- Associated Press - Friday, February 28, 2014

NYON, Switzerland (AP) - UEFA is investigating 76 Champions League and Europa League clubs for potentially breaking the Financial Fair Play rules designed to curb excessive spending.

The first sanctions against clubs will be announced in April, UEFA said Friday.

Clubs involved in more serious cases will also be identified then, with UEFA setting a June deadline to publish verdicts before the qualifying round draws for next season’s competitions.

“UEFA in this respect is taking the lead in order to protect European football from greed, from reckless spending, from financial insanity,” UEFA secretary general Gianni Infantino said.

Clubs risk exclusion from future UEFA competitions for the most severe breaches of rules designed to encourage them to break even on football-related trading. Lesser sanctions include warnings, withholding prize money and restrictions on registering players for UEFA competitions.

UEFA didn’t identify clubs under investigation, and officials declined to discuss details of ongoing cases.

Clubs expected to be scrutinized most closely include big-spending Champions League contenders Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City, whose main sponsorship deals are linked to their owners from Qatar and Abu Dhabi, respectively.

UEFA expects several clubs to challenge their sanctions at the Court of Arbitration for Sport before the group stage draws in late August.

“It would be strange if they weren’t (appealed),” said UEFA legal director Alasdair Bell, anticipating that “July and August could be a busy time. We are not afraid of them being contested.”

UEFA revealed figures Friday after studying financial reports from 2012, the first of a two-year monitoring period to begin the Financial Fair Play regime.

UEFA says the 76 - almost one third of clubs which entered the Champions League and Europa League this season - had a total deficit of 600 million euros ($828 million) according to its break-even calculations.

The clubs have been asked to give updated financial statements to an independent UEFA-appointed panel monitoring their finances. The panel is chaired by Jean-Luc Dehaene, a former prime minister of Belgium.

The UEFA Club Financial Control Body includes a second, judging chamber to decide the most serious cases.

Clubs which are “directly affected,” according to UEFA rules, by a rival club’s verdict from the Dehaene panel can challenge it with the judging chamber.

Still, UEFA cautioned that some of the 76 clubs would likely show improved figures in the second monitoring year.

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