Does the Champions League have FFP?

Unlike the big North American sports leagues which are all controlled by a central body, like the NBA or the NFL, European Football is a complex group of national FA’s and Leagues, all falling under the umbrella of UEFA, to compete in competitions such as the UEFA Champions League. With this in mind it is difficult to enforce one set of rules that covers all clubs. However, for any team wishing to compete in a UEFA competition, it is these Financial Fair Play rules they should most seek to adhere to.

Does the Champions League have FFP? The Champions League is the elite European Football club competition, it falls under the umbrella of UEFA and is therefore subject to the UEFA Financial Fair Play rules. Revamped for the 2023-24 season, the UEFA FFP regulations are known as the Financial Sustainability and Club Licensing Regulations (FSCLR).

As you would expect the full UEFA FFP regulations are complex and hard to digest. Clubs employ export accountants, lawyers and finance teams to navigate them. In the following article we look to explore the parts that should matter to fans and explain it in a language anyone can understand. (wish us luck!)

When did UEFA introduce FFP?

The UEFA Financial Fair Play Regulations were agreed to and announced in 2009, coming into effect for the 2011-12 European Football season. At the time the UEFA President  was Michel Platini. His statement read:

“Fifty per cent of clubs are losing money and this is an increasing trend. We needed to stop this downward spiral. They have spent more than they have earned in the past and haven’t paid their debts. We don’t want to kill or hurt the clubs; on the contrary, we want to help them in the market. The teams who play in our tournaments have unanimously agreed to our principles. Living within your means is the basis of accounting but it hasn’t been the basis of football for years now. The owners are asking for rules because they can’t implement them themselves – many of them have had it with shoveling money into clubs and the more money you put into clubs, the harder it is to sell at a profit.”

A clear mission statement that aimed at creating a fair playing field so that clubs could compete and live within their own financial means. It did not seek out to limit wealthier clubs benefitting on the pitch from the fact they had more money to spend. Its purpose was clearly to stop clubs with rich owners injecting so much money, other clubs had to take serious financial risks just to keep pace. Football should exist on the money it is capable of generating itself.

Despite broad approval across Europe, the European Club Association succeeded in delaying the full introduction of UEFA’s FFP regulations to give clubs time to adjust. This was changed to a phased implementation over five years. This meant the full set of FFP rules would come into force in 2015 instead of 2012. Clubs also rejected a proposal by UEFA that the new rule should only apply to clubs with a turnover of more than €50 million. UEFA agreed that all clubs competing in UEFA competitions should follow the same rules, regardless of financial turnover.

The 2022-23 season was the last one under the original UEFA FFP rules. Starting with the 2023-24 season a re-worked set of rules came into effect, known as the Financial Sustainability and Club Licensing Regulations (FSCLR).

Does UEFA’s FFP work?

Between its initial partial activation in 2012 and the COVID Pandemic setting in early 2020 UEFA’s FFP rules became an increasingly forceful presence in European Football. Taking 29 Actions against 27 clubs, Turkish side Trabzonspor was the only repeat offender falling foul on 3 separate occasions. We have compiled a full list below.

