Report calls for salary cap to restore balance

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The Independent Football

Salary capping, home-grown player quotas and collective selling of television rights are not just desirable but necessary to stem a "significant decline" in the competitive balance of football, according to an independent Europe-wide review, published yesterday, which has the potential to change the game.

The review states that there is now an unhealthy concentration of wealth not only within individual leagues - such as England's Premiership - but also between a few countries, with only a limited number of clubs having any realistic chance of success in European competition. "This growing concentration of wealth and success can only be detrimental to the long-term interests of football," the review states.

Ways of addressing the issue included limiting squad sizes and introducing quotas for local players (which will happen in Uefa competitions from this summer anyway), "greater revenue redistribution" (based on collective selling of TV rights), and salary caps. The review, launched in December under the British presidency of the EU, was sponsored by the EU and Uefa, European football's governing body. It was headed by Jose Luis Arnaut, a former minister in the Portuguese government of Jose Manuel Barroso, who is now president of the European Commission.

Running to 160 pages, many of them full of dry legal arguments and case precedent, the review will not trouble Dan Brown's pre-eminence at the local library. But the devil is in the detail, with Arnaut and his team detailing precisely why they believe their proposals can and should be incorporated into EU law, and hence compel all clubs to fall into line.

On the legality of salary capping, the review says it "is a subject that should fall within the regulatory purview of sports governing bodies in Europe".

On collective selling, which has always existed in England, but could one day be forced upon clubs in Italy and Spain - where the giants currently do their own TV deals and hence take most of the money - the report says "it is both acceptable and necessary for the football authorities to require clubs to commit to a central marketing model as a condition of their participation in a sporting competition and compatible with European law".

The G14 group of 18 elite clubs, which includes Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal, is lambasted in the review. "It is difficult to reconcile its membership or structure with principles of democracy or transparency," the review said. EU ministers will discuss the review's findings at a meeting in Brussels next month.

Arnaut set out proposals to the EU, governments and football's authorities to deal with a "variety of threats" to football, including "the chronic financial instability in football, ownership of clubs by questionable individuals or organisations, the risk to [the] integrity of sport, particularly as a result of sophisticated international betting operations, the boom in the player agent industry, which adds little if any value to the sport, a tendency towards racism in certain areas, an ongoing need to ensure safe and properly equipped stadia, and a need to take decisive action to combat any criminal activities associated with football, in particular regarding the trafficking of young players and the risk of money laundering".

Among those who welcomed the review's finding was Supporters' Direct, which was praised for its role in promoting fans' stakes in clubs. "We are grateful to Arnaut, the Minister for Sport [Richard Caborn] and Uefa for making possible this review, which has tackled some of the more challenging issues facing the European game," a spokesman said.

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