Commentary

Wow! UEFA nails Man City -- and how

Here’s something to classify alongside flying pigs and maybe a Unicorn grazing in your garden: one of soccer’s richest clubs being severely punished by the sport itself. I don’t mean punished by FIFA -- maybe that’s a bit too much to hope for -- but here we have the No. 2 soccer organizing body, UEFA, which rules over Europe, telling Manchester City that they’re banned from the Champions league for two years, and must cough up a fine of 30 million Euros (about $32 million).

Just what has Man City been up to that they warrant such draconian treatment? Well now, this is not anything that happened on the field -- no bribing of referees nor, so to speak, stealing of signs. This one is all about money. And readers of this column will not be at all surprised to hear -- I’m confident I can believe that -- that the money is sponsorship money.

Here’s the background -- which, frankly, I find far from common-sensical. But it concerns finances, knowledge of which -- I have been told -- is not one of my strengths. Some years ago UEFA and others in the sport became alarmed at the way rich -- very rich -- owners were simply spending their way to success. (To expose my naivete, I thought that was OK in a capitalist system, but apparently not). The chief culprit was the Russian Roman Abramovich, whose seemingly unlimited billions were making Chelsea a winning club. A new phrase appeared: Financial Doping.

Next came the Abu Dhabi group, with Sheik Mansour (whose net worth is reportedly $30 billion) at its head. In 2008 it took over at ManCity and made Abramovich’s spending appear small-time. In no time Man City became the most powerful team in England. Until then, in its 100-plus year history it had only won the English title twice -- the last time 1968. Under Mansour, Man City took the title in 2012, 2013 and 2014, and again in 2018 and 2019.

By that time UEFA, no doubt alarmed and shamed by the financial scandals besetting FIFA, had introduced its Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations. Basically designed to limit spending by super-rich owners.

Basically, the idea was to stop clubs overspending and piling up big debts. FFP required clubs to file financial reports showing that their spending and their income are in balance, or that the club’s debt is within certain limits. Clubs are required to balance soccer expenditure (transfers, wages, stadiums, training facilities etc) with television and ticket income, plus revenues raised by their marketing activities.

It didn’t take take long for miscreants to be found. Nine clubs -- including Man City and Paris Saint-Germain -- were deemed to be non-compliant. Man City was fined $58 million ($38 million suspended).

Now Man City is in trouble again, only more so, accused of "overstating its sponsorship revenue in its accounts" -- which means fiddling the books to adhere to the income/expense balance required by UEFA. Man City is also guilty, according to UEFA, of not cooperating in the investigation.

Suspension from the Champions League, the sport’s huge money-spinner, is a serious blow. The ramifications might well be as serious as having ManCity’s top players seeking to leave the club, alarmed at being unable to strut their stuff in Champions League play - not to mention a dodgy situation over wage increases. And it is not to be imagined that other clubs will be reluctant to entice ManCity players away.

Man City’s punishment also makes the future of coach Pep Guardiola rather murky. The one title that has escaped him since his arrival at Man City in 2016 is the Champions League. He might win it this year -- the club is still in the tournament. If that doesn’t happen, he will have to wait until 2023 ... and how many top players will he have at the club by then? So Guardiola may also choose to leave. Guardiola says, rather coyly, that he will remain at Man City “as long as he is happy.” The lawyers will tell us, of course, whether his contract, and those of the players, are valid with a club that he been found guilty of serious financial misconduct.

Of course, I’m speculating. Man City will not take this lying down and have let it be known that they are pretty disgusted with the whole quasi-legal approach of UEFA. Quasi-legal because the real Law is not involved. The accusation, the trial, the verdict and the punishment have all been controlled by UEFA’s Club Financial Control Body (CFCB).

Man City will appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). In lawyerly wordage, that comes out like this: “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.”

I suppose this will sound cynical, but it is also quite likely to happen. That 2-year ban already sounds excessive. Is it merely a bargaining position? Will UEFA be satisfied with a one-year ban? I guess we can hand this one over to the lawyers.

But that still leaves an unmentioned -- so far -- issue. The Abu Dhabi group also owns New York City FC. One is left wondering whether Man City’s FFP entanglement will have any ripple effects up in the Bronx.

7 comments about "Wow! UEFA nails Man City -- and how".
  1. R2 Dad, February 17, 2020 at 1:29 a.m.

    It's possible the English Premier League might also take retroactive action on previous seasons, not just the current one--THAT would be something. In the US we generally let past titles go unchanged/unchallenged despite malfeasance (see Houston Astros) but the Brits are less inclined and might deduct points from last season, for example, which would overturn the table and champion. City's dominance from 2016-18 could become a footnote.

  2. beautiful game, February 17, 2020 at 3:49 p.m.

    Don Giannia Infantino is a con artist. He's as incompetent and corrupt as is his predecessor.

  3. frank schoon, February 18, 2020 at 9:31 a.m.

    I hate seeing City ,the players,being punished for this. It is very simple to clean up this mess and that's jail time for those in the front office, the CPA's, in the accounting dept. who don't report or are  aware of the infractions...or a hefty , hefty fine that would scare the wits out of the owners.

    By taking City out of contention can only hurt soccer and the fans and I hate to see this happen...

  4. Bob Ashpole replied, March 1, 2020 at 6:15 p.m.

    Frank, the problem is how the rule is set up. It is too easy to circumvent with advertising contracts. As long as there really is advertising, it is legit.

  5. Hugh McCracken, February 25, 2020 at 1:32 p.m.

    I am a fan of Portsmouth Football Club, now for the second year trying to gain promotion to the Championship. I think it was the FA who imposed a subtraction of 10 points on the club 2 years in a row until the funny money was sorted out (I think one owner involved is now or was at Leicester City). I thought that was unfair on the players too, as Portsmouth were in the middle of the table, and won the FA Cup, but the punishment ensured relegation 2 years in a row. That too is I think similarly part of the history of punishment by ruling bodies. Presumably that ruling body changes with the level of achievment of the club?
    Perahps a draconian surtax distributed to all the other clubs, or to those in financial straits might work?

  6. Joe Bailey, February 28, 2020 at 5:24 p.m.

    Didn't Man United lift the PL title in 2013? Asking for a friend...

  7. Bob Ashpole replied, March 1, 2020 at 6:24 p.m.

    I think what he wrote got garbled by editing. Man U won in 2012-2013 and Man City won in 2011-2012 and 2013-2014.

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