GENEVA — In another European summer of lavish transfer deals, it can seem that UEFA has given up trying to curb clubs’ excessive spending.
Skeptics question AC Milan’s €200 million ($240m) spree and how Paris Saint-Germain could squeeze a €220m ($258m) pursuit of Barcelona’s Neymar by the UEFA rules.
Don’t believe it, says the “Financial Fair Play” project leader monitoring hundreds of clubs’ accounts since 2011.
“Certainly FFP is not dead and we will, for sure, reinforce the rules going forward,” Andrea Traverso told The Associated Press at UEFA headquarters.
Luxury taxes and salary caps once dismissed as unworkable in Europe are again talked about. UEFA could start evaluating club debts and make competitive balance a formal goal.
“We have continuous dialogue with the clubs. They are all aware of the rules,” Traverso said, noting Champions League regular Porto was sanctioned last month.
After Porto overspent on first-team budget targets, UEFA deducted €700,000 ($820,000) prize money and limited the squad to 22 instead of 25 senior players in this season’s competition.
UEFA’s independent club finance panel praised the 27-time Portuguese champion’s “realistic financial and business plan,” and expects compliance by 2020.
Still, do clubs ignore the scrutiny that goes with entering UEFA competitions?
Milan’s new Chinese owners, who needed American equity fund cash, spent heavily on players after six years without a Serie A title.
“I’m so upset at UEFA. It’s a joke,” Roma president James Pallotta told the AP about Milan’s offseason. “They don’t have the money.”
Recent Milan spending outweighs its €217m ($254m) revenue in 2015, according to a UEFA review of club accounts.
However, UEFA cannot stop clubs buying, while Milan can use August and January trading periods to balance their books.
“Milan will not be an exception to Financial Fair Play, because no club enjoys an exception,” Traverso said. “All clubs are free to operate on the market but then they might face consequences if they do not operate according to the rules.”
Milan’s case is unusual because they had no FFP assessment for three years. A Europa League qualifying match on Thursday was their first UEFA game since March 2014. New club officials will meet UEFA in October to explore a “voluntary agreement” on financial targets.
It continues Milan’s interesting history with the UEFA project. In 2009, then-UEFA President Michel Platini cited lobbying by owners, including Milan’s Silvio Berlusconi, to limit clubs spending only to what they earned.
Critics said it protected elite clubs with global income, and blocked ambitious clubs with wealthy owners.
When UEFA rules took full effect in 2014, Qatar-owned PSG and Abu Dhabi-owned Manchester City were hardest hit. Both had €20m ($23.4m) deducted.
By 2015, Milan was slumping when UEFA offered to be sympathetic with clubs which had an affordable business plan. This helped clubs to woo buyers, including Chinese investors who now own Milan and city rival Inter.
As the $800m Milan sale was sealed in April, PSG and Man City completed periods of stricter UEFA monitoring. Both clubs are high in UEFA’s revenue-earning list with more than €460m ($540m), and are major transfer-market players.
PSG’s chase of Neymar could double the world-record price Manchester United paid for Paul Pogba.
UEFA never barred PSG or Man City from the Champions League, as Platini warned could happen to a top club.
Instead, clubs like Dynamo Moscow, Galatasaray and Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk, the 2015 Europa League runner-up, have missed one season in the second-tier competition.
UEFA points out that losses across European top-tier clubs totaled €1.7 billion ($2 billion) in 2011 and are now about €300m ($352m).
Juventus are a model club. They have won six straight Italian titles, reached two Champions League finals, and funded a new stadium to raise income and close the gap on Spanish and English clubs’ huge global earnings.
UEFA’s Traverso insisted: “FFP is definitely not over.”