Last week, the UEFA shocked the football world when they announced their decision to ban Manchester City from all UEFA competitions for 2 years for violating Financial Fair Play terms. The economical and political jargon surrounding the ban has resulted in a lot of confusion among fans just concerned with the football. This article will attempt to get you up to speed with what happened and which undoubtedly has the potential to change the very fabric of football in Europe.
What is Financial Fair Play (FFP)?
Financial Fair Play regulations were implemented by UEFA in 2012 as a response to more than 50% clubs in Europe running in losses. Ignoring the tedious laws and clauses, all that a football fan needs to know is that FFP does not allow a club to spend more money than it earns over a period of three rolling years. Clubs splurging on upcoming talent and premium players was on an upward trend which often left the clubs financials in tatters.
On the other hand, clubs owned by states and business tycoons could just keep pumping money into their club and make the best squad on the planet without making a dent on the owners’ personal fortune. That would eventually result in serious imbalance in the football market. It is imperative to mention here that even though introduced with the intention to prevent clubs from overspending, FFP has huge flaws and talks of corruption and ulterior political motives are never far away.
For the purpose of this article, I’ll be only covering the repercussions of the UEFA ruling and not the fairness of the FFP, which will require another article of its own.
What did Manchester City do?
Manchester City had been a fairly average team in the Premier League since 2002 until they were acquired by the Abu Dhabi United Group of the UAE in 2008. They have won four Premier League titles and countless other domestic cups since then.
The owner of the group, Sheikh Mansour, who is also a member of the Abu Dhabi Royal Family and the Minister of Presidential Affairs for the UAE, has pumped a lot money into the club which made Manchester City the most dominant team in the Premier League in the last decade. The 2017-18 team which became the first to reach the 100-point mark is arguably one of the best teams English football has ever seen.
Now, according to FFP regulations, owners are only allowed to directly inject a certain amount of money into the club per year. All other income has to come through sponsorship and revenue from tickets, merchandising, branding, etc. A loss of up to 30 million Pounds is allowed over a three year period. Clubs violating this face UEFA action.Etihad became a major sponsor of City with their 67.5-million-pound annual sponsorship of the City shirt, stadium and academy. Interestingly, Etihad is also a state-owned company of the UAE, just like Manchester City. So for all intents and purposes, City and its sponsor, Etihad, essentially have the same owner: Sheikh Mansour. While this is not illegal, this is where things got fishy.
In 2018, German magazine Der Speigel leaked emails which definitively proved that of the 67.5-million-pound deal, only 8 million came from Etihad itself. The rest came from the owner - Sheikh Mansour - through Etihad. Basically, he put in more of his personal money than he was allowed to and then lied about it by inflating the Etihad sponsorship deal. The investigation into this could have been fairly easy. UEFA could just have asked the sponsor (Etihad) how much did they give City. But considering that both are essentially owned by the same entity, Etihad did not hesitate to fudge their books. The leaked emails and documents, however, proved beyond a doubt that accounts were meddled with.
Immediate effect on City and the Premier League:
Champions League (UCL) is the most elite title in club football. Top four teams of the Premier League qualify to play in the UCL the subsequent year. Manchester City currently sit pretty comfortably in the second spot in the PL and are almost guaranteed to qualify for the UCL. However, the 2-year ban means apart from not being able to be a part of the most elite championship, they will also miss out on the humongous revenues of upwards 100 million pounds in the 2-year period.
Not only that, City’s star players might start looking elsewhere because the prospect of no European football is not too appealing, especially for players at their peak. Should the ban hold, City may have to fight hard to keep the players and their manager, Pep Guardiola, as well. To top that, PL will be forced to act due to their own licensing which pertains to UEFA’s FFP rules. This might imply a possible points deduction for City as a penalty.
This comes as a boon to the other teams in the PL as the fifth placed team will now qualify for the UCL, given that City end up in the top 4 and the ban stands. With runaway leaders Liverpool sure to win the League and Leicester City solid at third place, there are potentially six teams jostling for the remaining two places. Frank Lampard’s young Chelsea have held the fourth place for a long time, however a recent dip in form has seen competition close in. Manchester United, too, will be desperate for a UCL place and the fifth-place qualification will be a huge boost to their morale considering their woes under Ole Gunnar Solsjkaer have not dwindled. Tottenham and Arsenal appear rejenuvated under their new managers Mourinho and Arteta respectively.
However, the most noteworthy competition comes from recently promoted side Sheffield United and Wolverhampton Wanderers who have certainly made their mark this season. (Imagine the scenes when John Lundstram hits top bins at Santiago Bernabeu playing Real Madrid). With less than 10 points separating these six teams, it promises to be an exciting end to the season.
What next for City?
Manchester City will move the Court of Arbitration for Sport to appeal UEFA’s decision. Since the evidence against City is pretty clear, they are no longer disputing it but attacking the process and the legitimacy of FFP itself. City have hired the same lawyer to represent them who blocked Brexit twice. They are not going down without a fight.
Whatever the outcome may be, one thing is for sure that it is going to shake up European football. If UEFA win, it will be a stern signal to other teams to not meddle with their books whereas if City win, it will be the death knell for FFP.Either way, it is clear that FFP is flawed at worst and insufficient at best. A new system needs to be established which is free from any political influence and power to ascertain that teams work within legal boundaries.
– Rohan Poojari