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Why financial doping penalties won’t affect Fiorentina

Even though it sounds like UEFA may be preparing to bring the hammer down on Serie A next, the Viola don’t really stand to benefit.

Parma Calcio v Udinese Calcio - Serie A
€22 million man
Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images

Fresh off banning Manchester City’s from the Champions League for the next two years due to Financial Fair Play—a ban which is unlikely to survive intact through what promises to be a lengthy and litigious set of appeals—Gazzetta dello Sport claims in an exclusive report that UEFA isn’t finished flexing its muscles and could have Serie A in its sights. Specifically, the Milan-based rag claims that the governing body is going to look at falsely reported transfer fees. Since the financial side of the game can be a little bit confusing and/or stupefying (as it probably should be), here’s our take on it.

Okay, I’ll bite. What’s this GdS report?

Per GdS’ reporting, Serie A teams registered profits of €2.673 billion on player sales between the 2013-2014 and 2017-2018 seasons. That’s in the same neighborhood as the Premier League (€2.686 billion)—despite the much larger budgets and more frequent churn in personnel England possesses—and miles ahead of the Bundesliga (€2.161 billion) and La Liga (€1.815 billion).

Wait, that’s boring and I don’t get why it matters.

We’ll start with a very brief refresher on FFP. If a club wishes to play in European competitions (the Champions or Europa Leagues), it can’t spend more than it’s earned in the past 3 seasons. Violations can lead to a variety of punishments: Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, and Chelsea have all faced transfer bans, while AC Milan “chose” not to compete in the Europa League this season as they weren’t in compliance with the regulations. Similarly, Man City’s 2-year ban punishes the ownership group for pumping cash into the club via image rights, sponsorships, and other financial tools.

These regulations only really hit the better teams in a league, as a team that has no hope of playing in Europe wouldn’t worry about a European ban. For the big teams, however, the pressure of earning extra money from Champions or Europa League money to offset player purchases is considerable, especially after buying a big-name player or missing out on continental competitions for a year.

Cool. So what’s that got to do with Italy?

Let’s return to the GdS report. Certain big clubs in Italy sell players for massive fees to mid- and lower-table clubs every year. It would be very easy for one of these big teams to claim that it had sold a player for €22 million, say, while actually taking a much smaller payment from the smaller club and making up the difference with a cash injection from the bigger club’s owner. It’s in all parties’ best interest to allow this to happen: the big team raises the money it needs to meet FFP regulations, the smaller team gets a good player for a reasonable amount, and the player gets a move to a club where he can play regularly. It’s a clever form of financial doping that creative bookkeeping could well conceal entirely, but UEFA could well lean on someone hard enough until a confession leaks out.

Okay, maybe that’d be fun. So who’s gonna get the hammer?

Who do you think? Leonardo Spinazzola for €29.5 million. Emil Audero for €20 million. Stefano Sturaro for €16.5 million. Alberto Cerri for €9 million. Mattia Caldara for €35 million. Rolando Mandragora for €20 million. Andrea Favilli for €12 million. Those are all hysterical fees that Juventus has collected for various castoffs, flameouts, and projects in just the past two years.

AS Roma are also in the hotseat following a famous €150 million plusvalenza last year, although that honestly seems more like Monchi’s incompetence than anything nefarious. Inter Milan are also a possible target for investigation, what with the deals for Zinho Vanheusden, Xian Emmers, Andrea Pinamonti, George Puscas, and Yann Karamoh, none of whom managed to come close to impressing in the first team and still netted the Nerazzurri nearly €60 million.

Yeah, I’ll watch all of them squirm and maybe even get punished. But what does it mean for Fiorentina?

As far as we can tell, it doesn’t mean diddly for two reasons. First and most obvious, the Viola aren’t in contention for a European spot right now. 13th place doesn’t cut the mustard, and seeing as how Rocco’s focus seems to be success through sustainability, that means he probably won’t spend astronomical fees on players, especially as he works to get a stadium deal done. While the 3-year FFP window allows for a little bit of wiggle room, that doesn’t seem to be Rocco’s style from what we can tell.

Second, if you’re a Fiorentina fan, you’ve got a healthy dose of cynicism baked into your worldview, particularly where certain other Serie A teams are concerned, and for very good reason. If you think that any punishment Juventus absorbs would wind up exceeding a 1-window transfer ban, we’ve got some beachfront property in Scandicci to sell you.

Well, that’s a little bit of a downer to end on.

Hi, have you met Fiorentina?