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Ben Hayes - Charlton Athletic programme

French players to strike in tax row


Beleaguered French president Francois Hollande is facing a strike by French footballers over high rates of tax. Condemning the 75 per cent income tax rate as 'unfair and discriminatory', Jean-Pierre Louvel, head of the UCPF professional football club union said: 'We are talking about the death of French football.'

If the strike goes ahead, all matches in the last week of November will be called off. Employers have to pay the tax for two years on annual salaries about €1m. It was re-designed as a payroll tax after the original plan for a 75 per cent income tax was ruled unconstitutional.

The clubs say the tax will cost them collectively €44m a year. They claim that clubs and players paid €700m in tax and social contributions last year, more than they earned in television rights.

The UCPF insists that the tax will have a devastating effect on French clubs, which mostly lose money. They have to compete for players with English, Italian, German and Spanish clubs which have more favourable tax regimes.

Struggling clubs such as Marseille, Lyon, Lille and Bordeaux, with exposures to the tax of €4m-€8m each, see it as a further hindrance to their ability to compete with Paris Saint-Germain and Monaco which have received big injections of funds by foreign owners.

The President will sit down with club chairman next week in an attempt to defuse the row. However, Jean-Marc Ayrault, the prime minister, said there was no reason to treat football differently from other businesses.

The news is likely to annoy television executives, who paid €607m for a four year deal to broadcast French games. They may seek compensation for the cancellation of affected matches which would include one between Paris Saint Germain and Olympique Lyonnais.

French strike and financial fair play

- version 4 for Political Economy of football on French strike

It is worth noting that he proposed strike by French clubs is disapproved of by 83% of the
population. France, except for a few pockets like Marseille and St Etienne, is not really a football country, despite their World Cup and European Championship successes.

I was in Paris for the 1998 World Cup and in Paris the general population showed no interest until about the quarter finals, when it suddenly occurred to them that France might win.

Michel Platini was quoted recently as saying that 70% of Parisians don't even know they have a football team (hardly surprising - Paris Saint Germain did not exist as a professional club until 1974).

A lot of comments over here have expressed delight at a weekend without football.

But with this boiling up and again reflecting the complete dominance of money, and clubs
with money in the game isn't it time for European widereforms that go further
than Platini's financial fair play.

To give at least a little bit of the game back to the fans and local people I'd like to see:

A first team squad of 26 to be named at the start of the season.

Wages for this squad to be limited to £25 million, plus a bonus related to average home gate (e.g. an average gate of 20,000 would give a 20% bonus so could spend £30 million, but capped at 50,000 or £37.5 million). This would put fans (rather than sponsors and billionaire owners) back at the heart of the game.

Transfers limited to the same amount in any year plus any money made from selling players.

Plus non-financial reforms:

13 of the 26 squad players must be eligible to play for the national team.

4 players must be local; i.e. born within 50 km (31 miles) of the ground (or rather in a "catchment area" around the ground equivalent to the area of a circle 100km in diameter).

As well as the 26 first team squad, any player under 21 could also play.

These wage limits are by no means poverty wages - most teams could pay players an average of over a million per year - but it would create a much more level playing field to replace the ridiculous discrepancy in spending that exists now (e.g wage bills of 174 million at Chelsea, 133 and 132 million at Man City and Man Utd, but 13m at Blackpool*). And it would get back to the old formula of success being built on loyal and passionate fans, players who want to play for a team rather than for a financial corporation, and traditions of good coaching and management.

*Deloitte Annual Review of Football Finances June 2011, and Guardian Inside Sport Special
Report on Premier League Finances 19/05/2011.

p.s; of course I know that the chances of any of this ever happening is less than tiny, but there's no harm in ideas (you never know - some people may agree)