Remember this summer, when Fiorentina, fresh off a late-season collapse, suddenly booked a ticket into the Europa League due to AC Milan’s atrocious financial violations resulted in a UEFA ban? Then remember how the Rossoneri appealed after being bought out by a hedge fund and got that UEFA ban overturned, booting the Viola from continental competition again? Four months later, some of the details have emerged, via the always interesting Calcio e Finanza, and they’re exactly what you’d expect.
I’m not going to bother translating both articles in their entirety because just thinking about this whole thing again makes me want to curl up for a nap, so I’ll just hit some of the, er, high points. The original ban centered around 5 concerns from UEFA: lack of confidence in the club’s business plan, the uncertainty around refinancing, the risk of a forced change in club ownership, the loss of continuity at the management, and a negative forecast of future financial results.
Milan’s response, masterminded by the Elliott Management, which has been widely described as a vulture fund (that’s not generally a great thing), was to assert that UEFA had taken less drastic action against the likes of Manchester City, PSG, and Inter Milan. All of those cases, however, were violations of Financial Fair Play rather than systemic failures at club level, according to UEFA.
A large part of the problem was that Milan’s plans to reestablish solvency required qualification for the Europa League this year, the Champions League next year, and a run to the Champions League quarterfinals a year after that. UEFA argued that these simply weren’t realistic goals and that the Rossoneri shouldn’t count on that sort of income, especially when already relying on a massive jump in advertising revenue from China.
The change in ownership was apparently the biggest cause of the Court of Arbitration for Sport’s, or TAS’s, decision to overturn the original UEFA ban. While TAS didn’t find Milan entirely faultless—the violations are somewhere in the neighborhood of €30 million that wasn’t accounted for—the board was unable to decide on an appropriate penalty and referred it back to UEFA for a postponed adjudication; knowing UEFA, that will wind up being a fine of roughly $3.50.
Okay. Now that my soul is blanketed with exhaustion just from typing that out, I’m going to briefly editorialize on this whole catch-22. Considering that one of Milan’s main arguments was that Man City didn’t get banned from continental competition for committing a similar offense, I’d like to emit a few bitter laughs (followed by tears and beers) that Der Spiegel is currently exposing the Citizens’ absolutely mindblowingly bad financial processes in a multipart expose that is well worth your time. When your argument is “yeah, but they did it too,” and “they” are in the midst of one of the most wide-ranging financial scandals in recent history (and believe me, Fiorentina fans know a thing or two about financial scandals hitting the team), there’s a certain amount of dark humor that you can’t help but chuckle/grimace at.
The long and short of this City case, and the Milan case, and leaked European Super League talks, and all the other execrable things that happen at the top level of football, is simple: a club’s lack of ethics, its lack of decency, its lack of respect for the fans/players/smaller teams/health of the sport, is more or less directly proportional to the club’s size.
Fiorentina is a pretty big club and thus has a pretty big lack of these things; the Della Valles trying to build their own stadium so that they can squeeze more money from fans and the city is a good example. If the Viola had the pedigree and the absolutely filthy piles of cash necessary, they would almost certainly be in on the talks with all these other jackanapes. Sometimes, it feels like this sport wants to take everything away from you. And most of the time when you feel that way, you’re not entirely wrong.