LEADERS 2014: Infantino on European football’s big questions

UEFA General Secretary Gianni Infantino addressed several of the biggest issues facing European football today at the Leaders Sport Business Summit, and backed some of the federation’s big policies, including financial fair play and the expanded Euro tournament.

‘FFP is changing club behaviour’

Infantino said a meeting is taking place at UEFA’s Nyon headquarters next Monday between Michel Platini and Europe’s major clubs to discuss how to advance the impact of Financial Fair Play.

“It is working, and has taken hold,” he said. “It is in the head of everyone involved in football. Football clubs are now thinking ‘I cannot do whatever I like because of FFP’. We can see the result of this in the figures. When we started three years ago the overdue payables was €57m, today it is €9m.

“A journalist once told me that we are not going to win the Nobel peace prize for FFP, as it basically boils down to a principle of not spending what you don’t earn. You don’t have to be Einstein to come up with that.

“That said, it works. We analyse more than 700 clubs’ accounts every year and we know that people are thinking differently now.

“In 2009, wages increased by 14 per cent, and revenue by 3 per cent. This year the wages increased by 4 per cent, and the revenue by 7 per cent. This happened for the first time.”

‘Euro expansion is generating excitement’

UEFA will increase their European Championships from 16 to 24 teams for Euro 2016, and reaction in some quarters has been that it will lead to a greater number of non-competitive qualifier matches.

"This is one of the criticisms we have received," he said. "However, the effect of all the European teams suddenly feeling as though have a chance of qualifying is an exciting new dynamic. We have already seen some amazing results in the first round with Cyprus and others. It creates a whole new dynamic and makes it more interesting to see.

"This is in line with UEFA's stance to continue developing football in Europe. You don't just do that in a couple of countries but everywhere. The quality of football is there in Europe for this to work."

‘League of Nations improves international match structure’

At Leaders 2013, UEFA revealed its plan for the rejuvenation of national team football through the UEFA Nations League.

In the competition, the 54 member associations will be divided into four groups based on coefficient rankings. These groups will then be further divided into playing pools of either three or four teams. The teams in each pool play each other home and away between September and December of the season in question, with the group winners either qualifying for the final four competitions or gaining promotion. The bottom sides face relegation from their division. In addition, the UEFA Nations League will provide teams with another chance to qualify for the Euro finals tournament.

Sounds simple? No? Well, the general reaction from the football family has been confusion. ECA (European Clubs Association) Chair Karl Heinz Ruminegge has said it may lead to saturation in international football.

"What the Nations League does is to structure the calendar in a far better way," Infantino said. "For the clubs this means that when their players go away on international duty, they are now coming back one or two days earlier than before. I think we are reaching a balance in a much better way now.

"There is an interest for the qualifiers, but the interest in the friendlies is waning," he said. "By setting up the UEFA Nations League and a ranking, you create something the players can play for that means something.

"It is really a win-win situation for us."

‘Desire exists to fight match-fixing’

The issue of match-fixing is the number one problem facing football at present following the revelations about fixer Wilson Raj Perumal, suggesting matches are fixed all around the world.

"The problem is that the co-operation at international level is complicated, as every federation is looking after their own interests," Infantino said. "However, when we have called them to come together and discuss, everyone came, so that tells you the desire is there to fight this.

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