Before Sheik Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan purchased Manchester City, they were basically Newcastle United, minus any tangible recent success.
Just 20 years ago, City was in England’s third domestic division. They fought their way up and down since, but have been permanently back in the Premier League since the 2002-03 season. They were a mid-to-bottom table for the following years.
Then 2008 came.
The team was purchased by Shiek Mansour, whose brother rules the United Arab Emirates. They went from almost complete irrelevance to having a cash infusion into the billions, a new stadium, and an out-of-nowhere bandwagon American fan base. They won their first Premier League title in 2011-12, and have won four the past eight overall.
They spent billions–but they spent it wisely (just because you have the money doesn’t mean you get the right players…Exhibit A: Manchester United). But did they achieve this success within the parameters of the rules at hand?
While it’s not our place to speak to the background or motivations of their ownership group, one thing that’s becoming increasingly evident: City seems to have knowingly broken financial fair play rules.
UEFA considering Champions League ban for City
According to the New York Times, UEFA is potentially recommending a one year Champions League ban on City for misleading European soccer’s financial regulators and breaking financial fair play rules (the full article is worth a read).
A Champions League ban would hurt City the most.
Having won four of the last eight Premier League titles (with a current roster that costs over a billion dollars), a Carabao Cup and FA Cup, the UCL crown is the only major title that eludes the club. While a Champions League title is the crown jewel in Europe, it’s also a bonafide cash cow. Winners expect a $100M+ financial windfall. Finalists earn north of $90M. This won’t just hurt the hubris of City’s ownership group, it’ll hurt their bottomline.
What is financial fair play?
UEFA set up financial fair play (FFP) rules as soccer’s popularity (and wages) exploded in the early 2000’s. Enacted in 2011, FFP is a means to protect clubs from themselves and establish some general economic rules and boundaries. More specifically, FFP prevents soccer clubs from spending more than they earn on players as they chase titles. The goal is to limit a clubs’ financial stress and better ensure their long-term survival (particularly when a wealthy owner gets bored with the team or doesn’t want to invest in a losing project any more).
How Manchester City violated FFP
Now to that bolded “spending more than they earn” from the above section…
According to the Times and drawn from Spiegel, “The files are said to include emails and internal club documents showing efforts by City to circumvent UEFA’s financial fair-play regulations by masking cash infusions from a United Arab Emirates state-backed investment company through inflated sponsorship agreements with entities including the U.A.E.’s national airline, Etihad. Etihad is City’s principal sponsor, its name adorning the team’s stadium, its signage during matches and even the front of the players’ jerseys.”
If true, they not only violated the rules, but according to the Times, misled investigators about it.
When would City’s potential Champions League ban take place?
If UEFA recommends a ban, it’s unclear if it would be for the 2019-20 Champions League or the 2020-21 campaign.
The reality is, City’s ownership group will most definitely legally fight any ban, so don’t City to miss out on the upcoming Champions League. 2020-21 would be the earliest to expect.