Manchester City can breathe easy.
After a long and tedious fight with Uefa, Monday’s ruling from the Court of Arbitration for Sport, lifting a two-season Uefa ban from European competition, will give Pep Guardiola’s side a massive boost for this season as they chase the quadruple.
Uefa’s ban being upheld by CAS could have possibly seen City lose their best players and even manager Guardiola, had they been found guilty of breaching the Financial Fair Play rules. But they do not need to worry about that anymore.
The club can now look forward to the return of this season’s Champions League in August, safe in the knowledge that it is not the final chance for Pep Guardiola and a cast of stellar players to win European football’s biggest prize.
Preparations will also begin in earnest for next season’s Premier League campaign, with City intent on wrestling back the title from Liverpool and now given more room for manoeuvre in the transfer market.
The verdict by CAS marks a significant victory for the English club although the past few years off the pitch have not been easy for the players and the club management.
As Man City’s European ban is lifted, we take a look at the key events in their long conflict with Uefa:
May 2014: First sanctions
Charged for failing to maintain a balance between their revenue and expenditure, with a deficit that exceeded the 30-million-euro ($34 million at current exchange rates) maximum at the time, City accepted a conditional fine of 60 million euros in May 2014 to be deducted from European prize money, of which 40 million euros would be lifted if the club met other conditions over the following two seasons.
These included a smaller limit on losses, transfer restrictions and a reduced squad in Europe.
Later in a statement, the former Premier League champions made it clear they had reluctantly agreed Uefa’s ruling and would not push the case further.
“In normal circumstances, the club would wish to pursue its case and present its position through every avenue of recourse,” City said in a statement.
“However, our decision to do so must be balanced against the practical realities for our fans, for our partners.”
Qatari-owned French side Paris Saint-Germain were among the other eight clubs also fined that year for FFP breaches.
November 2018: Revelations in Football Leaks
A wide-ranging expose, dubbed ‘Football Leaks’, published by a consortium of European newspapers, principally German magazine Der Spiegel, included the revelation that Manchester City had, among other strategies, used overpriced sponsorship and backdoor contracts to conceal subsidies from owner Sheikh Mansour, the deputy prime minister of the United Arab Emirates, to sidestep Financial Fair Play limits.
The reports alleged that Sheikh Mansour had funnelled 127.5 million euros to the club through City’s sponsors, which include Etihad, the Emirati airline.
Some of the allegations had been laid out in a 2015 report by a consortium of US airlines complaining that they were facing unfair competition from state-subsidised Gulf airlines.
March 7, 2019: New Uefa investigation
Soon after the allegations by Der Spiegel, Uefa opened an investigation into Manchester City’s alleged breach of FFP rules. The possible punishments ranged from a reprimand to a ban from European competitions for Manchester City.
City dismissed the allegations as false, minutes after Uefa said it would it look into the matter but the Premier League club welcomed the investigation and insisted they had done nothing wrong.
May 14, 2019: City respond to reports about potential ban
Early in May, the New York Times reported that City were could face a one year Uefa ban, citing people familiar with the case. The club soon released a statement raising concern about the report, terming the financial allegations false and said they had submitted proof to the investigatory committee of the Club Financial Control Body.
City said in a statement: “The New York Times report citing ‘people familiar with the case’ is therefore extremely concerning. The implications are that either Manchester City’s good faith in the CFCB IC is misplaced or the CFCB IC process is being misrepresented by individuals intent on damaging the club’s reputation and its commercial interests. Or both.
“Manchester City’s published accounts are full and complete and a matter of legal and regulatory record. The accusation of financial irregularities are entirely false, and comprehensive proof of this fact has been provided to the CFCB IC.”
May 16, 2019: City referred to adjudicatory chamber by Uefa
Two days later, City were referred to the CFCB adjudicatory chamber by Uefa over a potential breach of FFP rules after Uefa’s investigatory panel leader and former Belgium prime minister Yves Leterme agreed to pass on the matter.
City issued a statement again, saying they were disappointed by Uefa but described the investigation as “wholly unsatisfactory, curtailed, and hostile process.”
June 6, 2019: City lodge appeal with CAS to prevent ban
Manchester City lodged an appeal with CAS, following the threats of being banned Premier League outfit from the 2020-’21 Champions League season. The Premier League champions denied any wrongdoing again.
CAS stated that the procedure would involve an exchange of written submissions between the parties, during which time a panel of arbitrators will be convened to hear the appeal.
November 15, 2019: CAS deems City appeal ‘inadmissible’
Five months later, CAS ruled City’s appeal as “inadmissible” because Uefa had not reached a final decision on the case, a decision which paved the way from the CFCB adjudicatory chamber to decide whether City would be sanctioned.
February 14, 2020: Champions League ban
On Valentine’s Day, Uefa’s Adjudicatory Chamber banned City from European competitions for the next two seasons for “serious financial fair-play breaches” in its accounts for the period 2012-’16.
The English champions were also fined 30 million euros ($32.5 million).
City Football Group CEO Ferran Soriano denied those allegations, a few days after the verdict.
“The owner has not put money in this club that has not been properly declared,” Soriano said in February.
“We are a sustainable football club, we are profitable, we don’t have debt, our accounts have been scrutinised many times, by auditors, by regulators, by investors and this is perfectly clear.”
They immediately launched an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
Few were unhappy with the timing of Uefa’s decision, including football pundit and former Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher, given City were still competing in the Champions League.
“I can’t believe they are in the competition now. What would happen if City win this competition this season?,” Carragher said. “They (Man City) are the favourites for it, one of the best teams in Europe and it would make a mockery of the competition.”
“Uefa will be desperate for Man City to get beat by Real Madrid, absolutely desperate. Can you imagine people from Uefa having to give the cup in Istanbul to a Man City player? They are in the competition now and if they win it, it will almost be tainted. I think for Uefa, they should have either took Man City out of the competition right now or left this decision until the end of the season.”
June 8-10, 2020: CAS hearing
Lausanne-based CAS, the arbitrator in sports cases, hears the appeal through a videoconference. It announces that “at the end of the hearings, both parties expressed their satisfaction with the conduct of the procedure”.
CAS general secretary Matthieu Reeb said the decision could announced in July. The English champions had the option to present a further appeal before the Swiss Federal Court, also based in Lausanne, if their CAS appeal fails.
July 13 2020: CAS lifts City’s ban
CAS set aside the ban, ruling that “most of the alleged breaches reported by the Adjudicatory Chamber... were either not established or time-barred”.
It said that many of the alleged offences could not be punished because of Uefa’s five-year statute of limitations.
CAS said that while City were guilty of obstructing the Uefa investigation, it was over-ruling the “more significant violation” of “dishonest concealment” of funding.
The only penalty was a fine of 10 million euros, to be paid to Uefa.
(with AFP inputs)