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Gavin HamiltonAlthough Sky Sport News would have us believe that the European transfer window SLAMMED SHUT last Friday night, some of the biggest deals of the summer have gone through in the last 24 hours – mostly to Russia, where players can be registered up until September 6.   

Current Russian league champions Zenit St Petersburg paid between 80 and 100 million euros – depending on who you believe – for Brazilian striker Hulk from Porto and Belgian midfielder Axel Witsel from Benfica. Zenit said they paid 40 million euros for each player, while Hulk’s agent Teodoro Fonseca, whose company is likely to be one of the beneficiaries of the controversial third-party ownership of the player, said the fee for the Brazilian was 60 million euros.

Either way, by spending big on Hulk and Witsel, Zenit have emerged as financial rivals to Paris Saint-Germain, while also overtaking Chelsea and Manchester City in the summer spending stakes. Inevitably, questions will be asked about Zenit’s ability to meet UEFA’s Financial Fairplay (FFP) regulations. Last week in Monaco, UEFA president Michel Platini insisted that all clubs competing in European competition would have to comply with the new rules. There would be no exceptions. As UEFA secretary general Gianni Infantino put it: “The train has already left the station.”

On paper, there appears to be no way that Zenit can meet the FFP requirements. Like Paris Saint-Germain and others, they are spending far more than they earn thanks to financial injections from wealthy owners. Zenit are owned by Gazprom, the Russian gas company who also sponsor Schalke and Red Star Belgrade and recently agreed a commercial deal with Chelsea.

More significantly, Gazprom have signed up with UEFA to be a sponsor of the Champions League for the next three seasons. The sums of money involved were not disclosed but they were large enough for UEFA to turn a blind eye to any potential conflict of interest.

The Gazprom deal could now prove problematic for UEFA, especially if Gazprom increases its “sponsorship” of Zenit in order to balance the club’s books and comply with FFP. UEFA insists that clubs’ sponsorship deals must be agreed at “market rates” in order to meet FFP rules. Europe’s governing body was probably not expecting its own deal with Gazprom to be subject to the same level of scrutiny.

By Gavin Hamilton

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