Glenn Moore: Financial Fair Play faces its first test as big spenders enter the transfer window

The Weekend Dossier

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Never mind "Auld Lang Syne", for football managers midnight tonight signifies the opening of the transfer window and this January there is a new factor to be taken into account – Financial Fair Play, the instrument by which Uefa president Michel Platini hopes to stabilise the economics of European football.

FFP was supposed to put a squeeze on transfer spending a year ago. Then Chelsea spent £71m on Fernando Torres and David Luiz the same day they revealed financial figures which booked a matching loss. Next it was felt FFP would have an impact in the summer, until Manchester City spent another £60m net on the likes of Sergio Aguero and Samir Nasri.

FFP can no longer be ignored. We are now half a season into the first Monitoring Period, a two-year span during which clubs, in theory, cannot lose more than €45m – and only then if a benefactor is prepared to cover that loss. Manchester City's headline loss in 2010-11 was £197m and Roberto Mancini has already suggested FFP will force him to sell before he can buy. Shifting players on City-sized wages will not be easy but this has not prevented his being linked with Edinson Cavani, Eden Hazard and Daniele De Rossi – before he attempts to prise Robin van Persie from Arsenal this summer.

At Chelsea, Andre Villas-Boas, who spent £50m in the summer, yesterday gave the impression that FFP does not come into his thinking when he said, "we're given this opportunity before [FFP] comes into play, in this window". The Chelsea manager is either misinformed or being disingenuous. This window counts in the sums. The impending arrival of Gary Cahill for a cut-price £7m suggests someone at the club has FFP on their minds but while Villas-Boas said he would not buy as many players as the media have suggested, he added he will be looking for "talent" rather than "value". Looking further ahead Villas-Boas, who has been linked with players such as Cavani, Hulk, Neymar and Kaka, added: "I don't know how much FFP will limit investments, funds have never been a problem here, so hopefully we can get the correct balance for what we need in the future."

As Villas-Boas intimated, Roman Abramovich – like Sheikh Mansour – can spend £50m-plus in this window if so desired, but that would suggest FFP was not being taken seriously. Earlier this year "The Swiss Ramble", a blog on football finance, and the similarly thorough website "Sportingintelligence", detailed how Chelsea and City may conceivably be able to pass Uefa's financial tests despite their losses. However, those assumptions were based on City progressing further in the Champions League and Chelsea being more restrained in the transfer market last summer.

As things stands it looks nigh on impossible for either club to pass FFP if they spend heavily this year. The only way they could do so is by slashing the wages bill and amortisation costs (the annual write-down of transfer fees), which in effect means selling big names. Thus City's desire to sell, not loan, Carlos Tevez, the departure from Chelsea of Nicolas Anelka, and imminent exits of Alex and Florent Malouda. There is, though, no great value in shifting Frank Lampard or Didier Drogba. Their wages (agreed before June 2010) can be written off and their amortisation is minimal after so long at the club. Fernando Torres is another matter – but who is going to pay even £25m for him?

Other Premier League clubs with Champions League ambitions have no great problems with FFP but it is likely to lead to more restrained spending this window than is usual. There is a view that FFP cements the status quo by allowing rich clubs to spend, but not clubs whose ambitions outstrip their revenue-generation, such as Paris St-Germain, Malaga and Anzhi Makhachkala.

However, FFP does reduce the chances of clubs plunging themselves into debt and is likely to have the effect of driving down transfer fees and slowing, maybe even halting the spiralling cost of wages. It should also push investment into infrastructure and youth development. As such it deserves a chance, but it must be enforced. How? Fines are, in the circumstances, self-defeatingly ironic. Transfer bans may not be legally enforceable. Champions League points deductions have been suggested, but the biggest stick of all is a European ban. While sceptics suggest Uefa would never shut the door on clubs like Manchester City and Chelsea they would simply be replaced in European competition by another English club, probably of similar attractiveness to sponsors and viewers. Denying entry to Barcelona or Real Madrid would be another matter entirely, but they have huge incomes. Carefully managed clubs such as Arsenal and Bayern Munich – whose chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge is also president of the European Clubs' Association – will be watching FFP's imposition closely, and making a fuss if clubs appear to escape penalty for evading it.

