By Andrew Warshaw
May 14 – Amid the euphoria of retaining their Premier League title, Manchester City have been brought crashing down to earth with reports that they could be banned from the Champions league – the trophy they crave more than any.
A New York Times report, widely picked up by other media organisations, says UEFA investigators want City thrown out for at least one season if they are found guilty of breaking financial fair play rules by misleading the authorities.
The report came just 24 hours after City pipped Liverpool for the title and claims UEFA’s club financial control body, led by chief investigator Belgian Yves Leterme, will recommend a Champions League ban within the next week.
In January Leterme confirmed that City could be kicked out of Europe if alleged irregularities exposed in the Football Leaks scandal and published by Der Spiegel prove to be true, saying they could face the “heaviest punishment”.
City were among a handful of teams targeted in media leaks towards the back end of last year, including other European heavyweights Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain.
It was claimed that City inflated sponsorship revenues to meet FFP requirements.
“If it is true what has been written, there might be a serious problem,” Leterme was quoted as telling a Belgian media group earlier this year. “This can lead to the heaviest punishment: exclusion from the UEFA competitions.”
With the Champions League the one trophy which has alluded Manchester City since their takeover by billionaire Abu Dhabi investors, fans will be desperate that their club hasn’t broken any rules.
One of the allegations is that money received by Manchester City disguised as sponsorship payments was in fact pumped in by the Abu Dhabi United Group which owns the club, outlawed under Financial Fair Play rules.
Already back in 2014, City were handed a £49 million fine for circumventing FFP regulations but were given back £33.4 million of that three years later after meeting the requirements of the sanctions initially imposed on them.
According to Der Spiegel in November, City had breached FFP rules by €188 million in that year.
However, City have long claimed “the attempt to damage the club’s reputation is organised and clear” and said they “will not be providing any comment on out-of-context materials purportedly hacked or stolen from City Football Group and Man City personnel and associated people”.
Members of the investigatory chamber of UEFA’s financial control board met two weeks ago in Switzerland to finalise their conclusions, the New York Times said, adding the body is expected to seek at least a one-season ban.
It was unclear if such a ban would be enforced next season or in the 2020-21 campaign, the Times said, noting that with qualifying for Europe’s most prestigious and lucrative club championship set to start in June there would be little time to finalise a sanction. Manchester City would also have the right to appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
It is also unclear exactly how UEFA would allocate City’s place in the competition if the ban is enforced next season, with some reports suggesting Arsenal, who finished fifth, could take City’s spot if they fail to qualify by losing to Chelsea in the Europa League final. It has also been mooted that Manchester United, who finished sixth in the Premier League, could even be promoted from their allotted spot in the Europa League.
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