Image: Wikimedia Commons / Cléria De Souza
Image: Wikimedia Commons / Cléria De Souza

CAS Two: Manchester City face two-year Champions League ban

Manchester City have been banned from European club competitions until the 2022-2023 season and fined £25 million for “serious breaches” of UEFA’s financial fair play (FFP) and licensing rules. In a statement released on the club’s website, a Manchester City spokesperson said that the Premier League champions are “disappointed but not surprised” by UEFA’s landmark ruling.

UEFA’s Club Financial Control Body (CFCB) has ruled that City “overstated its sponsorship revenue in its accounts and in the break-even information submitted to UEFA between 2012 and 2016”, the club is also alleged to have “failed to cooperate” in UEFA’s investigation.

The accusations made by the European governing body are based on leaked emails between senior members of City’s ownership group, which suggest that the club had made intentional efforts to dupe UEFA’s financial inspectorate.

Manchester City have warned that they will “commence proceedings with the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) at the earliest opportunity”

Under FFP, clubs are required to balance expenditure on players’ wages and transfer fees with their income. Limits are also in place to prevent owners from injecting funds into their club’s in order to circumvent financial legislation.

Der Spiegel have claimed that the Citizens had lied about the origin of millions of pounds of sponsorship revenue and hidden significant costs by paying club employees through holding companies connected to Sheikh Mansour, City’s owner and member of the Abu Dhabi ruling family.

In response to UEFA’s ruling, Manchester City have warned that they will “commence proceedings with the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) at the earliest opportunity”; sources connected to the club have suggested that they expect City’s case to be heard before the opening rounds of Champions League qualification begin at the start of July.

With Manchester City set to miss-out on two years of continental football, it is expected that the club’s star figures could force moves to away from the Premier League champions

In a team meeting, Pep Guardiola is reported to have told City players “now, more than ever, we have to show that we are not money, we are talent.”

Despite the club’s immediate rebuttal, and suggestion that City had been the victims of a kangaroo court hearing, speculation has continued to mount regarding the possibility of a mass exodus from the Etihad Stadium. With Manchester City set to miss-out on two years of continental football, it is expected that the club’s star figures could force moves to away from the Premier League champions.

Leroy Sane, who was controversially dropped from the German national team last summer, could be the first domino to fall, as Bayern Munich’s interest in the winger’s services continues to mount.

Sergio Aguero, the club’s most loyal servant since Mansour’s 2008 takeover, could likewise be convinced to seek pastures new. The Argentine forward is yet to experience a Champions League final, and will be 34 by the time City’s ban expires. For a player famed for scoring late goals, Aguero would once again be working against the clock.

The wider ramifications of City’s Champions League ban could prove more damning to Mansour’s project than the club’s absence from European football itself. As is the case at clubs from across the continent, City’s business model is premised upon the club’s participation in Europe.

Failure to comply with FFP could see the Premier League champions punished by UEFA once again

The prize money and television rights attached to involvement in the Champions League is so significant to the club’s ability to break-even that even a short-term absence from UEFA’s premier club competition could see City fail to meet FFP regulations. Failure to comply with FFP could see the Premier League champions punished by UEFA once again.

The club’s response to UEFA’s ruling has been characteristically bullish, “this is a case initiated by UEFA, prosecuted by UEFA and judged by UEFA,” the club’s statement read. The crisis engulfing the Etihad Stadium comes amid growing tensions between the club and football’s governing bodies; Manchester City narrowly avoided a transfer ban for breaching FIFA rules on signing youth players last August.

Since ascending to the rank of European superpower at the start of the last decade, senior figures at Manchester City have suggested that Champions League stalwarts from across the continent have been suspicious of the club’s rise. Bayern Munich president, Uli Hoeness suggested last year that the Premier League champions finance transfers by inflating the price of oil, an accusation that a City source told The Mirror “was the remark of a smug, arrogant egoist.”

The Premier League’s investigation into Manchester City’s alleged indiscretions is ongoing

Manchester City’s UEFA psychodrama is likely to extend into the balmy of months summer, at which point Pep Guardiola’s side might have won this year’s Champions League final in Istanbul. The Premier League champions will send an army of lawyers to Lausanne in the hope that it will be able to outmanoeuvre UEFA at the CAS.

Should sport’s independent judiciary uphold UEFA’s punishment, a fifth-placed finish in the Premier League will be enough to qualify for the Champions League next season. The Premier League’s investigation into Manchester City’s alleged indiscretions is ongoing; a guilty verdict could see Mansour’s Mancunians striped of titles and handed a hefty points deduction.

The outcome of Manchester City’s appeal will shape the future of European football; do not expect this case to go quietly.

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