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Uefa's plans to clamp down on big spending clubs


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Manchester City's bid to dominate English football with overwhelming financial power is under threat from Chelsea. The Stamford Bridge club, despite their own previous extravagance, are backing a proposal that would limit the amount clubs can spend. The Uefa president, Michel Platini, is intent on ensuring that, by 2012, Champions League entrants will be obliged to balance their books. It was telling that Platini named Chelsea's owner as a supporter of the scheme.

Roman Abramovich will be accused of trying to sabotage a competitor who simply wishes to follow his example. City's outlay in this transfer window alone has amounted to £120m. Such splurges used to typify Chelsea when they were aiming for the prominence they have now secured.

"It's mainly the owners that asked us to do something: Roman Abramovich, [Milan's] Silvio Berlusconi, [internazionale's] Massimo Moratti," Platini said. "They do not want to fork out any more.

"Manchester City can spend £300m if they want to but if they are not breaking even in three years then they cannot play in European competition. I haven't spoken to Manchester City about this and I don't remember meeting their owner [sheikh Mansour], but I'm sure I will. Roman Abramovich is a football person and passionate about the game. He loves football. He has come to me and said that we must do something about this."

The oligarch embarked on a long spree after his takeover of Chelsea in 2003. It has been sustained and a loss of £67.5m in the most recent accounts took the overall outlay to almost £700m. But they have circumspection in mind for themselves in future, as well as trust that restrictions can be imposed on City and others.

The Chelsea chief executive, Peter Kenyon, broadly welcomed Platini's stance but added: "The real work is in the detail and those discussions will continue in earnest over the next 12 months. I don't think anyone could disagree with the broad principle." The club is experimenting with relative austerity and has confined itself so far in this transfer window to buying Yuri Zhirkov for £17m.

Uefa has to consider complex factors. It would not, for instance, oppose clubs which laid out great sums to construct a new stadium, as Arsenal have done in going in the region of £400m in debt while building the Emirates and embarking on property development projects.

Uefa's stance towards Manchester United would be intriguing to hear. The accounts for 2007-08 showed debts of £699m, which related to the Glazers' purchase of the club. There are similarities with Tom Hicks's and George Gillett's takeover of Liverpool. This is not, of course, an exclusively Premier League topic. Some analysts estimate that Real Madrid's current transfer spree will take their borrowings to well over £800m.

The Uefa initiative is under the control of its deputy general secretary, Gianni Infantino. He, however, seems to have in mind the increasingly rare sugar daddies who simply pay the bills out of their own pockets. "If you have a sugar daddy it is unhealthy," he said. "The club has to stay on its own legs and generate its own revenue."

While Chelsea officials and many others now share that viewpoint, they also feel that there will be great difficulty in enforcing such a policy. Uefa, too, is aware that, unless there is some flexibility, it could freeze small clubs at their existing levels. In essence, Uefa would be in danger of ensuring that the hierarchy with which we are so acquainted could never come under threat.

There might be no hope in future of the kind of invigorating episode in which Jack Walker could buy Blackburn Rovers, underwrite the acquisition of players such as Alan Shearer, who helped bring the Premier League title to Ewood Park in 1995, and ultimately make good profits on them when they were sold. Infantino hints at a flexible approach that would leave scope for such a story to occur again, but it is hard to tell how such regulations could be drafted.

Platini's stance is simple and indisputable. He is sure that Uefa must act when the financial crisis is felt in all 53 of its member countries. "We are not trying to put down Chelsea, Real Madrid or Manchester United," he said. "It's for all clubs."

The Uefa president also stated that unless Fifa agrees that the 2018 World Cup must be staged in Europe, it would be important for the continent to put forward only one candidate, so as not to split the votes for European option. England, who hope to host that World Cup, may find an additional hurdle in their path.


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