By Robert Barrie
As UEFA finally clamp down on Manchester City’s mysterious accounts, it is the footballing implications for the club that are alarming.
The Aguero moment. The 100 point season. The Kompany rocket to seal the title. Manchester City have given football lovers some of the most poetic and beautiful moments in English league history. Amassing 10 major trophies, only one less than Chelsea, demonstrates their imperious stature as one of the, if not the, heavyweight of the last decade. Drawing comparisons to Arsenal’s “invincibles” is no easy feat, but being the first side to accumulate 100 points in a single season is a stat one can’t shy away from. In addition to this, a plethora of records tumbled as current manager Pep Guardiola’s side bulldozed the league in two consecutive years.
It is fair to say, however, the Cityzens were not used to this success. Not laden with riches, the club were, truthfully, a “mid-table team”. This changed in 2008 when Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, owner of the Abu Dhabi United Group, completed a takeover of the club.
Injected with a huge inflow of funds, the squad was gradually overhauled and the quality change in just a few years was apparent. So apparent that in 2012 the club ended their 40 year trophy drought and won the Premier League title; thereby breaking the seven year vice-like grip of Manchester United and Chelsea on the trophy. Few questions were raised at the time at the validity of this success under then boss Roberto Mancini. Three years later and City, under the guidance of new manager Guardiola, were romping the league. This success, in effect, being only made possible by new acquisitions made by the manager in the form of £300 million reinforcements; was spent in his first summer alone. It was only then that watchful eyes from other clubs began to question the legality of such spending, and if it indeed broke Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations.
Implemented in 2011 by UEFA, these set of laws, put simply, prevented clubs from spending more than they earned. It also ensured that continual large spending would not occur over multiple seasons as there would be a prearranged budget range depending on the tier of football.
Sponsorship revenue of City, one of many factors contributing to a club’s profit, was found to have been over-stated in accounts submitted to UEFA. In addition to this, break-even values too were found to be incorrect. Occurring in the years 2012-2016, this casts major doubt over the validity of the second title they won in 2013/14 season. Only time, and further investigations, will unravel the mystery of which senior club official, or indeed officials, thought they could succeed in such high-stake infraction. It is safe to assume that then managers, Roberto Mancini and Manuel Pellegrini, knew nothing of what unlawful activity was occurring behind the scenes. And it is unfortunate that that the fallout of such misguided ventures will fall at the feet of current manager Guardiola. He must surely be as infuriated as the fans as the resulting sanctions imposed by UEFA are, if upheld, a catastrophe for the club.
Banned from the Champions League for the next two seasons (oddly not the current tournament) and a fine of £25 million were the punishments handed to them. The fine is of minimal worry to the club but the penalty that will hurt most is the lack of Champions League football. Having won two Champions League trophies at Barcelona, it was common knowledge that Guardiola was brought in to lead City to a first European trophy, and with that propel them into the upper echelons of Europe’s elite. Despite leading the team to two consecutive Premier League titles, the most prestigious prize in club football has, to date, eluded the former Bayern boss. The Spaniard himself said he would be deemed a failure if he left the club without the Champions League.
This ban therefore has huge implications for the club. Only two players (both reserve keepers) at City have won the Champions League before and surely the current players shall now be questioning their position. De Bruyne, Ederson, Sterling and Aguero (to name a few) are far too talented to not be playing in Europe. City have already stated they will appeal the ban and, if successful, expect it to be reduced to one season. The financial implications of missing Champions League football too are significant. Liverpool earned approximately £150 million from winning the tournament last year. City now have a queue of tasks this season due to the naivety of senior board members in that regrettable 4 year period. The first task is to convince their world class manager and players to stay for a potential two years of barren European football. Next, is to launch their appeal against UEFA. A glimmer of hope is the fact that the investigation against them was sanctioned by UEFA, judged by UEFA and punished by UEFA.
The club will aim to seek an independent enquiry due to the feeling they have been specifically targeted; rightfully or wrongfully, a view which has been shared around the football community it must be said. Their last task, however, is to win the Champions League this season. Many a football pundit has questioned as to why Manchester City weren’t banned from this current tournament but the club will not rest on their laurels. Lifting the trophy in Istanbul in May would be the ultimate mockery of UEFA and that will be at the forefront of the minds of both City and UEFA’s. The powers that be at UEFA will silently be hoping for an early exit for City against Real Madrid.
City’s next problem is that the Premier League are keeping a close eye on the verdict of this saga. The FFP rules in England are, effectively, identical to UEFA’s. A mirroring of outcome could see a points deduction and potential relegation to League Two. The points deduction, worryingly from City’s point of view, could also be applied to their title winning 2013/14 season meaning that that season will become void (it is improbable that Liverpool, finishing in second place, would be handed the title by default).
Manchester City are far too big for such a revelation to initiate self-implosion of the club. It is alarming and humiliating however, to the squad, staff and fans that this saga was completely of the club’s own doing.
Validating outside claims of cheating has left the club exposed, furious and embarrassed.
The impeding appeal will reveal the true sanctions the club will have to endure but make no mistake, to the eyes of the wider footballing community, this recent ruling has now tarnished and tainted all the wonderful and astonishing success this club has achieved in the past 10 years.