21/12/2012Vojvodinafined €10,000
21/12/2012Arsenal Kyivfined €45,000
21/12/2012Osijekfined €100,000
21/12/2012Dinamo Bucureștifined €100,000
21/12/2012Rapid Bucureștifined €100,000 Missed deadline to pay outstanding payments and was handed a one-season ban from European competition
21/12/2012Hajduk Splitfined €40,000 Withheld prize money for not paying outstanding payments
31/03/2013Malagafined €300,000 and handed a one-season ban from European competition
20/09/2013Astra Ploieștiwithheld prize money for not paying outstanding payments
20/09/2013Metalurh Donetskwithheld prize money for not paying outstanding payments Handed a one-season ban from European competition and fined €80,000
20/09/2013Skontowithheld prize money for not paying outstanding payments Handed a one-season ban from European competition and fined €40,000
20/09/2013Trabzonsporwithheld prize money for not paying outstanding payments
20/09/2013Zrinjski Mostarwithheld prize money for not paying outstanding payments
20/12/2013Petrolul Ploieștifined €50,000 and handed a one -season ban from European competition
20/12/2013Pandurii Târgu Jiufined €40,000
20/12/2013Śląsk Wrocławfined €20,000
16/05/2014Anzhi Makhachkalafined €2 million of which €1 million was suspended. Squad for UEFA competitions reduced to 21 players and one-year squad salary restrictions imposed and one-year squad salary restrictions imposed
16/05/2014Bursasporfined €200,000 and one-year squad salary restrictions imposed
16/05/2014Galatasarayfined €200,000 and one-year squad salary restrictions imposed
16/05/2014Levski Sofiafined €200,000 and one-year squad salary restrictions imposed
16/05/2014Rubin Kazanfined €6 million of which €3 million was suspended. Squad for UEFA competitions reduced to 21 players and transfer spending restrictions and two-year squad salary restrictions imposed
16/05/2014Trabzonsporfined €200,000 and one-year squad salary restrictions imposed
16/05/2014Zenit Saint Petersburgfined €12 million fine of which €6 million was suspended. Squad for UEFA competitions reduced to 22 players and transfer spending restrictions and two-year squad salary restrictions were imposed
16/05/2014Paris Saintfind €60 million, of which €40 million was suspended. Squad for UEFA competitions reduced to 21 players, and transfer spending restrictions and two-year squad salary restrictions imposed
16/05/2014Manchester Cityfined €60 million of which €40 million was suspended. Squad for UEFA competitions reduced to 21 players and transfer spending restrictions and two-year squad salary restrictions imposed
20/05/2016Astanafined €2 million of which €1.5 million was suspended. Squad for UEFA competitions reduced to 22 players and transfer spending restrictions imposed. Required to break even by 2018 (May 20
20/05/2016Dinamo Zagrebfined €200,000 Squad for UEFA competitions reduced to 23 players and required to break even by 2016
20/05/2016Fenerbahçefined €7.5 million of which €5.5 million was suspended. Squad for UEFA competitions reduced to 22 players. Transfer spending restrictions imposed required to reach a defined employee benefit expenses to revenue ratio
20/05/2016Trabzonsporfined €2 million of which €1 million was suspended. Squad for UEFA competitions reduced to 22 players. Transfer spending restrictions imposed required to reach a defined employee benefit expenses to revenue ratio
28/06/2019AC Milanbanned from European competitions for a year
2020COVIDThe global COVID Pandemic restricted FFP activity across Football

The most common sanction was a fine, which ranged anywhere from €10,000 (Vojvodina) to €60 million (Man City & PSG). Six clubs received one season bans from European competition;

  • Rapid București
  • Malaga
  • Metalurh Donetsk
  • Skonto
  • Petrolul Ploiești
  • AC Milan

Other powers that UEFA reserved and wielded included;

  • Squad size restrictions for UEFA competitions
  • Squad Salary restrictions for UEFA Competitions
  • Transfer spending restrictions for UEFA competitions

The imposition of these sanctions were not always smooth sailing. Manchester City were initially reported to have been handed a 2 season ban from UEFA competitions, however after numerous legal appeals this ban was rescinded with the only sanction of any significance being a fine. Similarly AC Milan’s 1 season ban was negotiated to fall in a season where they were only competing in the Europa League, so they did not miss out on the larger Champions League money during their ban.

Partly as a result of this and partly in order to keep FFP fit for purpose, UEFA have revamped their FFP regulations for the coming 2023-24 season.

What is different about UEFA FFP for 2023-24?

UEFA’s rebranding and re-launching of their FFP rules is more than just cosmetic. They are reacting to almost a decade of data, what has been effective, what loopholes clubs are exploiting and where they need to fortify or abandon rules.

The new FFP rules, known as FInancial Sustainability and Club Licensing Regulations (FSCLR), are built on 3 pillars.;

  • Solvency
  • Stability
  • Cost Control

As an introduction to the changes UEFA have put out the following information about the coming changes.