Financial Fair Play: A bluffer's guide

Eventually, to qualify for a licence to play in European football clubs must break even (within €5m leeway) over a Monitoring Period (MP) of three previous seasons. To allow clubs time to adjust, in the first two MPs they are permitted to lose a total of €45, in the following three €30m.

The first MP covers two seasons (2011-2013) and relates to licences for the 2014-15 season. All losses must be covered (in equity, not loans) by owners.

Loss is measured by subtracting expenses (primarily wages, transfers and amortisation), from earnings (TV income, merchandising, sponsorship and match receipts). Expenditure on infrastructure and youth development does not count.

Five Asides

1. Bale should be allowed to light up the Olympics

The best players deserve the greatest stages and the way Gareth Bale swept through the defences of Chelsea and Norwich City recently underlined the hope that he plays for Great Britain at London 2012. Olympic football may be unappreciated here, but it is a big enough tournament for Lionel Messi to defy Barcelona to play in one. No disrespect to Wales, but his chances of otherwise playing in a major tournament are slim, even with the expansion of the Euro finals to 24 teams in 2016.

2. Why is Kean relaying his message from Fergie?

There is something slightly unsettling about Steve Kean going all gooey in public about the fact Sir Alex Ferguson rang the Blackburn manager to offer him support. Kean has to send a team out at Old Trafford this afternoon and if his players are as in awe of their opponents as Rovers' manager is they have no chance. If it was a coded message to Rovers' fans, as in "look who's on my side", it will not work as Ferguson is almost as unpopular among the Ewood Park faithful as Kean.

3. Hats off to Baggies for their book of a programme

At some clubs match programmes are just another way of "monetising the customer". Not West Bromwich Albion. I have finally finished reading the programme Albion produced for their Boxing Day match against Manchester City. It was a book in all but name and well worth £3 to anyone interested in Albion's past, present and future. And it was not a Christmas one-off.

4. Let's hope the FA realises it should be child's play

A New Year's wish? That the FA passes all the youth development measures Trevor Brooking, Gareth Southgate and their team have been working on for more than two years, and provide the necessary funding. It will mean five-a-sides for eight-year-olds, delaying 11-a-side until age 13, smaller goals and pitches, a shift in the relative age bias (to give summer births a chance), no league tables for under-11s, and various rule adjustments to further encourage playing through the thirds and plenty of touches of the ball from a young age. It's child-centred. As the FA's Les Howie said: "It's not PlayStation for dads".

5. Maybe Bolton should have cut their losses

Bolton could have sold Gary Cahill for £12m at the end of August. Fourteen matches later, during which Wanderers have won nine points and conceded 32 goals, they are selling for £7m. It sticks in the craw, but sometimes it is better to give in and sell.

Glenn Moore's verdict on all the weekend action

Manchester United v Blackburn

Odds: Home 1-8; Draw 7-1, Away 20-1.

Kick-off: Today, 12.45pm (ESPN; Highlights BBC 1 10.20pm)

Team news: Manchester United again have defensive worries, with Jonny Evans (calf) and Chris Smalling (tonsillitis) new additions to the casualty list. Phil Jones (illness) and Rio Ferdinand (back) may not return in time. Martin Olsson (hamstring) is nearing a return for Blackburn, but Paul Robinson (calf) again misses out in goal.

Arsenal v QPR

Odds: Home 1-4; Draw 9-2, Away 12-1.

Kick-off: Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC 1 10.20pm)

Team news: Theo Walcott returns from illness for Arsenal after missing the midweek draw with Wolves and the England international could line up alongside Robin van Persie, who is a hat-trick away from the record number of Premier League goals in a calendar year. QPR have no fresh injury worries. Shaun Wright-Phillips could return.

Bolton v Wolves

Odds: Home 6-5; Draw 9-4, Away 12-5.

