Manchester City banned from Champions League

Courtesy of Werner100359 via Wikimedia Commons.

On Friday, Feb. 14, 2020, The Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) handed Manchester City a two-year Champions League ban and a £30M ($39.14M) fine for covering up violations of Financial Fair Play (FFP). FFP was introduced in 2011 to prevent multi-billionaire owners and investors from covering their clubs’ yearly losses using their own money. With Roman Abramovich, Abu Dhabi United Group and Qatar Sports Investments acquiring footballing giants Chelsea, Manchester City and PSG, respectively, UEFA wanted to stop the practice of “financial doping,” in the words of disgraced former UEFA President and French footballing legend Michel Platini (The Guardian, “Uefa plans to restrict spending power of wealthy owners,” 03.26.2010). UEFA recognized that without such rules, even the semblance of parity among teams would be a distant memory, as not every team has owners that can back pay debts. Manchester City, however, was not eager to stifle their immense spending powers. Despite the new regulations, Manchester City would go to extreme measures to continue injecting money into the club.

Between 2012 and 2016, Manchester City submitted false reports of their financial records, and, for several years after doing so, participated in fraudulent bookkeeping in an attempt to deceive UEFA. All of this came to light after the Football Leaks scandal (which is a monster of its own) in 2018. German newspaper der Spiegel ran a spread of hacked intra-Manchester City communications and emails containing inflated sponsorship deals, a practice that is in direct violation of FFP. Sheikh Mansour, an integral member of Abu Dhabi’s ruling family, recruited members of his family and other Emirati elites to sign artificially valued sponsorships contracts that he would supplement himself. Companies under this umbrella include Etihad Airways, telecommunications company Etisalat and real estate investment firm Aabar. In a leaked email, Manchester City Board member Simon Pearce revealed that Aabar’s yearly £15M ($19.57M) financial obligation to the club was actually only £3M ($3.91M), and the rest was supplemented by Sheikh Mansour’s family: “[T]he remaining £12M [$15.65M] will come from alternative sources provided by His Highness [Sheikh Mansour]” (Tifo Football, “Manchester City and football leaks explained,” 12.05.2018). In total, the amount of under-the-table investments from Sheikh Mansour to Manchester City is estimated to be around £127.5M ($166.33M).

Like any wealthy club with a lot to lose, City plans to fight tooth and nail to reverse the decisions made by UEFA’s Club Financial Control Body. The first step will be for City to appeal to the Court of Arbitration of Sport (CAS), an inhouse supreme court of international sport, in hopes the court will vote to reduce the impending ban and accompanying fines. If CAS upholds the consequences as expected, City may take the unprecedented step of appealing a CAS ruling in Swiss government’s supreme court, which in theory has jurisdiction over UEFA. Such a lengthy process will certainly take the courts past the deadline for a decision in early July, which may force UEFA to reinstate City in the Champions League until the Swiss Supreme Court renders a final decision (ESPN, “What Man City’s UEFA ban means and what happens next,” 02.14.2020).

Not including legal fees, City is slated to lose at least $300 million in fines, Champions League revenue and prize money, as well as sponsorships dependent on participation in the Champions League. Without this revenue, Manchester City may struggle to keep up with costs of their players’ wages, and may need to sell them to recuperate some of the lost funds.

This doesn’t even take into consideration the fact that many players may want to leave following the bans, which may force their exits from the club to another Champions League team. Furthermore, City will most likely fail to keep hold of their manager, Pep Guardiola, an elite coach who is more loyal to winning than he is to Manchester City. It is certain that this ban, if upheld, will have a huge impact on not just the immediate, but long-term future of Manchester City.

The implications of Manchester City’s sentence extend far beyond the club and the Champions League. In the Premier League, the four best finishers at the end of each season are entered into the Champions League for the following year. As Manchester City is almost guaranteed a top-four finish, and now cannot take one of the four allotted Champions League berths, the team that finishes in fifth place will enter into the Champions League group stage. The prize money linked with qualifying for Champions League football is a major revenue source and often entices clubs’ best players to stay and new transfers to join the squad. Further changes would be made in the case of Manchester City winning the Champions League, as City would not be able to fill the winner’s berth, but that is both unlikely and dependent on UEFA coefficients (a way of ranking the strength of domestic leagues) that have yet to be updated. Though the Premier League, Manchester City’s domestic league, does not have FFP, it does still have strict rules about submitting club financial statements. If City were to have submitted the same falsified statements to the FA (Football Association) as they did to UEFA, it is possible that the club could face sanctions, such as retroactive point deductions, domestically as well.

Maybe the impending ban will spur on Manchester City to win the Champions League as a cohort this year, or conversely, create too much pressure and cause a disastrous exit from the competition. Only time will tell.

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