“Since the financial regulations for clubs in UEFA competitions were first introduced in June 2010, there has been an extraordinary improvement in the finances of European clubs at all levels. Overdue payables (payables to football clubs, employees, social/tax authorities, and UEFA) have been all but wiped out. Club finances have been turned around: in 2009, net losses across Europe’s top division clubs stood at €1.6 billion. By 2018, that had been transformed to a profit of €140 million.

But COVID-19 has had a negative impact on clubs’ finances given the loss of operating revenues, inflexible wage costs, and a collapse of player transfer profits such that top-division clubs suffered losses of €7 billion.

New improved financial solutions were needed to deal with this new reality, and the reality that the European football industry has evolved since 2010 with greater globalization and technological innovation.”

Sustainability of finances and room to invest in growth for the future are the key mandates these rules set out with. The three pillars can be expanded to the following; no overdue payables rule (solvency), the football earnings rule (stability), and the squad cost rule (cost control).

Below we get into the details of each one to understand how FFP will impact clubs competing in UEFA competitions, like the Champions League from 2023-24 onwards.

Stability and the football earnings rule is aimed at strengthening what was already in place. Seen as an evolution of the existing ‘break-even requirements’. Changes to the calculation of acceptable deviation now encourage equity contributions rather than debt.

It has always been part of FFP that investment in football projects that enhance the club going forward such as infrastructure, youth development and women’s football could be removed from the profit and loss of a club before UEFA reviewed its finances to assess if they had “broken even”. The requirements are now strengthened in that a club’s costs of football investments must now be covered with existing equity or contributions from the owners, rather than debt.

The acceptable deviation, which was how much money a club could lose in any given reporting period and still be inside the FFP regulations, has increased from €30 million over three years to €60 million over three years. This can be increased by up to €10 million for each of the 3 years for clubs showing good financial health. This means that a well run club could lose up to €90 million over 3 years and still be inside UEFA’s new FFP rules.

Cost control and the squad cost rule is the closest thing to a North American salary cap that European football has seen. Clubs will be subject to squad cost controls for the first time. The cost control rule will eventually restrict to 70% of club revenues, spending on;

  • Player wages
  • Coach wages
  • Transfers
  • Agent fees

This will see a gradual implementation, starting at 90% in 2023-24, 80% in 2024-25, and finally reaching 70% in 2025-26. This requirement aims to limit the market inflation of wages and transfer costs of players. While it is different to a traditional “salary cap” as there is no single figure Clubs have to work towards, it has the same goal of preventing transfer fees and player wages escalating to a point that bankrupts even the biggest of clubs. Clubs must find a way to compete within their own means, rather than leveraging debt or relying on angel investors.

UEFA has also said the rules will place a greater emphasis on up-to-date financial information, particularly in the summer transfer window before the UEFA club competitions commence. This is an attempt to prevent the corruption of on field competition, with the winners being sanctioned months or years after claiming a trophy while in breach of FFP rules and then long legal battles taking place. UEFA wants to know at the time of Kick Off that both sides on the field have been constructed within the FFP rules they have all agreed to by entering the competition.

Solvency and no overdue payables rule is aimed at the protection of creditors to ensure better solvency and protect the integrity of UEFA competitions. By forcing clubs to commit to having their payments up to date, historic debt won’t be able to cloud the issue of FFP compliance.

All payables to football clubs, employees, social/tax authorities, and UEFA due to be settled by 30th June, 30th September and 31st December during the season must be settled by 15th July, 15 October, and 15 January respectively. If a club has payments that have been overdue for more than 90 days, the UEFA Club Financial Control Body will consider this as an aggravating factor when assessing what penalties to hand out in the event of a FFP breach.

