KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —- Aleksander Ceferin has a problem with Paris Saint-Germain, Neymar and Kylian Mbappe: no-one will be happy with whatever he may say right now about the record-busting transfers in the context of financial fair play.
Champions League contenders PSG splashed €222m on Brazilian superstar Neymar from Barcelona at the start of the month and are now wrapping up the €140m loan/purchase of France prodigy Mbappe from Monaco.
Ceferin stepped into the French epicentre of the financial earthquake last week when the European federation, over which he has presided since last September, staged in Monaco its high-profile seasonal launch with the star-sprinkled draws for the Champions and Europa Leagues group stages.
Predecessor Michel Platini, until he fell foul of disloyal payments, ethics charges and suspensions, dealt suavely with awkward issues thanks to the benefit of respect for his playing achievements layered with the enduring adoration heaped on him by the French and Italian media.
Ceferin is a different character. He is a lawyer not old football hero. Informally he can be charming, with a sharp sense of humour and fascination for worlds far beyond football. But he tightens up – to his disadvantage – when confronted by cameras, voice recorders and notebooks.
Thus, caught in the headlights of a media inquisition about Neymar, Mbappe and perceptions of a collapsing FFP system, he could only raise a diplomatic shield in the hope that Jose Narciso da Cunha Rodrigues, the Portuguese judge who chairs the club financial control body will come riding to UEFA’s rescue next year.
Ceferin understands the howls of concern about football finance running out of control but has no instant panacea. If one existed then the great and the good of world football would have enacted it years ago.
He tried to look at the positives, saying: “Being objective, football is a fantastic product whose popularity is very pleasing. For we generate enormous revenues and give back to the game almost all of it which permits the develp[ment of the game. The problem is the money whch flows out of football.”
PSG and Manchester City were rapped over the knuckles by UEFA’s club control body three years ago, fined and ordered to trim their squads in the Champions League. Conveniently they purged their sins earlier this year. However the subsequent spending splurge by PSG president Nasser Al Khelaifi prompted doubts about whether the French club, at least, had learned their lesson.
Ceferin said: “To be honest, I hope so. If that is not the case then we will teach them. I am not talking only about Paris Saint-Germain. The transfer window is not yet closed. You can be sure that we are working on all of this.”
Of course while UEFA have been working on it, so have PSG. The catch of FFP is that the success or failure of a club’s balancing act becomes apparent only when the year-end accounts are presented next spring.
Al Khelaifi knows this as well as Ceferin and Cunha Rodrigues and it would be naïve to suppose that PSG have not constructed a financial alibi. This could involve the Neymar cash having been provided from a private loan being paid back in stages or complications over the ‘bonus’ or ‘add-ons’.
Certainly the football financial world has changed since 2011 when Platini introduced FFP with, in general, acknowledged success.
Ceferin acknowledged football is moving on.
He said: “Times change and we [UEFA] need to adjust and react. Our research shows that the transfer of Zinedine Zidane from Juventus to Real Madrid in 2001 was almost like the Neymar transfer now when you compare the budgets of the clubs and the overall market.
“We started to revise the rules in June and what has happened since then in the transfer market has given us even more reason to maintain the reforms. Transfer regulations fall within FIFA’s remit but we have an important role to play because the most important transfers, apart from a few in China, take place within Europe.”
In the past it was the medium-sized and small clubs which felt UEFA’s wrath. Ceferin denied, however, that UEFA was too soft on the big clubs for fear of causing an upset which might provoke renewed fighting talk about a breakaway super league.
He said: “After this transfer window and the completion of our accounts checks, we will apply exactly the same rules to all of them. If we did not respect our own rules then we would be a toothless tiger.
“Even the big clubs know that something has to happen. We cannot close the gap between the elite and other clubs but we can slow its development. When financial fair play was launched it was about financial stability, not about competition. The clubs made a total loss of €1.7bn in 2010, today it’s down to €286m. This is a success.”
Ceferin had other opinions to offer. He was sad, on a personal level, to see the mighty fall of the likes of Platini and Spain’s Angel Maria Villar, and he repeated his determination that UEFA, on his watch, will never repeat the organisational nightmare which threatens to be Euro 2020.
But he knows very well that the success or failure of his reign may be judged, ultimately and not until next year, against the PSG assault on financial fair play. The clock is ticking.