Manchester City and FFP: The Saga Continues

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 26: Match balls are seen prior to the UEFA Champions League group C match between Manchester City and Shakhtar Donetsk at Etihad Stadium on November 26, 2019 in Manchester, United Kingdom. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 26: Match balls are seen prior to the UEFA Champions League group C match between Manchester City and Shakhtar Donetsk at Etihad Stadium on November 26, 2019 in Manchester, United Kingdom. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images) /

A number of stories have appeared in the English media in the last few days regarding Manchester City and FFP. Are these rehashed stories sharing any new information or are they a signal of something else?

The only real facts in this story are that Manchester City failed the UEFA investigation into FFP and accepted a sanction for this failure in 2014. City contend UEFA significantly changed the goal posts during the investigation and UEFA believe City over valued sponsorships despite evidence to the contrary.

City felt that the cartel of established large European clubs felt threatened by the nouveau riche PSG and City and FFP was a deliberate attempt to limit their growth.

At the time, UEFA president Gianni Infantino, worked hard as a mediator between UEFA and City and eventually some sort of compromise deal was agreed and signed off – covered in all kinds of confidentiality agreements and crucially – for City at least – this agreement sealed the matter.

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Whilst not happy about accepting any public punishment it would appear that City took the decision to bite the bullet so as to put the matter behind them and to move on.

Of course, that has not happened. Whether driven by fan boys of other clubs in the press or as part of a carefully orchestrated campaign by elite European Clubs, seldom has a week gone past without some story of City and FFP.

Matters came to head last year when Der Spiegel magazine published what it claimed were internal emails from City showing concerted attempts to cheat the FFP regulations during the period covered by the original investigations.

City rebuffed these claims indicating documents had been illegally hacked and were being viewed out of context and alleging the Club were being deliberately defamed. UEFA meanwhile stated it was to reopen the original investigation based on the information in the hacked documents. Indeed, UEFA went even further – they found City guilty again and have recommended a further sanction be applied.

City are incandescent with rage at this – and the possibility of a long and complex legal dispute with the European governing body looms.

So this week stories have appeared again in the press which appear to contain a lot more detail of the original settlement. That settlement is considered by City to be full and final and that would form part of the basis for any subsequent legal challenge.

In fact any legal challenge would find UEFA in some murky water, potentially defending the reopening of the final settlement based on stolen emails.Should City win any victory then they would no doubt be seeking damages too.

The media are of course doing two things at the moment. Firstly they are keeping the story alive and secondly the UEFA judgement on City is expected anytime soon. In fact, if you were really cynical you may even suggest they are doing a third thing – diverting attention from the hacking scandal which threatens to engulf Liverpool.

Anyway, what is clear is that UEFA are themselves somewhat trapped in the whole mess too. They have the righteous indignation and political machinations of the European elite clubs on one side – and the principles of justice on the other. Let us not forget the jockeying which is occurring here – we have Javier Tebas, head of la Liga, again calling for sanctions against City and have our owner being courted by President Trump as tensions rise in the Gulf states.

There is no best way out of this mess which will keep all the interested parties happy. UEFA may well be inclined to sanction City with a Champions League ban, knowing they have little chance of defending the sanction in Court. However, they may appease the European elite clubs by doing that, even if this comes ultimately at a heavy price down stream, in terms of compensation and loss of face. This is certainly the outcome i expect to be announced either tomorrow – or next Friday.

Alternatively UEFA may fine City in respect of technical breaches, hoping that the sanction alone is enough and that City will roll over again and accept their punishment. This of course depends upon City playing ball but I do not expect them to accept any single punishment until each and every possible legal avenue has been explored to its conclusion.

The most unlikely scenario of all is the one which some City fans expect. That City will be exonerated and all matters will be closed. There are too many vested interests at play for no action to be an acceptable outcome.

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Whilst all of this is going on, UEFA are preparing to visit City as they host Real Madrid in the Champions League Round of 16. That could become the most uncomfortable of welcomes. The booing may not have even started.