Page last updated at 01:57 GMT, Thursday, 19 February 2009

'They're jealous of the Premier League'

By Chris Mason
Europe correspondent, BBC News

Chris Heaton Harris
Conservative MEP Chris Heaton Harris has questioned how the idea will work

A proposal to limit Premier League salaries and reduce the size of transfer fees has been put forward, but the idea has been criticised by MEPs.

Euro MPs in Brussels have been hearing from Michel Platini, the President of UEFA, European football's governing body.

Mr Platini, a former captain of the French football team, said wage caps are needed and the size of transfer fees should be limited to stop the game from "financially imploding."

He spelt out that UEFA is now exploring the idea of limiting salaries and transfers to a particular, as yet undecided, percentage of a club's sporting revenue - which, crucially, wouldn't include direct investment from a rich owner.

The big clubs are often an easy target
Chris Heaton Harris, MEP

He didn't name names - but most of those listening thought he was referring to Manchester City. Now the richest club in the world, the Premier League side reportedly bid around 90m for AC Milan's Kaka during the January transfer window.

"Astronomical bids" as he described them, are "morally" questionable.

"It's an interesting idea - but how can it work?" asks Chris Heaton Harris, a Conservative MEP for the East Midlands and the chairman of the European Parliament's Sports Group.

"If he wants to equalise football in some way, having a salary cap based on current turnover would mean the big clubs remain big, and the small clubs remain small.

"The big clubs are often an easy target. They do a huge amount in their local communities."

'No limits'

The UEFA President is an outspoken critic of what he sees as the frivolous spending of Europe's elite clubs.

He said it was reasonable that UEFA should be able to decide the rules that govern its own competitions - the Champions' League and UEFA Cup.

And for some here, the change of culture in football that such a move might provoke would be welcome.

Richard Corbett is a Labour MEP for Yorkshire and Humber and points to the plight of Leeds United in recent years as a way to justify introducing a salary cap.

Richard Corbett
Labour MEP Richard Corbett said the temptation to spend can be dangerous

"With no limits, clubs are always tempted to spend to the hilt on that big player - hoping that he will be one who transforms the club and brings greater riches. But that temptation can be really dangerous," Mr Corbett told the BBC.

Leeds United - who won the old First Division in 1992 - were put in administration in 2007 and are now in the third tier of English football.

But for the UK Independence Party, it is up to individual clubs to make decisions for themselves - and determine their own future, successful or otherwise.

"For Michel Platini to call for salary caps for players and transfer limits is essentially a call for the nationalisation of professional sport," Mike Nattrass, a West Midlands MEP said.

Paul Nuttall, the UKIP Chairman and a former Tranmere Rovers player, added: "This would devastate the top level sport in Britain and is just another example of the European elite trying to control every aspect of our lives."

Common ground

It is rare the Liberal Democrats here find themselves even loosely on the same side of the argument as the UK Independence Party.

But on this issue, there is some common ground.

"This is all very well, but it is all about very heavy regulation - and that is wrong," Graham Watson, a Liberal Democrat MEP for the south west of England, told me. "If UEFA want to see how clubs and leagues can do very well, they could do worse than take a look at the Premier League. Why don't they take a leaf out of our book?"

Mr Platini insisted he opposed any regulation of football from the European Union itself - but does appear committed to changing the rulebook.

Meanwhile the European Club Association, which represents 137 leading teams from across the continent including last season's Champions' League finalists Manchester United and Chelsea, has already said it doesn't support the introduction of salary caps.



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