Financial Fair Play not so Fair?

Financial Fair Play not so Fair?

By Legal Weasel, a sometimes controversial contributor to matters of law and morality.


The Legal Weasel had been wondering when the first legal challenge to UEFA’s Financial Fair Play Rules would be made.  The FFP rules, you will recall, are the brainchild of UEFA presudent Michel Platini, and are designed to ensure a “level playing field” between football clubs.  As you might expect for a Carrow Road season ticket holder and long time supporter of Norwich City, the Legal Weasel is all in favour of someone doing something to ensure a level playing field out there: the relegation threatened Canaries certainly suffer from the lack of a level playing field.  Bluntly, most other teams seem to be better than us.  How unfair, how downright unsporting is that?  Level the playing field, says the Legal Weasel, and introduce regulations requiring the referee to take a player or two from the opposition dressing room at half time and loan them to Norwich for the second half in the interests of a level playing field.  Or maybe just tie their legs together to make it a more even contest.   

Monsieur Platini’s regulations however, are all together less radical, and settle for making it illegal for clubs to subsidise their on field performance either by debt or through the largesse of a sugar daddy (or, sugar mummy come to that).  It’s not entirely clear to the Legal Weasel what this has to do with levelling the playing field: are all clubs not equally free to mess up their finances?  Nor is there any clear correlation between getting into debt and success on the football field, as the case study kindly provided by those nice people at QPR demonstrates.  But, anyway, that is Monsieur Platini’s modest aim, and given their (or their sugar daddies’) deep pockets, the Legal Weasel has long anticipated a legal challenge to the regulations from one of the bigger clubs arguing that the proposals infringe their inalienable human right to get into debt / be the plaything of a foreign oligarch.

However, the challenge has in fact come from one Daniel Striani, a football agent, represented by  Jean Louis Dupont.  You may have heard of Dupont.  No, he’s not Paris Saint German’s new right winger.  Monsieur Dupont is a sports lawyer and he has UEFA Champions League form, as it were.  He is the lawyer who represented Jean-Marc Bosman in his successful challenge to UEFA’s restrictions on players’ freedom of movement in 1995.  In this instance, Monsieur Dupont argues that if the Financial Fair Play regulations come into force, there will be fewer transfers, and that those that do take place will take place for lower fees.  As a result, since Senior Striani’s income derives from taking a cut of the deals involving his players, the proposals, according to Monsieur Dupont, affect the most basic human right of all; his client’s right to make a stinking big profit.

Notwithstanding Monsieur Dupont’s past record, the Legal Weasel would counsel any of you who were looking forward to the implementation of the Fair Play regulations not to lose sleep just yet.  Nothing is certain in litigation, and even less so where European Union rules are concerned, but the Legal Weasel’s money would be on Monsieur Dupont’s challenge coming up short on this occasion, for one legal reason and two more practical ones.  The legal reason is that on the whole the European Commission (as opposed to the European Court of Human Rights, which has nothing to do with the EU, despite the inability of most British newspapers to grasp the distinction) tends to be most concerned with restrictions that distort trade or competition of movement between member states.   The Legal Weasel awaits Monsieur Dupont’s submissions with interest, but it’s not immediately obvious that preventing, say, QPR running up a debt in London distorts or otherwise affects the ability of, say, AEK Athens to do run up a debt in Athens.  It is, as m’learned friends are want to say, arguable, of course, but far from clear and in any event the two practical reasons have more force.  

Firstly, Monsieur Dupont appears to have forgotten one of the most basic principles of bringing any kind of test case: choose a sympathetic claimant.  You will know the kind of claimant that fits the bill; someone or something like a doe eyed seal cub, orphaned when its parents were clubbed to death by UEFA officials on a seal clubbing holiday, that never the less narrowly escaped to be raised by an eccentric but loveable childless couple who reared it as their own and educated it to believe in Truth, Justice, and The Principle of Not Distorting Trade between EU Member States.   You may object that there’s not many doe eyed seal cubs with an interest in UEFA’s Financial Fair Play proposals, and the Legal Weasel would concede that there would be some force in the objection but the fact remains that it’s hard to get much further from a doe eyed seal cub than a football agent claiming that his right to profit has been infringed.  Couldn’t Monsieur Dupont have found someone a bit more, well, likeable?

The second practical objection has even more force.  Monsieur Platini is friends with Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, and visited him for dinner before announcing his Fair Play proposals.  Now, to us Brits, this might seem, well, not altogether proper, but the Legal Weasel is assured by his European Weasel cousins that on the continent it’s considered a perfectly acceptable form of jurisprudence.  So, the level playing field would seem rather tilted against Monsieur Dupont’s challenge.

In the interests of fairness, balance and, indeed, level playing fields, the Legal Weasel would however urge opponents of Monsieur Platini’s game changing measures to sleep soundly too.  They may survive Monsieur Dupont’s challenge, but by the time m’learned friends have got hold of them, they won’t make a lot of difference.   “No, No ,Your Honour.   That wasn’t a transfer payment made on behalf of the club, no, not at all.  It was in fact an unconnected payment made by the President of the Football Club’s long lost uncle, and it had nothing to do with the transfer at all.  It was actually a payment for the naming rights to the player’s goldfish“.  

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose, as they say at UEFA.



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About Legal Weasel
A sometimes controversial contributor to matters of law and morality.

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