Struggling to understand what's going on in UEFA vs Man City? We'll try and explain it...

Now the dust has settled on the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) ruling that Manchester City will NOT be banned from the Champions League we can start to look at the bigger picture and ask “What does it all mean”?

Frankly, it’s confusing. There is more misinformation and fake news flying around social media right now than on the POTUS Twitter feed. So how do you know if you should side with the “This is great for football” brigade or the “City bought their freedom” lot?

 As usual with this kind of thing – its not a clear cut call.

We are yet to see the full publication of the report so there is an element of guesswork involved when it comes to the ins and outs of the situation BUT I am going to try and answer some of the big questions that people have been asking over the last few weeks.

Manchester City got fined so they MUST be guilty?

Yes and no. 

Manchester City were not entirely exonerated from the punishment handed down by UEFA during their CAS hearing but the misdemeanours against them were certainly downgraded.

They have been ordered to pay an £8.8million fine for refusing to help with UEFA’s initial investigation or, as the report worded it; “MCFC has contravened Article 56 of the Club Licensing and Financial Fair Play Regulations”.

First off, Article 56 is nothing to do with Financial Fair Play, money doping or whatever other a phrases fans have been throwing towards the Etihad since the announcement. This is more to do with the clubs conduct whilst under investigation.

Article 56 is, put simply, a licence that any club who wishes to take part in UEFA run competitions must obtain. To obtain that licence those clubs must meet some stringent conditions and one of those conditions is that they must:

 a) cooperate with the licensor and the UEFA Club Financial Control Body in respect of their requests and enquiries

b) provide the licensor and the UEFA Club Financial Control body with all necessary information and/or relevant documents to fully demonstrate that the monitoring requirements are fulfilled, as well as any other document requested and deemed to be relevant for club monitoring decision-making, by the deadline set by the licensor and/or the UEFA administration (the reporting entity or combination of entities in respect of which information is required must be the same as for club licensing).

c) confirm that all the submitted documentation and information are complete and accurate

d) promptly notify the licensor in writing about any subsequent events that constitute a significant change to the information previously submitted to the licensor, including a change of legal form or legal group structure.”

Still awake? Good.

The fine handed out to Manchester City (the value of around 1/5 of a John Stones) is purely for non-cooperation rather than actual wrongdoing. It’s the difference between driving a Porsche down the motorway at 110mph (which City didn’t do) and watching a Porsche drive down the motorway at 110mph but then refusing to hand over the registration number to the police. Neither is good but one is certainly worse than the other.

The question here is WHY didn’t Manchester City co-operate at the time? 

It could be that they didn’t feel that UEFA had any cause to suspect financial irregularities and where simply standing their ground (City have claimed during the process that UEFA asked for evidence that just didn’t exist) or it could be that it was an attempt to cover behaviour that they knew would be against the rules. 

Given that the full investigation found no breach of FFP in any form you have to assume that the former is true.

The wording of CAS’s findings is also important and perhaps might suggest that City’s innocence is still under question. They said that the allegations against the club were either “not established” or “time-barred” in other words there was insufficient evidence to support some claims whilst others where older than five years and so could not be actioned against.

It’s not quite a clean slate but I imagine Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan will take it.

Ok, so does that mean that City are the good guys and the saviours of football?

The answer to this one depends on your view of the Financial Fair Play rules.

Certainly, if you ask any City fan their view they will state that UEFA’s rules around investment from owners is there for one reason and one reason only: To protect the footballing elite. The idea being that by preventing rich owners from injecting cash into their club and accelerating growth means the likes of Real Madrid, Manchester United and Juventus can maintain their seats at the top table of European Football un-threatened. It’s an idea not without some merit but I believe it needs to be filed alongside “Elvis Lives” in the “Conspiracy Theory” archives.

However, if you are a believer, it is easy to then tag Manchester City as “The Saviours of Football” and a champion of the underdog. 

Giving UEFA a bloody nose and proving that, as long as you play by the rules (or can afford excellent accountants and lawyers) then no one with a few billion in the bank can be stopped from creating a football club to compete with the best.