Kick-off: Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC 1 10.20pm)

Team news: Bolton welcome back Sam Ricketts (Achilles), Gretar Steinsson (illness) and Joe Riley (hamstring), while Gary Cahill could be left out as he nears a move to Chelsea. Darren Pratley (virus) is a doubt. Wolves are without the suspended Nenad Milijas, while Ronald Zubar (knee) is a doubt and could be replaced by Richard Stearman.

Chelsea v Aston Villa

Odds: Home 2-7; Draw 4-1, Away 12-1.

Kick-off: Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC 1 10.20pm)

Team news: Ramires returns from suspension for Chelsea and could replace Frank Lampard. John Terry and Jose Bosingwa have both been passed fit, but Branislav Ivanovic and John Obi Mikel (both hamstring) miss out. Darren Bent (thigh) may return for Aston Villa, while Alan Hutton has completed his suspension, but Emile Heskey (Achilles) is out.

Norwich v Fulham

Odds: Home 8-5; Draw 9-4, Away 7-4.

Kick-off: Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC 1 10.20pm)

Team news: Marc Tierney (groin) and Ritchie de Laet (back) are doubtful for the home side, but Kyle Naughton returns after missing the defeat against Tottenham through suspension and ineligibility. Fulham are again likely to be without Andy Johnson (groin), Bobby Zamora (Achilles) and Damien Duff. Simon Davies also fails to make the squad.

Stoke City v Wigan

Odds: Home 7-10; Draw 11-4, Away 4-1.

Kick-off: Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC 1 10.20pm)

Team news: Tony Pulis has doubts over Peter Crouch (illness) and Glenn Whelan (calf), while Roberth Huth will undergo a late fitness check. Ricardo Fuller (ankle) should return. Connor Sammon is available for Wigan after having his red card against Manchester United overturned, and Emmerson Boyce (hamstring) is nearing a return.

Swansea v Tottenham

Odds: Home 9-2; Draw 13-5, Away 4-6.

Kick-off: Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC 1 10.20pm)

Team news: Angel Rangel (ankle) faces a late fitness check for Brendan Rodgers' side, with Jazz Richards likely to deputise. Neil Taylor is fit, but Steven Caulker is ineligible against his parent side. Michael Dawson remains short of fitness for Spurs, with Aaron Lennon (hamstring) and Ledley King (knee) out. Jermain Defoe (hamstring) could feature.

West Brom v Everton

Odds: Home 8-5; Draw 9-4, Away 7-4.

Kick-off: Tomorrow, 12.30pm (Sky Sports 1; Highlights BBC 2 10pm)

Team news: Youssouf Mulumbu is a major doubt for Roy Hodgson's side with a groin complaint, with James Morrison and Graham Dorrans standing by. Steven Reid remains out. Marouane Fellaini (abductor) is out for Everton, while Landon Donovan is not yet eligible to feature.

Sunderland v Man City

Odds: Home 11-2; Draw 3-1, Away 8-15.

Kick-off: Tomorrow, 3pm (Sky Sports 1; Highlights BBC 2 10pm)

Team news: Sunderland have major doubts over defensive duo Titus Bramble (Achilles/calf) and Phil Bardsley (thigh) along with Kevin Richardson (illness). Defenders Micah Richards (calf) and Aleksandar Kolarov (groin) return to contention for Manchester City.

League Top Scorers

16: R van Persie (Arsenal)

14: D Ba (Newcastle United)

13: S Aguero (Manchester City), W Rooney (Manchester United)

10: Dzeko (Manchester City), Yakubu (Blackburn Rovers)

9: Adebayor (Tottenham Hotspur), D Sturridge (Chelsea)

8: M Balotelli (Manchester City)

7: G Bale (Tottenham Hotspur), S Fletcher (Wolverhampton Wanderers), H Helguson (Queen's Park Rangers), G Holt (Norwich City), I Klasnic (Bolton Wanderers), F Lampard (Chelsea)

*Figures correct before last night's match