News 15 May 2019

Legal tangle heading for extra time as financial fair play cloud rains on City parade

A protracted legal battle is likely if newly re-crowned English title winner Manchester City is suspended from European club competition for a year, as is a reported possibility. At the weekend, City became the first club in ten years to successfully retain the Premier League crown and it can make history if it wins the FA Cup against Watford, thus securing a treble after landing the League Cup earlier this year. However, City has been competing under the cloud of an investigation by the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) into allegations that they misled the authorities in their submissions over its Club Licensing and Financial Fair Play (CLFFP) Regulations.

An investigatory independent club finance panel, led by former Belgian Prime Minister Yves Leterme, is understood – reports the New York Times – to be about to submit a critical report recommending disciplinary action against City. If City was banned it would be certain to appeal to both UEFA and then, possibly, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), which could lead to any punishment being delayed for at least one season.

Arsenal opening

If not, then fifth-placed Arsenal would take over City’s Champions League slot, even if the Gunners were to lose the Europa League Final to Chelsea in Baku on May 29. UEFA bit the legal and ethical bullet concerning City’s finances back in March, based on last autumn’s Football Leaks revelations. Initially, UEFA indicated it was unable to act on material published by the German news magazine Der Spiegel and other European media outlets because it had apparently been hacked illicitly. However, allegations concerning not only City but also French champions Paris Saint-Germain raised questions about the credibility of the eight-year-old financial fair play system, which had achieved significant results in reducing the debt mountain among European competition clubs.Since then, a legal right to inquire further has been secured by the active interest of judicial authorities in at least nine countries involved in the Football Leaks revelations, which cover a wide range of misconduct including alleged tax evasion by clubs, officials and players. According to Football Leaks, City is also subject to inquiries by FIFA over its signing of youth players. It is understood that the Premier League is also investing the club over domestic financial control regulations.

City and UEFA have history. In 2014, City and UEFA agreed a financial fair play settlement which saw the club being allowed to play on at international level after accepting a £49 million fine – £32 million of which was suspended – while their Champions League squad was reduced for the 2014-15 season.

Denials of wrongdoing

The later revelations suggested that officials acting on behalf of Abu Dhabi-owned English champion Manchester City had deceived UEFA over several years over the true sources of sponsorship income originating with the club’s owners. City has always denied wrongdoing or misleading UEFA. ‘Manchester City welcomes the opening of a formal UEFA investigation as an opportunity to bring to an end the speculation resulting from the illegal hacking and out of context publication of City emails’, read a statement issued in March. ‘The club’s published accounts are full and complete and a matter of legal and regulatory record. The accusation of financial irregularities is entirely false’.

The UEFA investigation is not the only one hanging over City. The Football Association is investigating reports that City made a banned £200,000 payment to Jadon Sancho’s agent when the England winger was 14 years old.

Manager Pep Guardiola has said he has been assured by City Chairman Khaldoon al-Mubarak and Chief Executive Ferran Soriano that the club would not be banned from European competition. UEFA president Aleksander Čeferin has always refuted media scepticism about the organisation’s will to crack down on Europe’s powerful top clubs.

• This article was published on Keir Radnedge’s internet site on 14 May 2019. This is an edited version. Click here to view the original.

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