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Manchester City fallout: Do the Sky Blues go to war against UEFA?

Sunday 16th February 2020
Manchester City’s first step in dealing with their Champions League ban is deciding if and how to appeal.
Manchester City’s first step in dealing with their Champions League ban is deciding if and how to appeal.

When Love United/Hate Glazer snowflakes claim Manchester United’s absentee owners put nothing back into the club, it’s easy to point out the Americans spent more than a billion pounds sterling on players after taking control of the club. As I saw it, the reason for their struggles since Sir Alex Ferguson retired was not how much money was spent, rather how wisely. Obviously, I was wrong. Given Manchester City’s two-year ban for alleged Financial Fair Play violations, ‘how much’ matters in a big way.

While the question of whether the spending will ever end appears to finally be answered, that isn’t yet the case. UEFA do not retain final judgment in the matter. City can appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. The CAS can overturn the Champions League ban, shorten it or validate it. Any such decision will reveal exactly where the balance of power lies in European football, with the region’s governing body or the wealthiest clubs. Before the CAS can render a verdict, however, City Football Group must decide how they wish to proceed.

Their options are threefold.

  1. They can accept and serve the ban without a fight.
  2. They can accept the ban while appealing it.
  3. They can appeal the ban outright, seeking a temporary injunction preventing the ban from taking effect until the CAS adjudicates the matter.

Here are the possible consequences which derive from each choice.

Mea Culpa

UEFA concluded Manchester City not only violated Financial Fair Play, they did so with intent. It’s one thing to throw up your hands and admit a mistake. To confess to being caught with your hand in the cookie jar is a black mark not so easily erased.

City can accept responsibility and deal with public perception when they’ve served their sentence. A good public relations campaign can win people back to their side. Sincere contrition can be profitable in the long run.

In the short run, the club must sweat the possible exodus of players and coaching staff. Time is running out for some to add a Champions League winners medal to their legacy. Others will simply be impatient. When Juventus were demoted to Serie B in 2006/07 following the Calciopoli scandal, stars such as Gianluigi Buffon and David Trezeguet remained loyal. Others, including Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Patrick Vieira, Emerson, Fabio Cannavaro and Lilian Thuram left en masse.

David Silva is already leaving the club this summer. By accepting UEFA’s judgment without a fight, City risk losing players such as Kevin de Bruyne, Bernardo Silva, Raheem Sterling, Riyad Mahrez, Aymeric Laporte and others.

On the one hand, they won’t be competing in Europe and will need to trim the squad. On the other, their ability to challenge for the Premier League title will be affected. Replacements won’t sign so readily without the promise of European football.

Let’s be civil

No one except the lawyers like a messy divorce, especially when the two parties must coexist on some level after the court divides assets, sets alimony, child support and visitation rights.

In the case of Manchester City v UEFA, visitation rights are the big issue. When will the Sky Blues be cleared for European competition? That could depend on whether they accept UEFA’s judgment while appealing the case or fight it tooth and nail.

Chelsea elected to accept their FIFA transfer ban while the CAS took its time hearing their appeal. In the end, the Blues won and their ban was lifted in time for the January window. Still, it was understood going in that seeking an injunction on the ban might leave them at risk for an extended ban. If UEFA are as vindictive as FIFA, City might opt to begin serving their ban while appealing.

You realise this means war?

Interestingly, Chelsea chose to remain relatively quiet during the recent transfer period despite winning their case. Blues owner Roman Abramovich isn’t as free with his money as he was in his early days at Stamford Bridge.

 City’s Abu Dhabi royalty were a little more responsible in the past two windows themselves. After annual transfer net spends surpassing -£100 million three years running and -£200 million in 2017/18, the Citizens eased back on the throttle to limit their transfer net spend for the past two seasons to -£110.8 million combined.

If City feel they’ve made the appropriate effort to comply with FFP and UEFA are ‘sticking it to them’, they may choose to defy the confederation outright.

If they win, UEFA’s image and authority will suffer. FFP may be reviewed or even shelved. A European super league may suddenly develop into more than a bargaining chip for elite clubs. If City lose, their transfer ban could be extended and City Football Group’s reputation will be severely harmed. Sheikh Mansour purchased the club in large part to advance his country’s cause. If City’s image is tarnished, so too is that of the United Arab Emirates. Mansour’s position as UAE deputy prime minister might be at risk.

Allout war is the most dangerous option for the club to take and one they should only choose if they are completely certain they can prove their innocence. Being wrong isn't an option.

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Martin Palazzotto

The former editor of World Football Columns, Martin authored the short story collection strange bOUnce. He appeared in several other blogs which no longer exist. Old, he likes to bring out defunct. If outdated sport and pop-cultural references intrude on his meanderings for It's Round and It's White, don't be alarmed. He's harmless.

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