You can hear Manchester City fan Natalie Paweleck make this exact point on the Football Social Daily podcast.

This point of view flues against the findings of CAS however. To suggest that City has “beaten” the system also suggests that they sought to break, or at least bend, the rules – which was certainly not the findings.

If UEFA really wanted to protect those clubs who are seen as the footballing establishment then surely they could have done so. After all, this is their competition, this is their region, they can make up whatever rules they like.

What the ruling does highlight that whatever FFP’s intention is; it isn’t doing its job. It certainly isn’t protecting clubs from over-spending and thus safeguarding their long-term futures (or is it – we’ll discuss that later) and if the idea IS to stop clubs threatening the status quo then, after this announcement, it’s clearly not doing that either!

Essentially UEFA made a bit of a hash of this then?

Yeah, you could say that!

In my view, the main mistake from UEFA was acting as judge, jury and executioner – when looking at cases like this there needs to be a level of impartiality which in this case simply didn’t exist.

It was this view that was also held by Manchester City, who cited it as one of the reasons that they didn’t wish to comply with the original investigation.

There are also huge question marks about how the evidence that resulted in the original allegations was obtained. It was more than just hearsay. Emails that supposedly confirmed that the club had disguised club investment as sponsorship were illegally obtained by an email hack which from the very start put the investigation on shaky ground.

The fact that a lack of evidence and a breach of rules has now been confirmed by an independent body in CAS confirms that City probably had the right stance.

So, is that FFP damaged and done for?

If you believe Jose Mourinho then yes. If you believe football experts then no… and we all know that Jose and experts don’t mix.

Jose is a man who has always loved the idea of an open cheque book but his comments about FFP were more an angry reaction to the idea one of his opponents had “got away with it” rather than the idea that he could one day manage a football club with unlimited spending power.

When asked for his opinion of the ruling he branded it a “disaster” and declared it the end of Financial Fair Play*. That, however, is a little far from reality.

The idea that FFP is done for assumes, as I said earlier, that City have somehow circumnavigated the rules rather than been found innocent of breaching them. CAS are not saying that the rules that UEFA have put in place are unfair or illegal – just that Manchester City, on this occasion, have not broken them.

The question should be “What is the purpose of FFP and is it fulfilling that purpose?

Certainly, it does prevent a new owner coming in and spending money in a way that is unsustainable for the club but, by the same token, why shouldn’t a new super-wealthy owner be able to spend whatever he likes on his new plaything as long as his intentions are good? There are many different options here such as a 15% bond payment on any expenditure that could do a similar job.

But is FFP actually broken? It’s not as unpopular within the clubs themselves than it is with the fans who support them. It has also helped improve the finances of European football as a whole. (More on that and some much more detailed analysis on the future of FFP can be found in David Conn’s piece for The Guardian)

In terms of protecting the future of football clubs, there are guidelines in more urgent need of attention than FFP (the fit and proper test for directors for one) so whilst we should expect a “tinkering” of the rules – you shouldn’t expect it to be torn up completely.

What Happens Next?

This isn’t going away yet.

UEFA could, should they wish, appeal the decision in the Swiss federal courts. The Premier League are also looking to see if Manchester City’s actions break their rules around FFP which are similar, but not identical, to UEFA’s – so there could be yet more fun in the courts in future.

Even without the threat of more legal wranglings, this story hasn’t come to an end. 

You only have to listen to Pep Guardiola’s comments in his recent interviews to know that City right now are, to use a technical term, REALLY PISSED OFF with not only UEFA but other clubs that they feel ‘ganged up’ on them during proceedings. They are going to come out swinging.

Not only will this ruling act as a little added motivation for the remainder of City’s Champions League campaign but I think we’ll also see them flexing some financial muscle in the summer window to prove a point. All whilst many other clubs batten down the financial hatches. 

A combination of relaxed FFP rules (to allow clubs to cope with the financial downturn caused by COVID-19) and increased revenue, that they probably were not banking on, from being allowed to play in the Champions League next season, possibly as champions, could lead to some big money deals happening in East Manchester.

*He also didn’t really understand the fine for non-compliance so could do worse than to give this article a read.

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