On Monday, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) overturned Manchester City’s two-year UEFA Champions League ban on appeal and also reduced their fine to 10 million euros. This means that not only will City be able to play in the elite European tournament next season, but they will also comfortably retain their star players. The Abu Dhabi-owned Premier League club can now flex their financial muscles even more to secure new arrivals.
What is the CAS verdict?
In its verdict delivered by a panel of arbitrators in charge of the matter comprising Rui Botica Santos (Portugal), president, Ulrich Haas (Germany) and Andrew McDougall QC (France), the CAS said: “… the decision issued on 14 February 2020 by the Adjudicatory Chamber of the CFCB should be set aside and replaced by the following: a) MCFC has contravened Article 56 of the Club Licensing and Financial Fair Play Regulations. b) MCFC shall pay a fine of EUR 10,000,000 to the UEFA, within 30 days as from the date of issuance of the arbitral award.”
What was the original UEFA decision?
On February 14 this year, the Adjudicatory Chamber of UEFA’s Club Financial Control Body (CFCB) found City guilty of “overstating its sponsorship revenue in its accounts and in the break-even information submitted to UEFA between 2012 and 2016”. Simply put, there had been alleged “serious breaches” of UEFA’s Club Licensing and Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations. Accordingly, City were banned from European football for two seasons, starting 2020-21 and fined 30 million euros.
Why did the CAS overturn the ban and reduce the fine?
The CAS concluded that City “did not disguise equity funding as sponsorship contributions” but maintained that the club “did fail” to cooperate with UEFA, the European football’s governing body. “The CAS award emphasised that most of the alleged breaches reported by the Adjudicatory Chamber of the CFCB were either not established or time-barred. As the charges with respect to any dishonest concealment of equity funding were clearly more significant violations than obstructing the CFCB’s investigations, it was not appropriate to impose a ban on participating in UEFA’s club competitions for MCFC’s failure to cooperate with the CFCB’s investigations alone,” the CAS verdict stated.
To put it simply, City got away because the CAS felt there was insufficient conclusive evidence to uphold the ban.
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How will City benefit from this verdict?
To start with, without European football, City were staring at a revenue loss well in excess of 100 million euros. More importantly, after surrendering the Premier League title to Liverpool this term, they were under urgent threat of losing their star players. Since the Abu Dhabi takeover, City gradually inflated the football transfer market. After Pep Guardiola’s arrival as the first-team manager in 2016-17, their spending took a sharp leap. As Marca reported last year, Guardiola has spent close to 250 million euros only on defenders – 66 million euros on Joao Cancelo, 65 million euros on Aymeric Laporte, 57.5 million euros on Benjamin Mendy and 55.6 million euros on John Stones. City also forked out 70 million euros for midfielder Rodrigo Hernandez and 40 million euros for goalkeeper Ederson. Affluence and an excess of riches had been major reasons why City won back-to-back Premier League titles before losing it to Liverpool this season.
Without a favourable verdict from the CAS, City might have been forced to part ways with their star players like Kevin de Bruyne. At least, without Champions League football, they would have struggled to retain a player of his quality, with Real Madrid, Barcelona and Juventus lurking. Now, they can spend gleefully as a part of their comeback plan, with regards to dismantling Liverpool.
Without Champions League football, they might have lost Guardiola as well. At a reported annual wage of around 25 million euros, Guardiola is arguably the most expensive manager in football. The CAS verdict has probably helped City stretch their association with the star manager.
How will it affect City’s Premier League rivals?
The FFP regulations were established to prevent football clubs to spend more than what they earn in pursuit of silverware. It’s a matter of debate if the CAS verdict has gone around the core ethics of the FFP regulations, but the verdict is bad news for City’s Premier League rivals like Wolverhampton Wanderers and Sheffield United, the teams that have punched way above their weight, aspiring to play Champions League football.
Given that City will finish the league in the second position, the fifth placed team would have qualified for the Champions League if they were banned. With three matches to go, Wolves and Sheffield United are placed sixth and seventh with 55 points and 54 points respectively, just four and five points off the final Champions League spot. Now, the best they can hope for is the Europa League, unless Leicester City, Chelsea and Manchester United implode on the home stretch.
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