Manchester City Fallout: Will Champions League ban test Guardiola's commitment?
Background image: Sarmad Yaseen, CC BY-SA 4.0
Manchester City’s worst nightmare came to life when UEFA banned them from the Champions League for the next two seasons. Just before a crucial tie against 13-time champions Real Madrid. Spoiler Alert: City will appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
Manchester City is disappointed but not surprised by today's announcement by the UEFA Adjudicatory Chamber. The club has always anticipated the ultimate need to seek out an independent body and process to impartially consider the comprehensive body of irrefutable evidence in support of its position.
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. The subsequent flawed and consistently leaked UEFA process he oversaw has meant that there was little doubt in the result that he would deliver.
The club has formally complained to the UEFA Disciplinary body, a complaint which was validated by a CAS ruling.
The CAS could reduce or even undo City's ban. At the same time, it can also refuse to hear the appeal. An enforced ban promises severe ramifications for the club. They'll lose Champions League revenue. Their reputation will be tarnished and the validity of trophies they've already won will be questioned. Players almost certainly will leave. Replacements will be difficult to recruit. Perhaps the biggest question is what all that means to the manager?
Pep Guardiola needed a year but he's delivered every domestic trophy for which Manchester City were eligible. Only the Champions League remains beyond his grasp and he's stated his desire to win it while in the Premier League.
Despite his failure to make good on the promise in his first three seasons, ownership backed him. They set up an organisation designed to support him before they recruited him from Bayern Munich. Former Barcelona associates Txiki Begiristain and Ferran Soriano were hired to lay the groundwork for his arrival. In turn, Guardiola showed his faith in the organisation, promising reporters City would never be banned from the Champions League for Financial Fair Play violations. How wrong he was. Now he must decide whether to stand with the club in blaming UEFA for an unfair process or leave out of a sense of betrayal. Early word is he will remain with Manchester City "as long as he is happy." It's difficult to see how anyone involved is happy with a two-year European ban.
No one expects a knee-jerk reaction. The appeals process isn't yet begun. City remain in this season's competition. Guardiola remains intent on guiding his side past Real Madrid, a side he loved humiliating while at Barcelona. But the ban is a body blow and it's legitimate to wonder how many more the Catalan boss can absorb. If Real Madrid prevail or a future opponent ends this year's dream, will Pep begin to feel fatalistic regarding his Premier League project? EFL and FA Cups may still come his way but they are cold comfort. Been there; done that; worn the t-shirt.
Call it entitlement or self-esteem, his ambition will always be the Champions League. If the Sky Blues can't escape their punishment, he'll be tempted to move on. Other clubs will show interest. Bayern Munich continues their search for a permanent manager. Guardiola still owns a home in the city. The Freudian slip in December when he confused the two clubs during an interview, suggests he retains positive feelings for the Bundesliga champions.
The defending Bundesliga champions are undergoing a change of their own. Karl-Heinz Rummenige’s set to retire after this season, with Oliver Kahn taking the helm. The former Bayern goalkeeper is ambitious and knows change is necessary. Appointing Pep with utmost financial backing would put der FCB back on track.
With former club president Sandro Rosell no longer in the picture, a reunion with Lionel Messi at Barcelona may be possible. Neither enjoys much continental success without the other and Quique Setien doesn't inspire confidence. On the other hand, Josep Maria Bartomeu's regime is nearly as dysfunctional as Rosell's. Guardiola isn't interested in working for a club without direction. The possibility remains, however. Bartomeu must stand for re-election in 2021 amid accusations of financial mismanagement and abandoning the club's values. Welcoming home Guardiola and perhaps Begiristain and Soriano is the sort of grand gesture that will keep him in office. The question would then be signings. If Barcelona are cash-strapped, can the club give their most prolific manager the necessary assurances?
That being said, the Citizens won’t relinquish their manager so easily. He is contractually obligated to at least see out the next season. City will fight passionately to overturn their European exile and retain his faith and services. But matters may already be at the point of no return. Such a damning humiliation can't be completely washed away by expert lawyering. A taint will remain. If the allegations aren’t cleared up quickly, the Catalan could pack his bags.
Unfortunately, the reputation gained for ignoring youth players since leaving the Nou Camp may tie him inexorably to the scandal. In his three years at the Allianz Arena, he failed to promote any Bayern academy players. At City, Jadon Sancho and Brahim Diaz sought opportunities elsewhere. The extremely talented Phil Foden feeds on scraps. Whether he stays or goes, Guardiola's future may be defined, one way or the other, by the lessons he learns from this setback.