UEFA sets rules to curb soccer clubs' spending

NYON, Switzerland (AP) — UEFA passed rules designed to curb European soccer clubs' excessive spending and end an era of so-called "financial doping."

UEFA's ruling executive agreed Thursday to set limits on wealthy club owners subsidizing losses incurred by paying high transfer fees and salaries.

Europe's soccer authority wants clubs to break even by spending only what they earn from soccer-related income — or face being barred from playing in the Champions League.

UEFA president Michel Platini said the new financial fair play regime was "not to punish (clubs), but to protect them."

"This approval today is the start of an important journey for European football's club finances as we begin to put stability and economic common sense back into football," Platini said in a statement.

Platini has said clubs were "cheating" by spending recklessly to chase success, and feared others would go out of business with unsustainable debts.

Last offseason, Real Madrid borrowed from banks before spending $310 million on a host of talent, including Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka and Xabi Alonso.

In England, the 20 Premier League clubs have been carrying a collective debt of $5.1 billion.

The Premier League issued a joint statement with England's Football Association backing UEFA in its "difficult task."

The English bodies "are fully supportive of the principle of sustainability and of football clubs living within their means," it said.

Under UEFA's new rules, owners will be allowed to cover losses of up to a maximum of $55 million over an initial three-year period starting in 2012. In the three years from 2015, just $37 million in losses can be covered.

The bailouts would only be allowed with "committed funds" of capital and not by borrowing, UEFA head of club licensing Andrea Traverso said.

Clubs without a wealthy patron would be allowed $6.1 million in losses over three years.

Accounts will be examined by a UEFA panel of financial and legal experts, chaired by former Belgium Prime Minister Jean-Luc Dehaene.

Traverso said UEFA could first bar clubs from the Champions League in the 2014-15 season. UEFA currently distributes over $856 million each season among the 32 clubs competing in the group stage of the world's most lucrative club competition.

Traverso said clubs could adjust their business model before first being judged on their 2012 financial reports, but monitoring would start immediately.

"They will already be warned or advised if they are moving in the wrong direction," he said, adding that clubs should aim to spend no more than 75 percent of revenue on player costs.

UEFA will publish detailed rules next month, with some taking effect immediately. Clubs will face sanctions if they fail to pay salaries on time or fall behind settling transfer payments to rival clubs.

To encourage clubs to develop their own players, UEFA has set no limits on clubs' investment in youth academies, training facilities and stadiums.

"Clubs could spend an unlimited amount of money in those categories; in other costs they have to balance their books," Traverso said.

The rules follow a two-year consultation involving federations, clubs, leagues and players' unions representing Europe's 53 soccer nations.

UEFA analyzed the 2008 financial reports from 732 top-tier clubs across Europe and found almost half failed to break even. One in five clubs suffered a "huge" loss — defined as spending 20 percent above total income.

Their total losses amounted to $708 million despite record income of $14.1 billion in a boom era for television deals.