Manchester City have reacted angrily to a UEFA investigation into a potential breach of financial rules and say they will appeal any decision against them, but does a failure to punish them give carte-blanche to oil-rich clubs?
The English champions released a statement bemoaning the “hostile process” undertaken by European football’s governing body after former Belgian Prime Minister and current chairman and chief investigator of UEFA’s club financial control body determined that there is a case to be answered regarding suspected violations of Financial Fair Play (FFP) rules.
UEFA began investigating after documents obtained by the Football Leaks website, and published by Der Spiegel magazine, appeared to suggest that Manchester City had funnelled millions of pounds into the club as sponsorship money when it was in fact direct investment from owner Sheikh Mansour. This is potentially at odds with the FFP measures which have been instituted in the game to curtail clubs from overspending, or ‘financial doping’ as it has become colloquially known.
Leterme is currently considering the case and will send it to the adjudicatory chamber if he concludes that he agrees. Sanctions could then be applied to the club, including a European ban.
Manchester City have denied any involvement in an illegal scheme, saying they will vigorously appeal any punitive measures taken against the club and will reserve the right to take the case to the court of arbitration for sport should it be necessary with the club’s hierarchy cognizant of how the allegations may impact the club’s recruitment this summer.
“Manchester City football club is disappointed, but regrettably not surprised, by the sudden announcement of the referral to be made by the CFCB IC chief investigator Yves Leterme,” the club said in a statement.
“The leaks to media over the last week are indicative of the process that has been overseen by Mr Leterme. Manchester City is entirely confident of a positive outcome when the matter is considered by an independent judicial body.
“The accusation of financial irregularities remains entirely false and the CFCB IC referral ignores a comprehensive body of irrefutable evidence provided by Manchester City FC to the Chamber.
“The decision contains mistakes, misinterpretations and confusions fundamentally borne out of a basic lack of due process and there remain significant unresolved matters raised by Manchester City FC as part of what the club has found to be a wholly unsatisfactory, curtailed, and hostile process.”
A potential ban from the Champions League would be hugely damaging to the Manchester Club, who have invested heavily in their attempts to capture European club football’s top prize. Due to Manchester City’s right to appeal, it is very unlikely that the club will be denied participation in next season’s competition, though it is not an impossibility.
Should that be case, fifth-placed Arsenal would take Manchester City’s place or, if Arsenal win the Europa League, the spot would fall to sixth-placed Manchester United.
If any ban is commuted until after next season and, as expected, Manchester City finish in the top four, whoever finishes fifth in the league would gain automatic Champions League qualification.
City have fallen foul of FFP investigators in the past. They were handed a £49 million (€56 million) fine in 2014 for breaking FFP rules but the majority of the fine was suspended as the club met the financial commitments expected of them. Paris Saint-Germain faced similar questions regarding sponsorship payments recently while Italian club AC Milan are also facing a potential European ban for another breach of FFP rules.
While some of European football’s biggest clubs have been handed transfer bans by UEFA, including Chelsea currently, a Champions League ban would be an unprecedented punishment and could translate to a loss of earnings of up to €82,450,000 which they would earn as winners of the competition.
Some would suggest that financial bottlenecks such as the one currently being experienced by Manchester City have been an inevitability given the recent influx of big-money investors into many of the game’s top clubs, as well as the ballooning market when it comes to transfer fees.
However, Manchester City are understood to have retained the services of top legal experts to defend them in an appeal process – which some see as a way of throwing money at a problem created by careless spending.
A failure to adequately punish clubs like Manchester City – should they be found to have contravened the rules – could fundamentally undermine any authority UEFA’s club financial control body has.