Manchester City fallout: Can the Sky Blues absorb the impact?
Background image: Higor Douglas, CC BY-SA 4.0
Manchester City's success is 12 years in the making. After the club was bought for £210 million by the Abu Dhabi Group in 2008, the first substantial goal was to secure a Premier League crown. Since their initial title in 2012, the Sky Blues wrote their name in the league's history book four more times. The next target on the hierarchy's radar was the Champions League. Unfortunately, UEFA decided they were a little too ambitious.
If not prior, Sheikh Mansour made his ambitions clear when he hired Pep Guardiola. Even while winning seven domestic trophies in three years, the Catalan understood progress in Europe was paramount. A Round of 16 exit coupled with back-to-back departures in the quarterfinals isn't the progress envisioned.
Then, on Friday, UEFA handed City a two-season ban from the Champions League and a €30 million fine. On Monday, the club announced their intent to appeal to the Court for Arbitration of Sport. On the one hand, Pep is not the club's bookkeeper. Where revenues originate and how they are recorded are not Guardiola's responsibility. On the other hand, he does keep asking for more players. UEFA's decision impacts his ability to deliver on the owners' mandate. It also impacts the players in the squad, young and old, the club's reputation and, potentially, their ability to compete in the Premier League.
Will the manager and players go? While no one is irreplaceable, Guardiola and the squad he built generated two Premier League titles and a centurion season in terms of both goals and points. That's a difficult act to follow. Ask the current Barcelona team.
Key players, such as Kevin de Bruyne, would be well into their 30s when the club resumes European play if their ban is upheld. Similar to Frank Lampard at Chelsea, Guardiola or any new manager may need to rely heavily on the academy to pull them through, not because they are prohibited from signing players, rather because the ones they desire won't come.
This season, City sit on 65 league goals, four more than runaway leaders Liverpool. Can a new manager sustain that? Can he do so while solving the defensive issues that find the club 22 points behind the Reds in the table?. Can he do it if a significant portion of the squad seeks Champions League football elsewhere? Would you wager on his success?
Re-cooking the books?
City pay Europe's fifth-highest wage bill, at £267 million annually [SportsBible]. If a player exodus takes place, the first impression might be the money saved would appease UEFA. But how does the club attract quality replacements to remain competitive without Champions League football? Paying over market value on wages is the most likely option. Doing so will only keep UEFA's watchdogs on the scent.
Lighter schedule/More recovery time
In the past three campaigns, City averaged 58 games per season [Transfermarkt]. A European ban reduces the workload by eight to ten games if not more, given City are perennial knockout round participants. With less games to play, City will hold an advantage over their Premier League title rivals. The Sky Blues will be better rested, stronger late in games and the season. Antonio Conte's success in his debut season owes much to Chelsea's light workload after finishing tenth in the prior campaign. So too does Leicester's presence in the top four this term.
Assuming the CAS agrees to hear City's appeal [they aren't obligated although they did rule in the club's favour on a previous complaint regarding UEFA's investigation], their decision won't be handed down for months, possibly even a year. UEFA's original enquiry took two years. the court must sift through their findings and hear arguments from both sides who may both offer further evidence. During that time, the club can't act with certainty regarding their future. Potential signings won't know what they're in for. In that environment, there aren't likely to be any major developments unless someone panics.
To be fair to City, a club doesn't win seven trophies in three years when it panics. While the club's transfer business won praise over the years and can undoubtedly still attract high-quality personnel, the impact of potential exits can be seen right from the off. Still, fans and neutrals should expect the process to play out slowly, perhaps painfully so. The best the Sky Blues can hope for is to persevere, battle their way through a difficult period and wake up one morning shortly before Christmas with a huge weight lifted from their shoulders. Of course, if the CAS leans in the other direction, then it will be time to panic.