Sam Wallace: Portugal's crippling debt after hosting Euros should serve as a warning to Ukrainian football

Some Portuguese clubs are considering pulling down their Euro 2004 stadiums as it is cheaper than maintaining these white elephants
Click to follow
The Independent Football

The part of Euro 2012 that takes place in Ukraine should be fine, just as long as the neo-Nazi fans do not chant "Heil Hitler" – as they did at a Dynamo Kiev game last August – the stadiums get built in time and someone remembers to shore up the new roads, which even the Ukrainians admit might "wash away" next winter.

It is rumoured that the Football Association is so delighted Ukraine is co-hosting the tournament with Poland that – provided Fabio Capello's team qualify – the England squad will be based in Warsaw even if their group games are in Ukraine. Good luck getting to Donetsk, a mere 930 miles away and roughly 24 hours journey by road – if one still exists.

Playing half of Euro 2012 in Ukraine was a bad idea for all the reasons above, which might have been why Uefa president Michel Platini was quoted in France last month saying the decision to give it to them was "perhaps an error". He later claimed he had been misquoted. Yet this is a man who knows a tournament hosting error when he sees one. After all, he is rumoured to have voted for Qatar for the 2022 World Cup.

But before we even get to Ukrainian football's embarrassing record for hate crimes and questionable probity over construction contracts – not to mention its leaky roads and its scary fascists – there is another much simpler lesson in the pitfalls of hosting a European Championship. That lesson is Portugal.

Portugal is a wonderful football nation. It has a population even smaller than that of the Netherlands and yet it has a disproportionately high yield of top footballers and coaches. Portugal has given us Jose Mourinho and Cristiano Ronaldo and a host of great footballers from Nani to Danny.

Portuguese club football is strong: Porto's 2004 Champions League victory remains the stand-out, against-the-odds triumph of the competition in its new format. Last week, three Portuguese clubs – Porto, Benfica and Braga – claimed three of the four Europa League semi-final places.

On the pitch, Portuguese football looks in good health. The best clubs struggle to compete in the Champions League but only because they sell all their top players to the richest clubs in Spain, England, Italy and now Russia. Since last summer, Benfica alone have sold Angel Di Maria (Real Madrid), Ramires and David Luiz (both Chelsea) for a total of around £82m. They should easily pass the £100m mark when the left-back Fabio Coentrao goes to the highest bidder this summer.

Porto sold Raul Meireles to Liverpool and Bruno Alves to Zenit St Petersburg for a total of around £30m. Miguel Veloso left Sporting Lisbon for Genoa for around £10m. Porto signed a new television deal last week with the media company Oliverdesportos that sees their income rise from €8m (£7.1m) to €30m a year. As the best-supported club in the country, Benfica will command even more.

The problem for these top Portuguese clubs is that they have long since sold off shares in the economic rights to these players to service the debts they accrued re-building stadiums for the European Championship Portugal hosted in 2004.

Unfortunately for Benfica, much of those headline transfer fees will go to third-party companies who bought shares in players to allow the club to service debts from rebuilding their Stadium of Light for Euro 2004. It is estimated Benfica alone owe around €200m.

Porto's debts are around €100m and sooner or later they will have to sell Hulk, the Brazilian striker they scouted in Japan's second division. Porto built the impressive Estadio do Dragao for Euro 2004 and they are still paying for it. Only Sporting Lisbon have their debts under control but they sell every decent player they have, including Joao Moutinho to Porto.

Many of these Portuguese clubs are worried about the impact that Uefa's financial fair play rules might have on them, although the clubs hope the exemption for debt related to stadium investment will get them off the hook. There would be no greater irony than plunging into debt to build a new stadium to host Uefa's marquee international tournament, only to be later penalised by Uefa for doing so.

In Portugal they still bemoan the fact that government contributed only 10 per cent of costs to the stadium projects, despite the benefits the tournament brought. In Lieria and Aveiro they are considering pulling down their Euro 2004 stadiums because it is cheaper in the long term than maintaining these white elephants.

Which brings us back to Ukraine, where the government has been forced to finance much of the Euro 2012 building works. Kiev's new 69,000-capacity Olympic stadium, the venue for the Euro 2012 final, will one day be used by Dynamo Kiev but probably only for major games in European competition. Otherwise, they will use their Soviet Union-built stadium that holds about 17,000.

Benfica and Porto have kept afloat because they are so skilled at recruiting good players cheaply and selling them for big money. Yet even so, Benfica's six new signings for next summer have already leaked out and it turns out they are all free agents despite the club's player-trading profits.

As for Ukraine, they are yet to find out what kind of harvest they will reap from the cost of building three new stadiums and renovating a fourth in Kharkiv. But if it is as expensive as Portugal's have proved, they will have to come up with some good ideas to earn their money back.

Arsenal continue to owe Wenger for Emirates success

In the wake of the Arsenal director Danny Fiszman's death, the old arguments about who should take credit for Arsenal's move from Highbury to the Emirates have been revisited with the late Fiszman garlanded for much of the praise.

Fair enough, but it is one thing to make the decision to build a new stadium, it is another to make it financially possible. What should never be forgotten is that it was Arsène Wenger's ability to keep the club in the Champions League for those crucial years, while keeping a net spend in the transfer market close to nothing, that saw the club through.

Everyone agrees now that building the Emirates was a great move. But if had not been for Wenger then Arsenal's fate would have been very different.

United overdo the outrage at Balotelli

Of all the silly things Mario Balotelli has done, brandishing the Manchester City crest on his jersey at the Manchester United supporters after the end of Saturday's FA Cup semi-final does not seem to be the worst crime.

There certainly seemed to be an overreaction from the United players, who behaved as if Balotelli had just tried to break the leg of one of their number. In fact, the response by the City players to Paul Scholes' red card, studs-up challenge on Pablo Zabaleta was a lot more low key.

Balotelli can be a bit of a prat at times, but winking at Rio Ferdinand is not the grounds for a Football Association charge. Given United's record with the mower-men at Stamford Bridge three years ago, they would be wise not to get too pious about post-match shenanigans.