By Andrew Warshaw
July 13 – In a stunning reversal of the previous ruling by UEFA, Manchester City have won their appeal against a two-year ban from European football.
The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) threw out UEFA’s sanction, imposed last February for alleged “serious breaches” of financial fair play (FFP), in what was arguably the most significant judgement since FFP was introduced a decade ago.
To add insult to injury for UEFA, the panel also cut the club’s fine by two-thirds from 30 million to €10 million though in doing so, it did conclude that City failed to co-operate with independent investigators.
After being acquired in 2008 by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al Nahyan of the Abu Dhabi ruling family, Man City, always well supported, emerged almost overnight from relative mediocrity and playing second fiddle to Manchester United to become one of world football’s richest and English domestic football’s most successful clubs – much to the irritation of rival fans.
But money, while sometimes buying success, doesn’t necessarily mean cheating and City have always vehemently denied any wrongdoing, saying it had “irrefutable evidence” that claims of trying to deceive UEFA were untrue. In its verdict CAS agreed, ruling that the club did not disguise equity funding as sponsorship and that “most of the alleged breaches …. were either not established or time-barred” due to the 5-year time period foreseen in the UEFA regulations.
The decision by the three judges clears City to play in the group stage of the Champions League next season and has no bearing on the current season’s competition, which resumes next month at the last 16 stage where City have a 2-1 first-leg last-16 lead over Real Madrid.
The verdict should not be under-estimated, however. Missing out on the Champions League would have cost City as much as £200 million in prize money, broadcast revenue and matchday revenues as well as throwing the immediate future of several international super stars into considerable doubt.
It will also be something of a blow to Premier League rivals who were hoping to sneak into a Champions League spot via the back door at City’s expense by finishing fifth. That place will now revert to the Europa League as in the past.
The bigger picture, of course, is what happens now with FFP, designed to stop clubs behaving irresponsibly by overspending and prevent owners finding creative ways of getting round the system. City and others like Paris St. Germain have been accused on more than one occasion by Spanish league boss Javier Tebas of “financial doping” in the way they operate.
UEFA clearly felt they had been misled, hence the opening of their investigation after German publication Der Spiegel reported City’s owners had deliberately inflated the value of income from sponsors in order to comply with FFP requirements based on leaked emails and documents covering the period 2012-16. But CAS ruled categorically no actual rule-breaking had taken place.
UEFA’s only remaining option is to challenge the CAS ruling at Switzerland’s supreme court though this is considered highly unlikely.
In a brief statement, Europe’s governing body said it took note of the CAS verdict but added tellingly that it remained “committed to the principles” of FFP.
Behind the scenes, the UEFA hierarchy will privately be immensely frustrated, to put it mildly, at seeing FFP’s credibility – not for the first time – kicked into touch by yet another court ruling that throws the concept’s entire rationale into jeopardy
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