IAN HERBERT: City have escaped a European ban but this is no moral win

IAN HERBERT: Man City were found to have ‘disregarded principals and obstructed investigations’ at the end of their grubby FFP fight – They have escaped a European ban… but this is no moral victory

  • Manchester City had their two-year Champions League ban lifted on Monday
  • But the CAS findings show this is far from a moral victory for those at City
  • City were livid at the charges – so why didn’t they cooperate with investigators? 

It seems to say everything about how football’s wild economics that a club can be fined the best part of £9m – one of the largest penalties ever handed out – and yet still consider it a victory.

The vital, detailed Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) judgement is still a few days away. Yet Monday’s 377-word summary reveals enough to show that this is a technical victory for Manchester City – not a moral one. 

CAS have rescinded City’s two-season ban from European competition either because the alleged offences were committed too far in the past under UEFA’s Statute of Limitation – which imposes a five-year cut-off – or because City’s refusal to cooperate with the investigation simply made it impossible to get to the bottom of them.

Pep Guardiola and his technical staff (left-to-right: Manel Estiarte, Txiki Begiristain, Pep Guardiola, Omar Berrada, Ferran Soriano) had reason to smile on Monday as Manchester City’s two-year Champions League ban was lifted at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS)

Monday’s news means City are now free to compete in next season’s Champions League

The news on Monday morning will have been welcomed by those on the City board and the club’s chairman and City Football Group co-founder, Khaldoon Al Mubarek

The club were incandescent when UEFA found they had breached financial fair play by deliberately inflating the value of sponsorship deals. They claimed they were victims of football’s cartel. Innocents in the face of a monumental carve-up. No reason, then, not to cooperate fully with investigators, to establish the true facts?

They wilfully obstructed them. CAS states the importance of cooperation because of the UEFA examining committee’s ‘limited investigative means.’ But City’s ‘disregard of such principles and its obstruction of the investigations’ has brought the fine – the largest UEFA has dished out since it last found City guilty of breaching FFP six years ago. 

Vindication? Evasion, more like. The optics, as they like to say in the PR world, are absolutely terrible.

The significant small details behind stories like this tend to get crushed these days, in the stampede for the next soundbite or 280-character assessment. But some of those who were worked for City as their corporate structure became increasingly labyrinthine during the struggle to comply with financial fair play rules around 2012 – more than five years ago – have been left astonished by this CAS judgement.

They always were sceptical about a mysterious company called Fordham Sports Image Rights, to which the club had sold their image rights income stream to earn themselves a £24.5m lump sum needed to pass FFP at that time. Despite dumping that money onto balance sheet, the club were still handling and earning from image rights themselves.

 Pep Guardiola had insisted he hasn’t lost any sleep over the outcome of City’s appeal to CAS

The ruling from the Court of Arbitration for Sport eliminates doubt over the future of key men

As well as having their Champions League ban lifted, City had their fine for FFP breaches slashed from €30m down to €10m – which works out at £9m

Other staff at the club were at a loss to explain why their wages were suddenly being paid by the ‘City Football Group’, set up to provide services to other companies and clubs within the City stable and so reduce the club’s headline wage bill. Those staff could not see how they were working for anyone other than Manchester City.

The moral of the story for anyone seeking to avoid the embarrassment City have experienced is ‘don’t send emails’ because it was a leaked cache, leaked to Der Spiegel, which suggested the club’s was blatantly attempting to inflate commercial contracts and cash in on image rights.

There was Simon Pearce, one of Abu Dhabi’s closest advisers, declaring ‘we can do what we want.’ There was City Football Group lawyer Simon Cliff insisting that the whole image rights and commercial deals operation be called ‘Project Longbow’ in tribute ‘to the weapon the English used to beat the French at Crecy and Agincourt.’

It was an unedifying saga for City, though –  City Football Group lawyer Simon Cliff even joked about the death of Jean-Luc Dehaene (left)

City may have escaped the ultimate punishment in a two-year Champions League ban but the whole episode has shown how nobody involved can be considered a winner

For City owner Sheikh Mansour, the victory in court on Monday is only a Pyrrhic one

There was Cliff joking about the death of Jean-Luc Dehaene, twice Prime Minister of Belgium, who was one of seven financial fair play UEFA overseers. ‘1 down, 6 to go,’ Cliff joked. That has always seemed the grubbiest email of all. There has never been a public apology to the dead man’s family.

There will be jubilation now from many of a City persuasion and more abuse for those who have had the temerity to suggest that if you enter a club’s tournament, you play by its rules – however rotten a system you might consider it to be.

But there is no winner. There was once something sublime about City, a club under enlightened management finding new ways to reach fans, improve the match-going experience, break the grip of agents and break into the football elite. That’s all gone. This is an empty and Pyrrhic victory.

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