Soccerex Global Convention 2017: Notes from day three

7 September 2017 |
After day two of the Soccerex Global Convention kicked off with a discussion about performance-enhancing substances, the third and final day got underway with the always-entertaining La Liga president Javier Tebas tackling so-called “financial doping”.

Peeing off the diving board

While the issue has been live in the industry for a while - particularly since the advent of the ‘Abramovic era’ in 2004, when the Russian oligarch Roman Abramovic purchased Premier League side Chelsea and led them on a theretofore precedented spending spree - it has returned with a vengeance this summer in the shape of Qatari-owned Paris Saint-Germain. The French Ligue 1 runners-up reacted to missing out on the title for the first time in five years by lavishing more than twice the existing world transfer record on Brazilian star Neymar from Barcelona, paying his release clause of €222 million, and then followed that up with a €160 million deal - to be paid next summer – to sign Kylian Mbappé from Monaco, the team that beat them to last season’s championship.

In Tebas’ eyes, PSG’s actions flagrantly flaunt financial fair play (FFP) regulations, set in place by the European confederation Uefa to prevent teams spending more than a set proportion of their revenues. “It is like we have caught PSG peeing in the swimming pool,” said Tebas in the day’s most headline-worthy quote. “And now Neymar, he is standing on the diving board and peeing in.”

Tebas, of course, has a vested interest in undermining PSG’s transfer activity, particularly after they have signed one of his league’s biggest and most marketable players from one of its two biggest and most marketable teams.

“What happens when money comes into PSG and Manchester City?” he asked the crowd. “Inflation of wages. It's not just in football, this happens everywhere:  more money drives prices. And when it happens in our league, Real Madrid and Barcelona say, ‘We need more money then,’ because they have to keep up with the levels of spending elsewhere.”

While Tebas’ words will strike many as disingenuous - he remained unsurprisingly silent while Real Madrid and Barcelona were spending upwards of €80 million a man on the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Luis Suárez - he acknowledged this to an extent, claiming that the money spent by those clubs was acquired “naturally”.

“Our clubs are growing at normal level, they don't have financial doping,” he said. “There is a risk when you have nations putting money into football. We need to do an analysis of several seasons, not just this season. There will be an effect where the small leagues will not grow and that will damage the big leagues and there will be a deconstruction of the game.”

Asked by the moderator, Sky Sports’ David Garrido, whether the likes of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo could be next to go, Tebas was bullish but once again couldn’t resist a swipe at the source of PSG’s wealth.

“The buyouts on Messi and Cristiano are very high,” he said. “But if Nasser [Al-Khelaifi, chairman and chief executive of Paris Saint-German] wants, he can open the gas and buy them. PSG are paying the gas market price, not a football market price. Maybe PSG can sustain these prices, no one else can.”

Calling for a full investigation into PSG’s transfer activities, Tebas claimed that soccer has failed to view itself sufficiently as an industry, noting that “when a telecommunications company spots something irregular, they take it to the courts, and that is a sign of a maturity of the industry. Sometimes we have a problem that we don’t recognise football as an industry.

“We need to open up a file, it needs to be investigated,” he added. “It’s not because PSG took a player from Barcelona, it’s because it’s destabilising the whole industry and the economic structure of the Spanish league, and the Portuguese and Dutch and Swedish. This is going to damage the industry.”

FFP rules are inadequate, he said, because the rules are applied after a transgression, rather than preventing them from taking place.

“When you sanction them, the damage has already been done and what we need to do is avoid this damage,” Tebas explained. “If they get a punishment in two years, how will that help me now? We didn’t like the FFP system because it is applied a posteriori; we need to carry out a priori control. Next week, we’re going to have a meeting and explain what the salary should be for each club in line with their income streams. We don’t want to see income streams coming from areas that are not desirable.”

To conclude, Tebas ran with the telecoms analogy, observing that ten years ago the iPhone was launched and transformed an entire industry. The world of soccer, he said, “is still using ten-year-old phones.  We need new phones and a new football industry.”

Esports and branding

One of the biggest features of the convention floor at Soccerex was a giant LED screen on which delegates were invited to play the EA Sports videogame Fifa 17.

The topic of Fifa was inevitably raised again during a panel on esports and its growing relationship with the wider soccer world - with Colin Johnson, head of Fifa at Fnatic predicting that 75 to 80 per cent of all major soccer clubs will have an esports team within the next few years - but it also came up during a session on maximizing brand value, featuring Brighton and Hove Albion chief executive Paul Barber.

“One of those intangible benefits we didn’t think about when getting promoted into the Premier League,” said Barber, “was that now we’re fully featured in Fifa for the first time. Our stadium is rendered in the game, all our players, and that provides an incredible branding opportunity.

“Kids are coming up to me in cafes and high-fiving me. And that’s not because I helped get the club into the Premier League, it’s because we’re on Fifa!”

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