be applied.
Agreeing a legal framework for FFP only four months before the next season starts seems implausible. Clubs in the Premier League were given two years' notice. Uefa now accepts that those clubs travelling towards breaking even will be looked upon favourably.
Fenway Sports Group, Liverpool's owners, say they would not have acquired the club without the FFP framework in place, but some of Europe's largest clubs do not believe they will break even in time. Uefa's rules come into play in 2013-14 and will analyse clubs' accounts for the previous three years, starting with the 2011-12 financial year. Clubs competing in European competition will be permitted to lose €45m (£37.2m) over these three years.
Administrators running Port Vale, the latest Football League club to go into administration, yesterday named business Keith Rider as their preferred bidder. West Ham did not respond to The Independent's inquiries yesterday.