Since being introduced in 2004, UEFA's issuing of club licences has seen standards raised across the board in European football.
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The early days…
Club licensing was first introduced as a set of criteria to be fulfilled in order for clubs to be eligible to participate in UEFA club competitions. Since the first licences were granted in 2004, it has developed into much more than that, and is now embedded into UEFA member associations' strategic plans for club development and improved governance. It has also become a fundamental consideration in the key decisions that clubs take, and how they operate.
The club licensing system already existed in a small number of countries in one form or another. However, in 1999, professional clubs themselves requested some form of regulation to tackle many of the commonly cited problems that existed in European football, such as financial transparency and instability, inadequate stadia, overdue payables, and lack of youth investment. This initially led to eight member associations being chosen to participate in a pilot project aimed at developing the club licensing system, before a first version of a club licensing manual was approved by the UEFA Executive Committee in 2002.
"When club licensing was introduced in 2004, it aimed primarily to raise minimum standards in European football governance following a large number of cases of mismanagement that have even, in some cases, unfortunately led clubs to ruin. However, we have gone a long way since then, and a great deal has been achieved […] I only ask that we now all continue to show such great dedication, and keep looking ahead in order to tackle anything that would go against these objectives."
Michele Uva, UEFA vice-president and Club Licensing Committee chairman, speaking at the 2017 UEFA Club Licensing and Financial Fair Play annual workshop in Montenegro.
The UEFA Club Licensing and Financial Fair Play Regulations are an ever-evolving set of requirements that continuously adapt to the European footballing landscape, on the basis that clubs competing in UEFA competitions should respect the same minimum requirements. Currently, club licensing contains 39 separate criteria that are structured around five pillars: sporting, infrastructure, personnel and administrative, legal and financial.
Furthermore, even if it was never going to be possible to fully eradicate all problems linked to European club football through club licensing, the system has as an overall objective to:
• Promote and continuously improve standards across all areas of football in Europe;
• Ensure that clubs have an adequate level of management and organisation;
• Adapt clubs' sporting infrastructure to provide players, spectators and media representatives with suitable, well-equipped and safe facilities;
• Protect the integrity and smooth running of UEFA club competitions.
UEFA understands that its member associations are all run and structured differently, and it is consequently necessary for them to adapt the system to the local environment in which football operates. Therefore, UEFA's 55 member associations are given a certain amount of flexibility in terms of how they implement the licensing system. Despite the flexibility allowed to its member associations, UEFA has a vital role to play in ensuring the consistent and correct application of the system throughout Europe.
Today, approximately 550 out of 719 top-division clubs in Europe apply for a licence every year. Out of those clubs applying for a licence in the 2017 cycle for participation in the 2017/18 UEFA club competitions, there has been an 88% success rate for granted licences, showing that the majority of them are now familiar and compliant with the various requirements demanded within the regulations. Furthermore, over 1,500 clubs undergo club licensing on an annual basis now that the system is also applied in some form or another at domestic level in the majority of UEFA's 55 member associations.
A much wider scope
As mentioned above, club licensing was originally intended for clubs participating in UEFA club competitions, but its effect also helped raise standards at national association level. Indeed, just as clubs are required to fulfil minimum criteria, licensors (UEFA member associations and/or affiliated leagues) have to comply with minimum requirements in operating the club licensing system and performing their responsibilities in respect of the financial fair play requirements, as defined in the Club Licensing Quality Standard.
First introduced in 2003, the current edition of the Club Licensing Quality Standard aims to further promote professional management and continual improvement in the running of the club licensing system and the club monitoring process. In order to ensure the credibility of the system, the licensor must correctly apply the core processes, the set deadlines, the catalogue of sanctions and the consequences of a licence refusal, while guaranteeing the principles of independence, confidentiality and equal treatment of all licence applicants/licensees. Each year, an independent certification body assesses compliance with the relevant requirements contained in the Club Licensing Quality Standard.
Over the years, the effects of Club Licensing have also resulted in a considerable social impact that, in some cases, goes beyond football itself. This is largely depicted through the obligation for all clubs to have a written youth development programme, and an established medical care of players. A further example of where club licensing is aiming to be a catalyst for change followed the introduction of the supporter liaison officer and disability access officer roles in 2012 and 2015 respectively. Additionally, the close link between the UEFA Coaching Convention and the UEFA club licensing system has also added to the importance and acceptance of coaching qualifications within the professional game.
This is also the case with the improved standards and quality of sporting infrastructure seen in many parts of Europe, and increased financial transparency and management with the introduction of overdue payables criteria. Likewise, since the first licences were granted in 2004, UEFA and its member associations have shared their experiences and best practice knowledge with FIFA and other continental confederations who have introduced similar systems within their own territories.
Notwithstanding the many achievements that have resulted from club licensing, UEFA continues to look to the future and find ways to continue developing club licensing, in order to keep increasing standards at pan-European level, and address the predominant issues that continue to exist in football.