On Valentines Day, Manchester City were dealt a blow that shocked European football. They would be banned from UEFA competitions (the Champions League and Europa League) for two seasons.
Some form of punishment from UEFA was not a surprise. City had been under investigation for the breach of the financial fair play rules for some time, but a two year ban was a harsher punishment than many had expected.
They were also handed a €30 million (£24.9 million) fine.
Still in the Game
Crucially though, the Sky Blues were not banned from this season’s competition. This would have been difficult to implement since it would leave an empty place that needed to be filled. It would have also been controversial since Manchester City have been the favourites to win the competition since before the season began.
As we approach the quarter-finals of this year’s Champions League, it’s looking close between a few teams. Manchester City, Bayern Munich, and Liverpool are all looking like contenders this year. Although Liverpool’s odds are drifting after a few losses in recent weeks.
With such a close competition, millions of pounds are expected to be wagered on the Champions League. Because of this, bookmakers are competing heavily with each other to attract customers looking to place bets on the outright winner of the competition. Some bigger brands are even using promotions like free spins in their online casinos to attract customers that they hope will also engage in sports wagering.
What Are the Charges?
Claims that were made in the German newspaper, Der Spiegel, back in November 2018 sparked an investigation by UEFA. Its reporting claimed that Manchester City had signed sponsorship deals three times their market value.
UEFA has accused Manchester City of inflating the value of sponsorship contracts as a way to hide cash injections from the club’s owner, Sheikh Mansour, to pay for the club’s player acquisitions and wage bill.
It also claims that the team’s management “failed to co-operate” as they conducted an investigation into the club’s finances.
The financial fair play rules state that a club cannot spend more than it earns. This is designed to stop wealthy owners buying clubs, injecting large sums of money, and essentially “buying trophies”. The downside to such behaviour is that it puts financial strain on other clubs as it can inflate the wage costs for other clubs who may not have such deep pockets.
By inflating the value of sponsorship deals, as is alleged by UEFA, Manchester City have been able to spend more on players than would normally be allowed.
Manchester City Could Still Play in the Champions League Next Season
Manchester City completely deny the allegations describing them as “entirely false”. They have also claimed that the investigation was flawed and pointed to “consistent leaks” as its justification for this.
As a result, the club will appeal at the Court of Arbitration for Sport. It claims that such an appeal will be the first time an “impartial judgement” can be made on the matter.
This process could be a long and drawn out ordeal, although City officials hope that it can be completed by the end of the summer. This may be optimistic though; the Court of Arbitration for Sport finally ruled on a 2010-11 Turkish Super League case in July of 2019. In that case, officials from the Fenerbahce team had been accused of match-fixing.
While the particulars of that case were very different, long drawn out processes are not unusual.
This could mean that City play in next season’s Champions League competition as their ban will be postponed while the case is under appeal. If it drags on even further, City could even play in 2021/22.
What if the Ban is Upheld?
If the ban is upheld by the court, meaning the original UEFA decision is deemed to be right, then Manchester City will miss the following two years of Champions League or Europa League competitions.
The knock on effect of this is difficult to determine completely. It may mean some of its top players decide to leave the club to go somewhere where there will be an opportunity to play European football. However, they may decide to stay as a sign of their commitment to the club.
Pep Guardiola’s contract ends in 2021, and he’s unlikely to stick around. He’s never stayed at a club more than 4 years as a manager, so an extension already looks unlikely.
The ban will also have a financial impact on the club, since it will miss out on tens of millions of Euros in prize money that’s paid to each club in the Champions League.
What About the Premier League?
If Manchester City has breached UEFA’s financial fair play rules, it is likely they will have also breached the domestic rules too. An article published by The Athletic claims that other clubs in the Premier League agree that City needs to be “severely punished”.
It’s not yet clear what this punishment could be, and it seems that clubs disagree with each other as to what sanctions should be imposed.
They re unhappy with City’s behaviour. By using their additional funds, City were able to pay more for players, which in turn increased the market rates each club in the league had to pay.
It’s unlikely that Manchester City will be relegated out of the Premier League; the clubs seem to be in agreement that that would be too harsh of a punishment. Changes to EFL rules mean that any club expelled from the Premier League would have to move to League Two. Instead, sanctions could include a points deduction or another large fine.
A points deduction is the most probable punishment, with the Independent newspaper reporting that Premier League officials had already discussed it as an option before UEFA announced their sanctions.
It’s likely that the Premier League will wait until the outcome of the appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport until it makes any decisions on a domestic punishment for Manchester City.