Manchester City: CAS lift 2-year UEFA competition ban
Manchester City were cleared on Monday of breaking UEFA Financial Fair play rules after the Court of Arbitration for sport (CAS) overturned their two-year UEFA competition ban. Gregor Kerr looks at the case and its implications.
Manchester City will now play in next year’s UEFA Champions League after their initial two-year ban from all European competitions was overturned by CAS on Monday.
The club found their reputation and immediate future on the line after initially being found guilty by European football’s governing body for breaking Financial Fair Play rules but will now have to pay a $10 million fine instead.
The news has caused shock and debate in world football, not least for fans of Premier League clubs who may have benefitted from the extra chance of a European spot.
It eases any worries that City would see star players, and even their manager, want to leave the club with the desire to compete in Europe.
What were City banned for?
In February they were banned from competing in both the UEFA Champions League and Europa League for two years between 2020 and 2022 and given a $30 million fine for a breach of Financial Fair Play rules
A UEFA investigation found the club guilty of “overstating its sponsorship revenue in its accounts and in the break-even information submitted to UEFA between 2012 and 2016.” In simpler terms, CAS cleared the club of “disguising equity funds as sponsorship contributions”.
Documents and emails obtained by German magazine Der Spiegel in 2019 appeared to show that the club’s annual shirt, stadium and academy sponsorship of £67.5m by Abu Dhabi airline Etihad had been paid for by majority shareholder Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan. City’s CEO Ferran Soriano described the media leaks as suggesting they were “considered guilty before anything was even discussed.”
In Monday’s ruling, CAS did find that the club “failed to cooperate with UEFA authorities” during the investigation but were not guilty of other charges.
CAS’ decision lifts a huge cloud over Manchester City who had seen their victories diminished by accusations of buying success through personal wealth. In February, Soriano rejected claims that the club’s income was unfairly achieved, saying it was “simply not true.”
In the interview with the club’s official channel earlier this year, he added: “I am also looking for the end of this process maybe to put [an end to this] undertone that we are hearing all the time that anything that we do, any result that we get, is based only on money and not on talent and effort.”
The race for Europe
City’s ban had given hope to Premier League clubs teams sitting as low at 8th that they would still have the potential to qualify for European football. The news causes extra stress to Manchester United, who currently sit in fifth place which would have previously guaranteed a spot in the 2020/21 Champions League. Now, only the top four as usual will quality.
Burnley, Arsenal and Spurs now face an uphill battle to finish in 7th place and secure the final Europa League spot, depending on the FA Cup winner. The latter’s North London derby win the previous day had placed them in that final position, but less than 24 hours later sets them further back from a chance in Europe next season.
More importantly than anything for City, it gives them firm belief that they will be able to hold on to key figures like manager Pep Guardiola and star midfielder Kevin De Bruyne, who will now look to regain their Premier League title which was conceded to Liverpool this season. Any fears that their top players would leave in search of Champions League football are now gone.
What does it mean for Financial Fair Play?
It’s the latest in a series of defeats for UEFA and their implementation of FFP rules in recent years; they also failed in the same Swiss court last year in their attempt to reopen FFP sanctions against French champions Paris Saint-Germain. A team of top lawyers on both occasions found holes within UEFA’s rules, in City’s cause they it was “not appropriate to impose a ban” for failing to comply with the investigation.
This news will be welcome for other big clubs who are backed by wealthy owners. A fine of $10 million is nothing compared to the potential successes that big-money backing can bring, and the ease with which UEFA’s FFP rulings can be dismantled by lawyers means that it will be easy for clubs to avoid real, meaningful sanctions.
The important thing to remember is that Manchester City are still guilty of breaking FFP rules, just that their punishment has been scaled down. However, the precedent set by an insignificant fine means that there is little to lose by flouting the rules, and a reconsideration of how FFP punishment are administered needs to happen, or UEFA will face embarrassment again.