Manchester City were banned from the Champions League for two seasons and fined €30m in February 2020, after it was found that they had misled UEFA when they broke Financial Fair Play (FFP) rules for the second time.
Nonetheless, rumours had been making the rounds that they would get off on appeal, which led to a recent decision by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). They found that “MCFC has contravened Article 56 of the Club Licensing and Financial Fair Play Regulations”, and decided that “MCFC shall pay a fine of EUR 10,000,000 to the UEFA, within 30 days as from the date of issuance of the arbitral award” as a punishment.
In other words, they could compete in Europe next season, and their fine was chopped down to a third of the original amount. In the end, money talks, and the Citizen’s were backed by an expensive legal team headed by David Pannick QC, who has a reputation for being one of the best in the UK after battling the government over Brexit.
A win for the Citizens, was it a win for football, or was it really the death of FFP as we know it? Were the rules ever likely to work in the long term?
The CAS Appeal
Let’s lay out the facts, Rafa style. City were found to have breached the rules in 2014, accepting a conditional £49m fine and restrictions on their European squad and incoming transfers at the time. Six years on, and they were found guilty again after the case was reopened.
They faced further restrictions this time, which is why they were banned from Europe for 2020-21 and the season after. Regardless, they’re going to be competing in the Champions League next year after the successful appeal, making a mockery of the whole process.
Of note is the fact that CAS were “time-barred”, which hints to a five-year statute of limitations being applied, instead of City being found to be in the right. The club’s response to the CAS decision can be found via a statement on their website;
“Whilst Manchester City and its legal advisors are yet to review the full ruling by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), the Club welcomes the implications of today’s ruling as a validation of the Club’s position and the body of evidence that it was able to present. The Club wishes to thank the panel members for their diligence and the due process that they administered.”
Yep, they’re happy.
An Unfair Advantage?
City have been dominant in England over the past decade or so, transforming from a middling side at best into a domestic powerhouse as they replaced Arsenal in the traditional top four. It’s true that in the past they were almost like a weedy little brother in comparison to Manchester United, but they’re now stronger in almost every respect, with a second XI which would still do a job in the Premier League in 2020.
Take the PL table of the decade, which sees Man City atop with 818 points overall. They were the only team to earn over two points per game, while their goal difference is 503+, or almost 200 more than Chelsea or Man United to make up the top three.
It’s no surprise that financial doping is one of the allegations made towards City, and there is some jealousy considering the monetary power their owner wields. Is it unfair that some teams are richer than others? Sure, at least to an extent. However, life is unfair, and the decision has been made. They might have broken the rules in the past, but it’s too late to do anything about it now.
There’s been plenty of confusion and derision from some high-profile managers and pundits. City coach Pep Guardiola responded in a typically curt fashion, shouldering much of the responsibility publicly. Following reports that the likes of Jurgen Klopp and Jose Mourinho had voiced their displeasure, Guardiola noted;
“The sentence from the three independent judges was clear. But, if they want, they know my telephone number, they can call me and I can explain."
On the other hand, Gary Neville waded in to show that’s it not necessarily as simple as some are making it out to be;
"I have had a long-held view on FFP. People would say it is because I'm the owner of Salford City. We would still be in the Evo-Stik North if we were stopped from investing at that level, the idea that Man City are not able to invest the money of the ownership, I disagree with that. I have always felt that FFP is the wrong way to apply the financial rules.”
The ‘Death’ of FFP
Lawyer Up, Hit the Gym, Delete FFP. It’s easy when you have a legal team that would put Mr Burns to shame.
But is FFP really dead? At best, the recent CAS decision is likely to have major ramifications in the future, while the fine was negligible considering Manchester City’s massive revenue streams. The decision to lower it by a third is also a slap in the face for poorer sides who have faced the wrath of UEFA in the past, such as Galatasaray.
Is this the final nail in the coffin for a set of regulations which never seemed to be capable of more than holding down teams that didn’t have the financial power to fight off their demands in court?
It’s difficult to say at this moment in time, but the decision must be seen as a win for owners who’d prefer to invest in their teams without having to worry about revenue streams from years ago.
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