Financial Fair Play is just a UEFA protection racket

Financial Fair Play is just a UEFA protection racket – this is payback by elite clubs who hate Manchester City

  • Manchester City did wrong but Financial Fair Play is designed to protect UEFA  
  • City have been banned from European competition for the next two seasons 
  • City did wrong but in the face of rules that are there to protect a privileged elite
  • Consider models of Manchester City and Manchester United and recent success
  • Financial Fair Play was corrupted by those at the top from when it was created

There will not be much sympathy for Manchester City in football. They misled UEFA and its Club Financial Control Body.

They inflated figures, deceived over revenue streams, and the size of their punishment, the suspension from European competition, the fine of £25million, is confirmation of the gravity of this offence.

If this case is proven after appeal, City did wrong, that is unarguable. Yet they did wrong in the face of rules that are there to protect a privileged elite; put in place to prevent unexpected journeys to the top of football’s pyramid. You know, the interesting stuff.

There will be little sympathy for Manchester City following their Champions League ban

Financial Fair Play was corrupted from birth and is designed to protect a privileged elite

It is possible to acknowledge City’s wrongdoing but still hold nothing but contempt for the system that has found them guilty. For the secret briefings, the pressure placed on UEFA to ring-fence their primary competition for the select few.

Financial Fair Play was corrupted from birth by those at the top, warped into the most naked protectionism. It was supposed to be about debt, but ended up placing limitations on owner investment. A club loaded with debt, like Manchester United, is fully compliant; a club without debt, like City, is not.

The money City threw at their project initially was to try to get inside football’s fancy castle before the establishment upped the drawbridge. 

Leicester are a much better run club than Manchester United, but United can still sweep up their best players each summer. Harry Maguire last year, in all likelihood James Maddison in a few months’ time.

Why? Financial fair play. That’s how it works. It is intended to cement a handful of elite clubs in place and shut the rest outside, unable to grow, to present a sustained challenged, even if they want to or are successful. Fairness is just the sell. Don’t be fooled. It was never meant to be fair.

A club loaded with debt, like Manchester United, is fully compliant; a club without debt, like City, is not

It’s no wonder that David Gill and his allies graft so hard in UEFA’s corridors of power

Consider the models of Manchester City and Manchester United, the way those clubs are run, the investment in infrastructure, in the local area, the women’s game, consider the quality of the football, the comparative success recently.

What’s the better football club? The one that faces a two-year ban from Europe, or the one that stands to benefit from their absence?

No wonder David Gill and his allies graft so hard in those corridors of power, no wonder Ed Woodward devotes his time to the executive board of the European Clubs Association. Ferran Soriano, chief executive officer of Manchester City, thought he was in line for a place within the ECA.

Then there was a little pushback and suddenly he wasn’t, unlike board members at United, Arsenal and Liverpool — the traditional red alliance that controls English football, and holds meetings to which rivals are not invited. 

United and Liverpool even got to vet Richard Scudamore’s successor at the Premier League, it is claimed. It seems some clubs really are more equal than others.

Manchester City will now take their case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, the first time it is to be heard by a body not linked to UEFA. European football’s rulers brought this case, heard this case, and have now passed sentence.

Manchester United and Liverpool got to vet Richard Scudamore’s successor at the Premier League, it is claimed

At CAS a list of independent arbiters will be provided with City choosing one, UEFA another, plus a CAS selection, to make the three-strong committee. 

The appeal is likely to be heard soon because any delay would throw next season’s Champions League into chaos. City will certainly lodge an injunction against this punishment if CAS are unable to hold their hearing before the start of next season.

It will continue to be a bitter dispute, a fact City’s statement last night made clear. ‘In December 2018, the UEFA chief investigator publicly previewed the outcome and sanction he intended to be delivered to Manchester City, before any investigation had even begun,’ City’s statement read. 

‘The subsequent flawed and consistently leaked UEFA process he oversaw has meant that there was little doubt in the result he would deliver.’

A cynic would further speculate that the reason the UEFA punishment is so strong — a two-season ban — is to allow wriggle room at the appeal stage. Even if CAS have sympathy for City and halve the sentence, the club is still exiled for a year. Had they received a 12-month ban, it would have left arbiters with a binary choice.

Yet leaving aside the legal process and any potential developments there, this remains a hugely damaging punishment for City. If the established elite wanted to ruin them and Sheikh Mansour’s project — and be in no doubt that they do — it really could not have worked out better.

Nobody at City can say for sure how the prospect of two years outside Europe and a reduced budget will sit with Pep Guardiola. He has insisted he will serve a fifth year next season, but will he now have the same appetite for working with a significant handicap?

The European ban is the gift that keeps on giving for City’s rivals. Without the Champions League revenue stream, to stay compliant with FFP will greatly reduce their transfer budget this summer, at a time when it is clear Guardiola needs to significantly rebuild his squad.

Players such as David Silva are retiring, others are reaching the end of their careers, while expensive recruits including John Stones have fallen short of expectations. City need major improvements in central defence, central midfield and more support in the forward line for Sergio Aguero. 

Two years without European football may impact upon Kevin de Bruyne and Raheem Sterling

The prospect of two years without European football may also impact on the careers of key players such as Raheem Sterling or Kevin De Bruyne, who will be targets for the same major European clubs that have agitated so strongly for City’s punishment. Neat, isn’t it?

When City were first fined £50m by UEFA for financial breaches in 2014, the main reason for accepting the penalty was the fear of reputational drag. That if the case was prolonged the uncertainty and negative publicity would have a longer impact on City’s business than a quick settlement, however financially painful. Yet that is the situation in which they are now placed.

It is impossible to talk to agents, or clubs, about potential recruitment while not knowing the financial capacity of the club across the next two years. 

City could find recruitment difficult without being able to offer Champions League football

Guardiola, or a replacement, cannot be presented with a coherent business plan — beyond an unappealing worse-case scenario — until this is resolved. Say Guardiola wishes to leave and City target Mauricio Pochettino as his replacement.

What can they tell him about next season, or the year after? What is his budget, what would represent a realistic rebuilding project, given the limitations?

Leicester, and Sheffield United, even Wolves, have shown that success is not solely about transfer expenditure, but City’s project requires forward momentum. They do not have a famous name, like Manchester United or Liverpool. A mid-table City could find recruitment as difficult as it was when the project began.

In that way, at least, FFP is working. Indeed, it has worked beautifully for those that devised it, that shaped it, the established elite. It has achieved its intention, to protect those clubs who see a place at the top table as theirs by right. All those meetings, all those briefings, all of the skulduggery that is perfectly legal, at least it wasn’t in vain. 

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