European soccer ruling body UEFA’s regulation that big-spending teams such as Manchester City and Chelsea must come close to breaking even is being challenged by lawyer Jean-Louis Dupont, who successfully overturned rules on player transfers in 1995.
Dupont is representing Daniel Striani, a Brussels-based player agent who lodged a complaint today with the European Commission, claiming the rule breaks competition law, according to a statement from Dupont’s office. The complaint also alleges that the UEFA rules infringe the right to the free movement of capital, workers and services.
The financial rule planned by UEFA would decrease the income of agents by reducing the number of players that clubs hire, and reducing player salaries, according to Dupont’s statement. Dupont represented player Jean-Marc Bosman in 1995 when he successfully challenged a soccer rule that had enabled clubs to demand fees for out-of-contract footballers.
UEFA is introducing “financial fair play” rules to stop clubs outspending rivals on player transfer fees and salaries to achieve success and prize money. The commission, the European Union’s antitrust authority, is likely to give special attention to the complaint because of Dupont’s reputation, according to Stefaan Van den Bogaert, a professor of EU law at Leiden University in the Netherlands.
“My first hunch is that there isn’t a restraint of competition law,” Van den Bogaert said by phone. “Any effect on player agents is too remote.”
The UEFA rules “encourage clubs to ‘live within their own means,’ which is a sound economic principle aiming to guarantee the long-term sustainability and viability of European football,” Nyon, Switzerland-based UEFA said in an e-mailed statement. “UEFA believes that financial fair play is fully in line with EU law and is confident that the European Commission will reject this complaint.”
Under the breakeven rule, clubs with a loss of more than 5 million euros ($6.5 million) last season or this season risk exclusion from next season’s Champions League and Europa League. Clubs can have a loss of up to 45 million euros a season if shareholders cover the loss. The UEFA regulations don’t apply to domestic championships.
In March 2012, EU Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia backed UEFA’s initiative to stop clubs overspending, saying the rules were “essential for clubs to have a solid financial foundation.”
The commission has received the complaint and will assess it, the Brussels-based regulator said by e-mail today. Manchester City, the 2012 champion, is owned by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Chelsea is controlled by Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich. Other big-spending teams include French league leader Paris Saint-Germain, which is owned by the Qatar Investment Authority.