By Andrew Warshaw
February 15 – In a seismic ruling that has sent shockwaves across the sport, English Premier League champions Manchester City have been banned by UEFA from all European club competition for the next two seasons and fined €30 million after being found to have committed “serious breaches” of financial fair play rules.
The stunning verdict, harsher than most experts had predicted, will not affect City’s participation in the remainder of this season’s tournament but, if upheld, threatens to seriously undermine the club’s status – built up with UAE money over the last few years – as one of the most powerful names in European football.
It will also heap speculation over the future of manager Pep Guardiola and his roster of superstar international players as well as potentially seriously harm City’s recruitment policy.
Last November City lost their appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport to halt UEFA’s investigation into what allegedly amounted to cooking the books. UEFA had opened their investigation after German publication Der Spiegel reported City’s Abu Dhabi owners had inflated sponsorship agreements to comply with FFP requirements. Some reports suggested City could be thrown out for at least one season if found guilty of misleading the authorities but few had predicted two.
In its ruling, the independent Adjudicatory Chamber of UEFA’s Club Financial Control Body (CFCB) said City had broken the rules by “overstating its sponsorship revenue in its accounts and in the break-even information submitted to UEFA between 2012 and 2016”, adding that the club “failed to cooperate in the investigation”.
The decision is subject to appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) which the club say they will pursue with vigour. City said they were “disappointed but not surprised” by the “prejudicial” decision, slamming the judgement as a “flawed and leaked process.”
Once their appeal is launched, City will gain a stay of execution pending a full hearing by CAS and may still therefore be able to play in next year’s Champions League (presuming they qualify) if no verdict is made by the time the draw takes place in August.
But that is very much clutching at straws with the club’s reputation and financial status now at stake.
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. Uefa’s lastest ban doubtless took that into consideration.
UEFA’s full statement said:
“Following a hearing held on 22 January 2020 the Adjudicatory Chamber of the UEFA Club Financial Control Body, chaired by José da Cunha Rodrigues, has today notified Manchester City Football Club of the final decision on the case which was referred by the CFCB Chief Investigator.
“The Adjudicatory Chamber, having considered all the evidence, has found that Manchester City Football Club committed serious breaches of the UEFA Club Licensing and Financial Fair Play Regulations by overstating its sponsorship revenue in its accounts and in the break-even information submitted to UEFA between 2012 and 2016.
“The Adjudicatory Chamber has also found that in breach of the regulations the Club failed to cooperate in the investigation of this case by the CFCB.
“The Adjudicatory Chamber has imposed disciplinary measures on Manchester City Football Club directing that it shall be excluded from participation in UEFA club competitions in the next two seasons (ie. the 2020/21 and 2021/22 seasons) and pay a fine of €30m.”
City immediately responded with a strongly worded statement of their own, saying:
“The club has always anticipated the ultimate need to seek out an independent body and process to impartially consider the comprehensive body of irrefutable evidence in support of its position.
“In December 2018, the UEFA chief investigator publicly previewed the outcome and sanction he intended to be delivered to Manchester City, before any investigation had even begun.
“The subsequent flawed and consistently leaked UEFA process he oversaw has meant that there was little doubt in the result that he would deliver. The club has formally complained to the Uefa disciplinary body, a complaint which was validated by a CAS ruling.
“Simply put, this is a case initiated by UEFA, prosecuted by UEFA and judged by UEFA. With this prejudicial process now over, the club will pursue an impartial judgment as quickly as possible and will therefore, in the first instance, commence proceedings with the Court of Arbitration for Sport at the earliest opportunity.”
Financial Fair Play was conceived by former UEFA president Michel Platini to prevent clubs spending beyond their means and prevent what Spanish league boss Javier Tebas has long described as “financial doping” .
The rules are also designed to stop clubs receiving unlimited amounts of money through inflated sponsorship deals with organisations related to the owners – and it is this which City are accused of flouting.
Ironically the Champions League is the one trophy City crave more than any others having already won the Premier League twice under Guardiola, and face Real Madrid in this season’s last 16.
Not surprisingly, Tebas welcomed the punishment.
“UEFA are finally taking decisive measures. Enforcing financial fair play rules and punishing financial doping is essential for the future of football,” he said. “We’ve been asking for severe action against Manchester City and Paris Saint Germain for years. Better late than never.”
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