Man City highlight flawed UEFA prosecution
In a season that could end with four trophies, Manchester City’s biggest victory hasn’t been secured by Kevin De Bruyne or Raheem Sterling.
City fans are celebrating a squad of lawyers outsmarting UEFA’s judicial machinery in extra time and saving the club from a devastating two-year Champions League ban.
“Absolutely vindicated,” supporter Dante Friend said outside City’s stadium on Monday shortly after the Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled largely in the club’s favour in the Financial Fair Play case. “We can prove where the money has come from over the years.”
Money coming from companies such as Etihad Airways, the Abu Dhabi-owned carrier that took on the stadium naming rights after a member of the emirate’s ruling family bought the club in 2008.
The wealth of Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan transformed City from merely existing in the English Premier League – after dropping into the third tier at the end of the millennium – into a team that overhauled brash all-conquering neighbour Manchester United.
But the spending power that produced four Premier League titles in the last decade – their first English titles since 1968 – had to remain within UEFA’s limits.
No owner, not even one backed with the wealth of a nation, could spend freely on players. The revenue had to be generated from fans, broadcasters and sponsors. And City managed to attract an array of Abu Dhabi companies to sponsor this Abu Dhabi-owned team.
UEFA’s judiciary did find sponsorship revenue was inflated from companies linked to the ownership. The new investigation was only launched after the club’s internal correspondence was obtained by German outlet Der Spiegel through means that enraged City. But the CAS media release on Monday proclaimed: “Manchester City FC did not disguise equity funding as sponsorship contributions.”
It was just the headline City wanted, apart from the second part of the CAS announcement which showed the club was not completely exonerated: “But did fail to cooperate with the UEFA authorities.”
It is short of obstruction of justice but still led to a hefty fine of €10 million, albeit reduced from the initial €30 million sanction imposed by UEFA’s judicial branch. It is still the biggest sanction for an English club since City were fined €30 million in the original 2014 FFP case for overspending.
Doubts will persist over whether City escaped the Champions League ban on technicalities. CAS arbitrators concluded some allegations were “either not established or time-barred.”
Coming after high-profile court defeats on FFP, including over Qatar-owned Paris Saint-Germain’s finances, UEFA’s ability to prosecute cases is now under the microscope.
UEFA has only said it notes the verdict while maintaining it still backs the principles of Financial Fair Play. The regulation was introduced a decade ago by then-president Michel Platini during the global financial crisis to prevent clubs racking up big losses and going out of business.