In what must come as a surprise to some, Manchester City’s two-year Champions League ban has been overturned by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). City’s ban was for allegedly lying about sponsorship payments to circumvent Financial Fair Play (FFP). The court’s decision means City will only pay a €10 million fine rather than face a ban. Instead, the overturning of Manchester City’s two-year ban raises more questions about Financial Fair Play.
Manchester City’s Two-Year Ban Overturned and a Loo at the Future of FFP
Manchester City’s Two-Year Ban
Manchester City punishment came for allegedly lying about the size of sponsorship payments. Etihad, their title sponsor, supposedly paid City £67.5 million in 2013, but a report by Football Leaks alleges that they only paid £8 million and the rest was covered by the Abu Dhabi United Group, the owners of both City and Etihad.
City are defending themselves as perceived multiple offenders, rather than a first-time defender. Therefore, those details combined with a lack of respect for the investigation led to Manchester City’s two-year Champions League ban. However, the FFP rules themselves are what got us here.
The Court of Arbitration for Sport Decision
In the court’s decision, they specifically outline UEFA’s own Financial Fair Play statute of limitations as the reason for overturning;
“The CAS award emphasized that most of the alleged breaches reported by the Adjudicatory Chamber of the CFCB (UEFA Club Financial Control Body) were either not established or time-barred. As the charges with respect to any dishonest concealment of equity funding were clearly more significant violations than obstructing the CFCB’s investigations, it was not appropriate to impose a ban on participating in UEFA’s club competitions for MCFC’s failure to cooperate with the CFCB’s investigations alone.”
While many will find this decision as a blow to UEFA’s FFP regulations, it is more an indictment of UEFA itself. Their financial laws have a five-year statute of limitations, imposed by themselves on cases of fraud or otherwise.
Manchester City’s two-year ban is for a crime committed in 2013, and the Football Leaks report outing them came out in 2018. Both the Football Leaks report and UEFA’s decision to punish Manchester City came after the supposed end of their statute of limitations.
So, UEFA reopened proceedings in an attempt to avoid looking like they have egg on their face and subsequently got more egg on their face. It shows an astonishing lack of awareness to try and rule outside your own set statute of limitations.
Financial Fair Play Going Forward
Many are calling this decision a huge blow to UEFA’s Financial Fair Play guidelines. But as @Graceonfootball points out, FFP was never designed to control the big clubs. It’s designed to prevent clubs from spending money that they do not have and going into massive debt, like Leeds United, Rangers or Malaga.
Europe’s traditional elite have always been against the idea of clubs rising into their midst. Teams like City, Paris Saint-Germain, Hoffenheim, RB Leipzig and even the Milan clubs post ownership changes have had plenty of old money opposition over the years.
Anyone who thinks FFP was there to stop big clubs from spending loads of money hasn’t been paying attention. There hasn’t been any opposition to the tons of money spent by Manchester United, or Real Madrid and Barcelona.
Manchester City Going Forward
This decision obviously has massive implications for Manchester City. For starters, it means there won’t be any Champions League related departures. Multiple star players like Raheem Sterling, Riyad Mahrez and Kevin De Bruyne could’ve left the club had they been barred from Champions League football.
Then there was the matter of this upcoming season being the final one on Pep Guardiola’s contract. Guardiola has always intimated and said that the penalty would not have affected a decision to stay at City. But there would still be doubt in anyone’s mind that he would’ve stayed beyond a ban. He is about to enter his longest tenure at any of his three top-flight stops.
Finally, there is the question of City’s upcoming transfer window business. There have been plenty of rumours surrounding a new centre-back and a Leroy Sane replacement. It would’ve been nearly impossible to sign a player for either role without the prospect of Champions League football.
Now, the rumours of moves for players like Kalidou Koulibaly or Milan Skriniar to City get much more serious. The club have made targeting a new centre-back partner for Aymeric Laporte their most important offseason objective.