Rarely, if ever, can so many have been talking about fair play at the same time. This decency, however, has nothing to do with simulation, shirt-pulling or shouting at referees. Minds are being concentrated at last by Financial Fair Play, a concept introduced by Uefa earlier than some realised.
Soon after the end of last season, Manchester City's manager Roberto Mancini hinted that his club could be in line for one last splurge in the transfer market before FFP kicked in. Too late; the first accounting period for club finances began on 1 June, by which time City had not got round to buying anyone.
When they did, it was significant that Gaël Clichy and Stefan Savic, both signed in the past week, cost well under £10m. Last summer, Mancini bought five players for some £20m or more each, which is why financial figures for 2010-11 to be published in September will look even more horrible than the £121m loss announced last autumn.
The sponsorship deal of between £300-400m with Etihad airline agreed on Friday will cut the deficit from then on, but the club acknowledge that there is still a way to go to comply with new Uefa guidelines.
City are the sort of club that FFP is designed to rein in. Uefa under Michel Platini have been concerned that a small group of clubs in the leading European countries has too much spending power, based on benefactors like Sheikh Mansour and Chelsea's Roman Abramovich. Those clubs have always been aware of the danger that a sugar daddy could turn sour and walk away (as Thaksin Shinawatra did at what we used to call Eastlands) but there has been no immediate incentive to put their finances in order, until now.
In the first three-year period, clubs will be allowed to lose up to ¤45m (£41m), reducing to nothing by the 2018-19 season. This figure is gauged, essentially, by weighing revenue against expenditure on wages and any loss on transfers. Money spent on youth development, stadium improvements or community work does not count.
Punishment could involve not being granted a Uefa licence and therefore being banned from the Champions' League or Europa League. As with any legislation the question that has to be asked is how clubs will try to circumvent it. The most obvious way would be for the owners to pay a vastly inflated sum for, say, their company to buy naming rights to the stadium or a shirt sponsorship, which is why the figures hinted at by City are already being questioned. Barcelona, Manchester United and Liverpool may have achieved £20-25m per year for the name on their shirts, but City are nowhere near that trio in terms of profile. Similarly, critics argue that naming Arsenal's new stadium after a middle eastern airline was worth only £3m a year (the rest of their £90m deal was for the shirts). Uefa insist the small print will be investigated.
Where does all this leave the Premier League clubs? In no position to pay exaggerated fees or wages, which could be seen as an advantage for the more hard-headed; City's Mancini, becoming aware of the new realities, said last week that his club will no longer "do what everyone thinks we will and pay £10m more than other clubs". It may even be a good time to cash in the disenchantedCarlos Tevez if there is a club somewhere that can square a £40m fee with their own accountants.
Chelsea, who will have studied the City sponsorship, had their last rush of blood to the head in paying £50m for Fernando Torres before the first FFP period kicked in, and will be telling Andre Villas-Boas that while there is money available, no such extravagance will be entertained. Liverpool were able to hand on the Torres money in paying equally inflated prices in January for Andy Carroll and Luiz Suarez and in signing Jordan Henderson and chasing Aston Villa's Stewart Downing they are following a policy of acquiring young British talent with sell-on value.
Manchester United are looking like the big spenders, though they are still in credit after receiving £80m for Cristiano Ronaldo. United also have vast income – their annual revenue has doubled in six years to £350m. At the end of last season, they received £60m from the Premier League alone in television fees and merit money, with Chelsea, Arsenal, City, Liverpool and Tottenham not far behind and clubs like Everton and Aston Villa taking almost £50m.
Liverpool, seeking a stadium partner for a proposed new ground, and United set a new British benchmark for shirt sponsorship. So the money is still there; the key is balancing it with transfer fees and wages.
Like United, Arsenal have done that, with income more than twice their wage bill. Arsenal have been parsimonious in relative terms and nobody will welcome FFP more than Arsène Wenger, probably the one manager whose own board would like him to spend more. For Wenger, who has raged about the "financial doping" of Chelsea and others, the new regulations are too late; his prudence may mean the loss of trophy-less players like Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri and could even cost a Champions' League place, either through losing next month's qualifying tie or dropping out of the top four.
Summer business: Who's spent what
In: Carl Jenkinson (Charlton Athletic, £1m). Total: £1m
In: None. Total: £0m
In: Myles Anderson (Aberdeen, free) Total: £0m
In: Darren Pratley (Swansea City, free). Total: £0m
In: None. Total: £0m
In: Eric Dier (Sporting Lisbon, season-long loan). Total: £0m
In: Dan Burn (Darlington, £350,000); Csaba Somogyi (Rakospalotai EAC), undisclosed. Total: £0.35m.
In: Jordan Henderson (Sunderland, £20m); Charlie Adam (Blackpool, £7m). Total: £27m.
In: Gaël Clichy (Arsenal, £7m); Stefan Savic (Partizan Belgrade, £6m). Total: £13m
In: Phil Jones (Blackburn Rovers, £16.5m); Ashley Young (Aston Villa, £16m); David de Gea (Atletico Madrid, £18m). Total: £50.5m
In: Mehdi Abeid (Lens, undisclosed fee); Demba Ba (West Ham, free); Yohan Cabaye (Lille, £4.3m); Sylvain Marveaux (Rennes, free). Total: £4.3m
In: Elliott Bennett (Brighton & Hove Albion, £1.5m); Ritchie De Laet (Manchester United, season-long loan); Steve Morison (Millwall, £3m); James Vaughan (Everton, £2.5m); Bradley Johnson (Leeds, free); Anthony Pilkington (Huddersfield Town, £2m). Total: £9m
Queens Park Rangers
In: None. Total: £0m
In: None. Total: £0m
In: Ahmed Elmohamady (ENPPI, £2m); Ji Dong-won (Chunnam, £2.2m); Keiren Westwood (Coventry, free); Seb Larsson (Birmingham, free); Craig Gardner (Birmingham, £6m); Connor Wickham (Ipswich, £13m); Wes Brown (Manchester Utd, £1m); John O'Shea (Manchester Utd, £4m); David Vaughan (Blackpool, free.) Total: £28.2m
In: Danny Graham (Watford, £3.5m); Steven Caulker (Tottenham Hotspur, season-long loan); Jose Moreira (Benfica, undisclosed). Total spent: £3.5m
In: Brad Friedel (Aston Villa, free). Total spent: £0m
West Bromwich Albion
In: Billy Jones (Preston North End, free); Gareth McAuley (Ipswich Town, free); Zoltan Gera (Fulham, free); Borja Valero (Villarreal, undisclosed fee). Total spent: £0m
In: Ali Al-Habsi (Bolton, £4m). Total spent: £4m
In: Jamie O'Hara (Tottenham Hotspur, £5m), Dorus De Vries (Swansea, free). Total spent: £5mReuse content