The First Shot Across FFP's Bow

He doesn't look worried. He probably should. - Julian Finney

In what might generously be called an "inevitability", a players' agent has filed suit against UEFA.

As we all know, European soccer has an almost purely capitalistic system for player distribution. If you have the money, you buy the players. There's no draft, the leagues offer no promise of "parity" as US sports try to do - it's all down to money.

In an effort to address this, UEFA introduced a scheme called Financial Fair Play (FFP). A very, very high-level explanation of FFP is that UEFA's member clubs will be required to prove that what they spend on wages, benefits, and transfer fees is less than what they earn from gate receipts, TV revenue, advertising, merchandising, sales of players and prize money (Champions League, Europa League, etc). Money spent on infrastructure is excluded from the calculations, in an effort to encourage teams to build youth development facilities (and also not punish clubs that build new stadiums). A complete set of FFP documentation is available here, but wow is it dull. You were warned.

Anyway, since this is the third year that finances relative to FFP are being tracked, FFP's effects are going to start to be felt soon; FFP looks back over the previous three years, I believe (please correct me if that is not right). Nobody really knows what the post-FFP world will look like from a player salary perspective, but in any world where less money is the desired outcome, you can believe people whose job it is to make money will not be happy about these regulations.

And lo! Here's someone who is not happy! Daniel Striani, a Belgian agent, has filed suit against UEFA to stop UEFA's implementing FFP, arguing it will unduly restrict his income. Normally, I wouldn't care about a story like this, because agents are not a class of people I'm interested in - until I saw that his lawyer is Jean-Louis Dupont. Dupont, as you may or may not know depending on your longevity as a soccer fan, is the lawyer who represented Jean-Marc Bosman.

In 1995, Bosman served as the Curt Flood of European soccer. He was out of contract, had fallen out of regular first-team contention, and wanted to go to a team where he would play regularly, but his team (Liege, in the Belgian league) did not get an acceptable offer, so they refused to let his rights go and cut Bosman's pay while sticking him in the reserves. Bosman, as you would expect, sued to be made a free agent and won, and as with Flood and Major League Baseball, the Bosman case and its attendant free agency played a large part in ushering in the era of massive player contracts.

So yeah, normally, I wouldn't think much of a challenge to FFP; but with the guy who lawyered free agency into the game in charge I wouldn't rule it out either. I don't think FFP is necessarily the best tool to stop teams spending like newly minted lottery millionaires, but it's something, and something is better than nothing; Dupont and Striani don't agree, and we'll have to wait and see where all this ends up.

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