x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

The gulf between European football's rich and poor clubs getting bigger

Michel Platini, the Uefa president, wants a more level playing field in his club competitions.

The 2011/12 European Champions League has been unusually diverting. The trouble with Uefa's great juggernaut of a tournament is that its unwieldy group stage can easily turn predictable. But this autumn we had surprises, with the pre-Christmas elimination of two English teams and two Spanish ones. Some underdogs also roared, like Apoel of Cyprus.

Michel Platini, the Uefa president, wants a more level playing field in his club competitions. European football's governing body have introduced their Financial Fair Play initiative, they say, partly with that aim. Clubs should spend in relation to what they earn, it urges. It is a laudable principle in an industry so financially immature.

It also runs the risk of taking some romance out of the sport. The difference in, say, television revenues earned by a club from Croatia or Belgium and one from Spain gets bigger and bigger. Higher up the food chain, so does the difference between the TV income of Valencia and that of Real Madrid. If you can only spend as you earn, the rich will more often bully the poor.

Roaring underdogs are part of the sport's appeal. Many of them now only get to roar when a benefactor, ready to plough money in without expecting short-term financial returns, invests in a club.

When that patron is asked 'Why did you splash out on a flashy winger?' and his answer is 'because the fans wanted it' or 'I just love to watch him play', we may think him a dreamer.

If he is then told by Fifa's financial watchdogs, 'Sorry, your projected revenue streams do not justify it,' he may well go off and find himself another hobby.