UEFA has opened a formal investigation into Premier League champions Manchester City over potential breaches of its break-even rule known as Financial Fair Play (FFP), European soccer’s ruling body said on Thursday. German publication Der Spiegel reported in November that City’s Abu Dhabi owners inflated sponsorship agreements in order to comply with FFP requirements.
“The investigation will focus on several alleged violations of FFP that were recently made public in various media outlets,” UEFA said in a statement. The English champions responded with a statement. “Manchester City welcomes the opening of a formal UEFA investigation as an opportunity to bring to an end the speculation resulting from the illegal hacking and out of context publication of City emails,” the statement said.
“The accusations of financial irregularities are entirely false. The Club’s published accounts are full and complete and a matter of legal and regulatory record.” Der Spiegel’s report, based on documents received by the whistle blower platform Football Leaks and reviewed by Reuters, alleged that some of City’s Abu Dhabi sponsorships were three times more lucrative than independent experts deemed they were worth.
UEFA said following the publication that it could re-open investigations on a case-by-case basis. Manchester City are one of several clubs owned by City Football Group, a holding company in which Abu Dhabi United Group owns an 87 percent stake with the remaining 13 percent held by the China Media Capital consortium.
The FFP rules are intended to prevent clubs receiving unlimited amounts of money through inflated sponsorship deals with organisations related to the owners. Clubs can be barred from European competition if they are found to have breached the rules.
UAE sports chief would back UEFA punishment of Man City
UEFA’s Financial Fair Play rules have a seemingly unlikely supporter: the United Arab Emirates government sports chief.
Mohamed Khalfan Al Romaithi says he would back any decision by European football’s governing body to punish Manchester City if the club is found to have violated the spending rules. That is despite City being owned by UAE deputy prime minister Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, a member of Abu Dhabi’s royal family.
UEFA opened a formal investigation on Thursday into “several alleged violations of FFP” by City that emerged in leaked club correspondence. Al Romaithi, the chairman of the UAE’s General Authority for Sports who was previously commander in chief of Abu Dhabi Police, said he can separate his “love” of Sheikh Mansour from his determination to see football regulations strictly applied as he looks to lead the game in Asia.
Al Romaithi will explore implementing FFP across the continent if he ousts Bahraini incumbent Sheikh Salman in the Asian Football Confederation presidential election in April. FFP was introduced at the height of the global financial crisis a decade ago in an attempt to prevent clubs from becoming unsustainable, restricting unfettered spending on players regardless of the owners’ wealth.
“I am thinking of applying Financial Fair Play because it’s very important to keep all our clubs working in their budgets,” Al Romaithi told The Associated Press. “I don’t want to see any clubs in Asia going bankrupt. I want to put in place the principles for that and make sure it happens. “We need more strict rules on spending an overspending and make sure we don’t lose any of our clubs because of financial misconduct or overspending.”
When the interview turned to discussing City being owned by Abu Dhabi, Al Romaithi raised the prospect of the club being sanctioned by UEFA himself without being prompted.
The governing body is looking at whether City can be banned from the Champions League after leaked internal correspondence exposed schemes by the club to allegedly cover up the true source of income from Abu Dhabi in a bid to comply with FFP.
“Manchester City if they are breaking the rules they will be punished, right?” Al Romaithi said in a telephone interview before Thursday’s UEFA announcement. “Manchester City is like any other club in Europe and, if they break rules, they will be punished like any other team. I hope Manchester City doesn’t fall to that.
“Sheikh Mansour is somebody that I love and I love his ambitions and he has done a lot for the team. But I tell you any team in Europe who violated any of the rules will be punished by UEFA for sure.”
Asked if teams should be banned for breaching FFP rules he is looking to adopt in Asia, Al Romaithi said: “Of course. Even a national team from the UAE or a club from the UAE.”
Since a 2008 takeover, City has been transformed by Sheikh Mansour’s investment _ winning the Premier League three times since 2012 and currently leading the standings in its title defense.
Since July 2011, UEFA has monitored the accounts of all clubs entering its two club competitions. The first period UEFA assessed clubs for compliance with FFP was 2011-13, when owners were allowed to cover losses up to 45 million euros ($50 million).
“I look at UEFA as one of the best confederations in the world,” said Al Romaithi, a former head of the UAE football federation.
City has not disputed the authenticity of any leaks published by German media outlet Der Spiegel but refused to discuss them, only attacking an “attempt to damage the club’s reputation.”
The leaks showed how City allegedly tried to artificially raise its revenue, in one case by 30 million euros, according to emails from 2013. Abu Dhabi United Group was alleged to be sending cash to a shell vehicle which was created to supposedly buy the right to use players’ images in marketing campaigns.
There were further examples that Sheikh Mansour could have been the source of sponsorship revenue for Abu Dhabi state-owned companies like investment firm Aabar. Der Spiegel cited a 2010 email to Aabar from Pearce, the City director who also works for Abu Dhabi’s Executive Affairs Authority.
Al Romaithi, who used to sit on the Abu Dhabi Executive Council, did not want to comment on the details of the leaks, only the principle of punishing clubs.
“Any club that violates rules, any kinds of rules in UEFA, should get punishment,” he said. “But I hope Manchester City are … compliant with the rules and the regulations of UEFA.”