To summarize what Clubs need to focus on the compete within the FFP rules in UEFA competitions;

  • Pay all bills on time and give accurate in season financial updates to UEFA as required.
  • Cover spending on football development projects like infrastructure, academies and women’s football with equity or guaranteed money from ownership.
  • Adhere to the 70% Squad Cost control rule by spending less than 70% of club revenue on Player wages, Coach wages, Transfers and Agent fees.
  • Stay within the specified €60 million P&L loss over three years, excluding football development projects. (can increase to €90 million for financially sound clubs)


What Loopholes have clubs found in UEFAs Financial Fair Play (FFP)?

Like the rules of any good sport, tacticians will find ways to bend the rules to their advantage or even push them past breaking point, causing the rules to need a good rewrite. That is no different in the world of law or finance where FFP exists. A game within the game.

The most mercilessly deployed loophole is the legal system itself. When Manchester City faced a lengthy 2 year ban from the Champions League that would have probably torn their squad apart, they appealed through the courts. Spending vast amounts of money on legal teams to frustrate any decision the football authorities may have made. A big part of the updated UEFA FFP rules are to get a more real time view of club finances, so that decisions can be made earlier with the aim of preventing long court battles.

Another big loophole has been capital gains inflation. Focusing largely on Italian Clubs, but particularly Juventus, clubs have been completing player transfers with over inflated values in both directions. This means that while not much money actually changes hands, the value of assets sold and received is much higher than their market value. Making the clubs books, temporarily at least, look much better and potentially just creeping inside UEFA’s FFP.

The Juventus case is currently being dragged out through the courts and all signs are that they are going to take a 1 year ban from UEFA competition. Following last seasons (eventual) deduction of 10 points, they only finished high enough to make the Conference League, so are pushing to take the coming ban now to avoid missing out in future seasons when they expect to be competing in the Champions League. This tactic in itself is another small loophole, recently exploited by AC Milan in 2019.

Hand in hand with this practice is player amortization and the lengthening of contracts. We’ve covered Amortization in detail here. To summarize when a club spends money on a player, the transfer fee doesn’t all report in that financial year. It is spread out over the length of the contract. So if a player is purchased for £100 million and signs a 5 year contract, the clubs financials will show a £20 million loss each year until the contract has expired or the player is sold on.

The amortization loophole is where clubs sign a player to a longer contract than they would otherwise plan to. While this does hold some risk, usually it is mitigated by the way the players wages are structured and potential players opt out clauses. Signing a player to a longer contract, say 10 years. Would spread the cost out over a longer period of time, meaning the immediate and yearly hit on a clubs financials is dampened significantly.

Another big loophole is sponsorship. Manchester City have been accused of this. Wealthy owners often have access to other businesses that can quite legitimately sponsor a club. This is a great way of putting wealth into a club. The issue that has arisen is the value of these sponsorship deals. UEFA and the Premier League in particular have rules in place to assess the fair market value of all contracts a club signs up to. So if a company owned by the owner of a football club sponsors them 10x what would usually be the going rate, there is some legal recourse to block this deal. Again, keeping football finances sustainable.

Whatever laws and rules football bodies introduce, clubs will find ways to work around them, but as the rules get tighter and the enforcement stronger, eventually the rules will be solid enough to deliver what they are mandated to deliver.

Is UEFA’s FFP more important than the Premier Leagues?

This goes for all domestic leagues in Europe. The goal is to mirror the rules UEFA has in place as closely as possible. Many clubs ultimate aim is to compete in and win the Champions League. It is very important therefore that local league restrictions are not so much over UEFA’s that it prevents it’s own teams from being able to match other nations’ clubs equally on the field of play. At the same time, they can’t be so lenient that they hand a big advantage to clubs in the same league that are not competing in Europe that year. The third thing these rules should aim to do is ensure that the rules account for local customs and requirements. The Premier League in particular is a juggernaut that sits on top of a large football pyramid. It is important that the big league works well with the lower leagues around it to allow growth and development at all levels of the game. Read about the Premier Leagues FFP rules here.

For big clubs, ultimately the UEFA rules on FFP will always be the most important to them.


Life long Portsmouth Fan and have followed football since 1993. Is there a better sport on earth?

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