Sir Alex Ferguson, the Manchester United manager, has expressed serious doubts that Uefa will be able to police the Financial Fair Play (FFP) regime which would be the major constraint on Manchester City's future spending, claiming ahead of what he calls the title “shoot-out” on Monday that “providing players [with] houses in Abu Dhabi or Dubai” might be a way around the rules.
Some of the biggest European clubs are waiting to see if one of their number breaks rank and mounts a legal challenge to FFP, the most significant economic factor on the horizon for big spenders, through which clubs must reduce losses to £25m by 2015-16 if they are to be granted a license to compete in Europe. But in his first public discussion of the system, Ferguson suggested that he believed there may be ways of clubs maintaining the huge rewards for players without incurring damage to balance sheets.
"I don't know how it will be operated. I think it will be difficult," he said. "There are always ways around things." Asked if the regime would be difficult to police he said: "What's to say [they couldn't be] providing player houses in Abu Dhabi or Dubai? I don't know how you police these things to be honest with you. But I think we are thinking too far ahead at the moment. It won't change what's going to happen on Monday I'm afraid ... we are where we are."
City have cooperated fully with FFP, take the new regime very seriously and insist they will not seek ways around it. But there was legal opinion last night that Ferguson has a point about what are known as "related-party transactions". The fear among some within the legal fraternity is that clubs will unfairly enter into agreements which mean that instead of them paying a player £150,000 a week, they could restrict their outlay to half that figure and get a sponsor to pay the rest through an elaborate deal – a so-called related-party transaction. Since that is a deal between the club and a third party, it may be difficult for Uefa's club financial control panel – which will police FFP – to scrutinise.
Daniel Geey of Field Fisher Waterhouse, a leading sports lawyer and FFP specialist, said: "The club financial control panel could take account of such an arrangement and adjust the player costs that the club have to set out in their FFP submissions. But the situation could be tricky because it would not be the club but a third party company who would be rewarding the player."
Clarity is still being sought on how such related-party transactions might be policed. It is likely that clubs will have to disclose any such deals in order to fulfil the FFP monitoring conditions when they formally apply for their European licences for 2013-14 season. With United having grounds to be more confident about FFP compliance, Ferguson said the Uefa financial regime was essential. "I agree with it, yes," he said. "There has to be a levelling out. There has to be more emphasis on what you produce. There has to be an emphasis on that. The focus on producing your own players is healthy for your supporters in particular and healthy for your club."
Ferguson has provided an acute sense of how much personally rides for him on Monday's match at the Etihad Stadium, which will see City move clear at the top of the Premier League on goal difference if they win. "It means everything to the supporters. Going in to work next Tuesday morning will be the most important day if their lives, for both sets of supporters," the manager said.
Winning did not mean more in a recession, he insisted. "No. Not a bit. It's there. People have inherited this from grandfathers and great-grandfathers. And grandmothers. You can't change a family's traits. That's what supporters are. There was one banner recently at Rangers that said 'I've been supporting Rangers for 139 years'. I thought 'He's done well!' That sums it up. It's in the blood of these supporters and I know lots of supporters who would give everything to win this game on Monday.
"We expect our players to come up to the mark on Monday and make sure we are offering threats to City. There's absolutely no doubt it. You have got an interesting combination of two teams. The one with the best home record and the one with the best away record. It's a shoot-out isn't it?"
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