Manchester City, FFP and a Champions League Ban

BRIGHTON, ENGLAND - MAY 12: Winners medals are seen following the Premier League match between Brighton & Hove Albion and Manchester City at American Express Community Stadium on May 12, 2019 in Brighton, United Kingdom. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
BRIGHTON, ENGLAND - MAY 12: Winners medals are seen following the Premier League match between Brighton & Hove Albion and Manchester City at American Express Community Stadium on May 12, 2019 in Brighton, United Kingdom. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images) /

As a Manchester City fan there are some things you can set your watch to because they occur as regular as clockwork.

The Manchester City fans called it before it even happened. There was even a sweepstake being run on twitter to guess how many hours it would be between retaining the Premier League title and the first story alleging something about “FFP” or insinuating financial irregularities. No one guessed quite correctly because it took an almost respectful 24 hours before the first real story to emerge in the New York Times.

The most interesting part of the story printed in the New York Times was not its gentle rehashing of the allegations which first appeared in the German investigative publication, Der Spiegel last year based on material from the “football leaks” papers. This is a large collection of material purportedly stolen from various email servers by hackers. The more interesting part of the story is the suggestion a source close to the ongoing UEFA investigation into an alleged breach of FFP by City, states the allegations are found and is talking about the fact there is an appetite for a Champions League ban as a consequent sanction.

Essentially the allegations being presented are that City attempted to circumvent the FFP investigation they were subject to by hiding or masking payments, in effect by false accounting. Whilst not wishing to dwell upon the detail here – because it is complex and not completely clear – any case by UEFA would call into question the whole audited accounting process. City are subject to regulation here as is every UK company. Accounts are signed and agreed by regulatory bodies.

Of course it is easy to think of UEFA as some benign organisation in all of this. Fundamentally they are an old fashioned “Gentlemen’s Club” made up of powerful interested parties. Their motives and actions carry multi million dollar consequences and are reflections of wider socio- economic and geo-political forces. Those that make the rules and those who sit in judgement do so with vested interests.

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Today Manchester City responded to these damaging stories and questioned if the basis of the UEFA investigation was tainted. City query whether the confidentiality of the investigation has been afforded to them as defined in process. City in fact go further and query whether the legal basis of due process has actually been followed.

At its basest level, the article suggests, from a clear source within the investigation, that City have been found guilty and it is just a question of the appropriate sanction. The difficulty here is that City have not actually been charged with any offence. A finding of guilt before a charge does not appear to be any kind of adequate investigation.

What is clear from the statement today issued by Manchester City is that their stance appears to have changed. Fans have not understood the passive response they perceive from the Club about the constant media negative stories, so the bullish attitude today is a marked contrast.

Indeed, it seems as though there is no way to avoid a lengthy court battle in respect of these allegations. Most Manchester City fans would in fact welcome the opportunity to hear the evidence in a transparent and open proceeding in a Court.

Any legal case will prove expensive and difficult. The UEFA case will have to clear the hurdles caused additionally by the New York Times story as well as contending with the fact City have already been sanctioned for a breach of FFP -setting aside that judgement will require some evidence and that evidence will need to be unquestionable and admissible.

If at the end of this – City are found to have been in the wrong, then the media will be hard pressed to find a City fan bemoaning a punishment. In fact to be fair, most City fans would happily accept an immediate Champions League ban now, believing the competition is corrupt!

Yet, this is at the heart of the whole issue. It is not about right or wrong, because the world is invariably more complex than that. City have stated a number of times the leaks, stories in the press and the actions of UEFA (or at least attributed to UEFA) are a deliberate attempt to harm the Football Club.

This is clearly working. The stories in the media have gathered a life of their own on a news cycle, and each time they are repeated the claims are emboldened. To the public there will be little doubt in their minds about guilt. Stories appearing within a day of City winning the best title race of all time against Liverpool are no coincidence. It is about creating an agenda to besmirch the reputation of City and as I said, it is working.

City fans believe that if City cannot be beaten on the pitch, if their reputation continues to grow then there are attempts to detract from the achievements. In fact as a City fan it is hard not to believe there is an agenda.

The difficulty with this is two fold. Firstly the environment on social media and in the press for any kind of intelligent or rational discourse is toxic. Whether this is a wider issue arising from a gradual rise in popular right in politics or just a football thing I am unsure, but it is has felt like the worst season ever for vitriolic banter.

There are lots of great investigative journalists out there doing great work and many of them have become caught up in this inane vitriolic banter. However there are also lots of partisan writers out there – leaping onto agendas and fanning the flames. In this court of public opinion it is difficult to separate any truth from the fiction and lies.

Secondly there are some strange moralising statements around – sometimes from prominent and respected journalists. As City fans we are being asked to be accountable for the actions of the owners or described as sewer rats. Somehow the world is different for City fans – airline passengers are not called out for not caring about the human rights of the mother country of the airline.

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So where does this all leave us? Well, it appears to leave both Manchester City and the Manchester City fans eager for a fight. The sad thing is we are talking about this rather than what we should be celebrating. The best team the League has ever seen.